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Tribes Hope to See Runs Return

by Mike Lee
Tri-City Herald, October 31, 1999

Dam breaching alone won't return fish harvests to historic levels, but tribal leaders expect the move to increase tribal harvests by 30 percent.

Besides, said a report on the tribes, breaching the dams "would represent a major change from past unjust practices, which have damaged tribal peoples."

As Northwest rivers were harnessed for power, flood control, irrigation and transportation, salmon suffered and with them the native peoples.

U.S. treaties gave tribes fishing rights for millions of acres. Extinction of salmon would end the harvest, thus calling into question the federal end of the bargain.

Tribes refuse on principle to put a value on salmon runs, but nontribal estimates of the cost of treaty failure are $6 billion to $12 billion, according to the Columbia & Snake Rivers Campaign, which is pushing for dam removal.

A report done for the corps found tribal harvests above the Lower Snake dams are less than 1 percent of traditional levels, and tribal access to roots, berries and edible plants also has dropped dramatically with the loss of riverside habitat.

Between 27 percent and 44 percent of Northwest tribal families live in poverty, and members of the five Northwest tribes considered in the report are dying at rates more than 20 percent higher than their nontribal neighbors.

"If located outside the United States, such conditions might fairly be described as 'Third World,' " the report stated.

Tribes link those statistics to the decline of the salmon culture - and predict renewed well-being if the salmon return in greater numbers.

"There's a huge connection between salmon and tribal health," said Chris Walsh, Yakama psycho-social nursing specialist. "Restoring salmon restores a way of life."

However, "several hundred" known American Indian archeological sites would be exposed by drawdowns, creating another concern for tribes interested in protecting their past.

Mike Lee
Tribes Hope to See Runs Return
Tri-City Herald, October 31, 1999

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