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Jammin' for Salmon Brings Folks Together

by Wil Phinney
Columbia Basin Bulletin - August 10, 2001

Randy Settler, an outspoken Yakama Nation leader, was the first in line to pony up 20 bucks for a chance to dump the Bonneville Power Administration's acting administrator, Steve Wright, in a dunk tank Saturday at the Jammin' for Salmon festival at Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland.

"I loved every time it hit the bulls eye," said Settler, who tossed softballs for five minutes, drenching Wright over and over in a 5-foot tank filled with cold water.

Wright cut short a family camping trip on the Deschutes River so he could participate at the two-day event organized by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and sponsored primarily by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and Pacific Power. Three dozen other entities, ranging from Wildhorse Resort Casino to Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream, also participated as sponsors.

Wright said he thought it was an appropriate event to wear a T-shirt that read WRIGHT IS WRONG in bold letters across the front with a U.S. Steelworkers logo on the back. In June, union workers protesting BPA's request for aluminum smelters to curtail operations to save power gave Wright the T-shirt when he joined them outside BPA headquarters and talked about the decision.

In spite of the political differences between BPA and the four Columbia River treaty-fishing tribes over flows and spills for salmon, Wright said he was comfortable at the gathering, which drew an estimated 20,000 people.

"I don't feel like I'm among enemies," said Wright. "We're all trying to work toward the right thing. We have issues that are sometimes in conflict, but I never think that the people who support salmon are against low-cost power, or the people for low-cost power are against salmon. We're all trying to work toward the same goal; we're strategically aligned."

Although Settler and others felt a sense of "satisfaction" each time Wright was dunked, they were glad to see him there.

"I'm glad he's one of the guys, that he can come here, maintain his office and be one of the guys to support this event," said Settler. "He has a huge power interest, but he also has treaty trust responsibilities and I'm happy to see him at this tribal event."

Jay Minthorn, chairman of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and the Umatilla's Fish and Wildlife Committee, said the appearance by Wright and Judi Johansen, former BPA administrator and now executive vice president of regulation and external affairs at PacifiCorp, had symbolic overtones.

"At the table, we feel like we're fighting, but public relations will pull them people to hear our issues," he said. "An event like this pulls us all together and it shows that even the opposition is willing to work and partnership with the tribes."

And that was about the extent of the politics at an otherwise fun, family event that featured 11 musical acts, including Chaka Khan on Saturday night and the Robert Cray Band on Sunday evening. Additionally, CRITFC and each of the four treaty-fishing tribes ? the Umatillas, Nez Perce, Warm Springs and Yakamas ? had informational booths, as did a variety of other environmentally friendly organizations, from the Sierra Club and the Wolf Education & Research Center to Save Our Wild Salmon and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon. Food vendors reflected the cultural diversity of the audience, offering meals that ranged from grilled salmon to tamales and from Indian fry bread to Polynesian yakisoba.

Free jet boat trips ferried folks across the Willamette River to OMSI where Salmon Corps members helped with family activities that included storytelling and tribal drumming and dancing. At the Waterfront, children maneuvered like salmon through an inflatable hydrosystem at Pacific Power Kid's Pavilion while flint-knappers, bead workers and basket weavers exhibited their skills under an Indian Arts Tent.

"We went into this event looking to measure success in a number of ways, attendance and donations being among them," said Chuck Hudson of CRITFC. "What we wanted more than anything was a diverse audience, diversity meaning a wide range of ages and a wide range in terms of ethnicity, and we got that. More than anything, we wanted to see smiles on peoples' faces, primarily young children as they took in activities, and on those terms it was a resounding success."

It was also the intent, Hudson said, to reinforce a single message, "that we are all salmon people." That message was consistent in the event's promotion, in outreach to sponsors and media and through speakers, who were encouraged to advance that idea.

"People responded, from the performers to Portland Mayor Vera Katz and our sponsors, who were attracted to the idea that we're only as good as our ability to partner in salmon restoration," Hudson said.

About 20 speakers, including Johansen, who issued a challenge to match her $200 donation to the Spirit of the Salmon Fund, Oregon Rep. David Wu, spokespeople from sponsoring agencies, and even Max Gail, the actor who played "Wojohowitz" on the old Barney Miller TV show and is now an environmental activist, made remarks between performances.

Did the event preach to the choir or change any attitudes?

"We know people were there for the music and people were there for the cause," Hudson said. "We think there is value in reaching out to both of them. For our first event, we just wanted people to be receptive to that single phrase, that we're all salmon people."

Antone Minthorn, chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, said the festival was a great public relations tool for the people who attended, but he thinks the tribal message has to be expanded.

"I think people who enjoy the music support the salmon restoration cause, but I think we have to look closely to see its value in reaching the American people," said Minthorn. "We need to measure its effectiveness, particularly outside the urban area where the people appear to be more friendly to salmon and the environment.

"In the eastern part of the state, in a sense we not only live with the environment, we depend on it. Along the lower river and along the coast, we have the support of the people, but in Eastern Oregon water has different values and it's a little tougher to get that support. It has happened, in the Umatilla and Walla Walla basins where farmers and irrigators have chosen to work to give salmon a home, but I think we need to learn from Jammin' and see how we can use this kind of technique better in the eastern area."

On Sunday, sitting in the grass as the not-for-profit "Painted Sky" pounded out a contemporary native beat, Don Sampson, event chairman and executive director of CRITFC, considered the first day and a half of the festival.

"We estimated 8,000 to 10,000 on the first day and figure we'll have more today," Sampson said. "We have a lot of competition this weekend but still have a good turnout."

The competition included the Mount Hood Jazz Festival, concerts at the zoo, B.B. King on Saturday at St. Helens and the Big Stink Concert Sunday at Estacada, along with Ralph Nader, who drew some 7,000 to the Rose Garden Saturday night, and Peter Jacobsen's PGA Fred Meyer Challenge on Sunday.

Sampson said it was important for the four tribes to be in Portland, where the Willamette and Columbia meet.

"A lot of time people see the casinos and hear sparsely about tribal efforts, but this shows we have a major presence in the Columbia and Willamette. No other agency is putting this magnitude of event on for salmon.

"We're celebrating the success of the Umatilla, Clearwater, Yakama and Hood rivers, model projects. It's a multicultural event with Latinos, Hispanics, African Americans and Native Americans. That's what we wanted."

Other tribal leaders found premium shade on Sunday and watched the event unfold, observing audience turnover each time a new performer took the stage.

"Powerful voices, powerful feeling, all for one cause, the salmon cause," said Rapheal Bill, a member of the Umatillas who serves on the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. "It has far exceeded my expectations. I think momentum will grow, that it will stimulate public interest in the world we live in and remind people that we can't let it die around us."

Sam Penney, chairman of the Nez Perce Executive Committee, told the audience they must "advocate and speak on behalf of the fishery." He said Jammin' for Salmon allowed people from all over the state and particularly the metro area to see the tribal holistic view of salmon recovery.

"I think it's been educational for people who do not normally deal with fish-related issues. It exposes them to the salmon resource and shows them how important it is to Indian people," he said.

Kathryn Brigham, another Umatilla who serves on the CRITFC, spent most of her time as a volunteer in the children's pavilion, helping kids make drums and salmon hats.

"I think people learned more about the Indian perspective," she said. "I had people coming up and saying they didn't know the tribes were this involved."

The event, she said, shows Oregon and the rest of the Northwest that the tribes are sincere in their efforts.

"It's not just talk," she said. "We want to get down and do the work, protect fish and bring people together."

Settler, from Yakama, speaking between performers, reminded the audience that Indians had been gathering here for centuries.

"This is a new event for Portland but it's not an event that hasn't occurred for thousands of years," he said.

Proceeds from the event -- people were asked to donate $5 -- will go to the Spirit of the Salmon Fund, which emphasizes implementation of Wy-Kan-Ush-Mi Wa-Kish-Wit, the tribal restoration plan for Columbia River salmon. Money generated at the festival will be used, Hudson said, for on-the-ground watershed restoration projects and educational efforts.

On Friday, the night before the Jammin' for Salmon festival, a banquet at the Washington Park Zoo presented seven Spirit of the Salmon awards.

The Spirit of the Salmon Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to former U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield, honorary chair of the festival, who was instrumental in forging partnerships in the Umatilla River basin and continues to offer his support to restore and protect Columbia River salmon and their habitats.

Other awards included:

Spirit of the Salmon Leadership Award to Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, who convened church leaders from the Pacific Northwest to develop a pastoral letter that examines the spiritual dimensions of Columbia Basin salmon conditions and proposes a list of principles detailing the public good and encouraging a view of the basin as a sacramental commons;

Spirit of the Salmon Education Award to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry for the Salmon Camp, which in its ninth year has educated more than 450 middle school students about salmon and the ways humans can exercise better stewardship of salmon populations and their habitats;

Spirit of the Salmon Public Partnership Award to the City of Portland, through the office of Commissioner Erik Sten, who led an effort to engage the public and city businesses in salmon restoration efforts through projects like the Chinook Book, a partnership with PGE to remove the Marmot Dam on the Little Sandy, and development of a reclamation plan for Ross Island, as well as other projects;

Spirit of the Salmon Private Partnership Award to PacifiCorp, which has a long history of working with tribes, agencies and diverse interests to take "on-the-ground" actions to protect and aid in recovery of fish and other natural resources;

Spirit of the Salmon Conservation Advocacy Award to Save Our Wild Salmon, which was formed in Seattle in 1992 to restore harvestable runs of salmon for both tribal and non-tribal fisheries, and continue their advocacy by challenging the National Marine Fisheries Service's Biological Opinion on hydro operations, and;

Spirit of the Salmon Jammin' Volunteer Award to Nancy Bardue, who coordinated all volunteers for the event.

Wil Phinney
Jammin' for Salmon Brings Folks Together
Columbia Basin Bulletin, August 10, 2001

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