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Commentaries and editorials

The Orca Mother Mourns,
and We Mourn with Her

by Lucinda George Simpson
Seattle Times, August 3, 2018

It is time to remove the four Snake River dams, restore the river and bring back the salmon.

Four orca whales swim near the San Juan Islands, The southern resident killer whales have lost about 20 percent of their population since the 1990s, likely because of dwindling food sources and contamination. (Elaine Thompson) I am the matriarch of my family. I have raised four grandchildren. My mother was a full-blooded Nez Perce. I am the granddaughter of the chief of the Nooksack Tribe. My roots span from the mountains of Idaho to the Salish Sea. My blood lines trace the journeys of wild salmon and orca whales.

And that is why I mourn, like so many mothers watching and reading the news of the death of the baby orca calf. I mourn as I watch the orca mother Tahlequah carry the body of her baby through the water, day after day. A mother can feel that heartache.

We know why the orca whales are endangered and dying. It is because their food source -- salmon -- is disappearing. The salmon runs are shrinking in large part because of dams that have destroyed the river habitat they need to spawn and reproduce and thrive.

We mourn. But we are not helpless. We are women. We are mothers. We are matriarchs.

Orcas are matriarchal. The females lead the way. It is time for the women, the mothers, of our region to speak up. So much is broken. We must speak up to heal our land, our rivers, the environment on which we all depend. One specific action we must insist on is the removal of the four dams on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington. They are a major cause of salmon decline. The limited benefits these four dams provide can be replaced. Salmon and orcas cannot be replaced. The Snake River was once the biggest contributor of salmon in the Columbia River basin. If we remove these four harmful dams, abundant salmon runs can once again enrich the Pacific Ocean and the Salish Sea -- nourishing the orcas and the entire web of life -- including us.

Our families are connected. My family and yours. The orca mother mourns, and we mourn with her. Honor her by turning your sorrow into action. Gov. Jay Inslee, please hear us, the mothers, the matriarchs. It is time to remove those four dams, restore the river and bring the salmon back. It is time for courage and real solutions. We are watching. We are heartbroken. Together, we can heal.

Lucinda George Simpson is a descendant of the Chief Joseph Wallowa band of Nez Perce. Retired from an influential career in law enforcement, Lucinda continues her work to make her community stronger. She lives in Lapwai, Idaho on the Nez Perce Reservation.
The Orca Mother Mourns, and We Mourn with Her
Seattle Times, August 3, 2018

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