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Officials Voice Varying Degrees of
Support for Dam Breaching

by Eric Barker
Idaho Press, July 9, 2021

"I have learned a lot. Thank you for sharing your stories,"
Congressman Simpson said as his voice cracked with emotion.

Graphics: Predictions show natural-origin spawner abundance for the Snake River Basin will start to drop below the quasi-extinction threshold (50 spawners) within the next five years. (Molly Quinn/The Spokesman-Review) (Source: Nez Perce Tribe, staff research) SHELTON, Wash. -- Tribal leaders continued to voice a united front for salmon recovery in the Snake River Basin and across the Pacific Northwest on Thursday as the two-day Salmon and Orca Summit came to a close here.

"We are all in this together," said Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Suquamish Tribe of Washington and president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. "I think that was the goal -- to bring salmon recovery in a more unified approach."

There were signs that those voices all speaking at once are beginning to be heard and to resonate with some political leaders. Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Gov. Kate Brown, both Oregon Democrats who had previously expressed some support for Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson's dam breaching concept, addressed the summit in recorded messages. Brown pushed for Simpson's Columbia Basin Initiative that would breach the four lower Snake River dams and spend billions to replace lost hydropower generation, help farmers get their wheat to market and assist communities such as Lewiston in adjusting to the loss of slackwater.

"Once this funding is secured, we must urgently work together to make sure a complementary federal legislation for a comprehensive solution is secured," she said.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee spoke to the conference via Zoom and called again for a comprehensive solution that considers the needs of the entire Pacific Northwest from ratepayers and farmers to tribes and fishermen. But on Thursday, he offered his most complimentary comments on Simpson's plan to date and said not only should dam breaching be on the table but next steps should include a search for ways to soften the blow to those who would be impacted if the dams were to go.

"His willingness to offer us one path forward has helped bring us to this moment, and both he and I share the same goal of recovering the salmon in this regard -- to develop a comprehensive solution is what we need at this moment and to do so with all the speed and urgency that the situation demands," he said. "So we have to build on his hard work and your hard work. I know Mike's passion and I believe it is setting us up to take the next step, which is to define the way to replace the services of these dams, and I believe we can do that."

Young members from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation read a letter they have penned to President Joe Biden asking for his help in protecting salmon.

"They're our relatives and losing them hurts. Climate change is making it hard for them to survive, the rivers are too warm and polluted. And dams are blocking them from migrating. For our tribes, there is one way that you and your friends in Congress can help. Remove the lower dams on the Snake River and let our river flow free, our sacred river ‘Naxiyam Wana' (the Snake River)," they wrote.

The members of the youth tribal council have collected more than 10,000 signatures to the letter and hope to reach 15,000 before sending it to the White House. The gathering was inspirational to Keyen Singer and Latis Nowland, both 17-year-old members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation Youth Leadership Council.

"The summit was really powerful because it brought many leaders from many tribes together," Singer said. "We know we are not alone and the summit showed we can all stand together to solve this problem."

The gathering was organized with young people like Singer and Nowland in mind, said Kayeloni Scott, spokeswoman for the Nez Perce Tribe and master of ceremonies at the summit.

"Much of what Indian country focuses on is the future and our youth. It's not about us, it's always about the future and making sure our culture is sustainable, and making sure those who come after us can thrive and prosper."

The gathering was organized by the Nez Perce Tribe and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, and co-hosted by the Squaxin Island Tribe at its Little Creek Resort. Simpson spoke both days and attended from start to finish, listening intently as tribal leader after tribal leader relayed stories about their struggles to protect salmon fisheries and their ways of life.

He spoke about growing up at Blackfoot near the Fort Hall Indian Reservation and playing football and basketball with tribal members when he was in high school. But Simpson said he didn't really know his fellow students because he hadn't taken the time to learn their history. That changed when he went to Congress and progressed to Chairman of the Interior Subcommittee and felt compelled to learn more about tribal issues. His work on Snake River salmon recovery over the past four years furthered his familiarity with tribal culture and history and the importance it places on family and reverence for the natural world.

"I have learned a lot. Thank you for sharing your stories," he said as his voice cracked with emotion. "They are stories I will carry with me. I appreciate them very much."

Shannon Wheeler, vice chairman of the Nez Perce tribal council, said there are plans, still in the early phases, to hold another summit, this time in Washington, D.C., where more political leaders may be compelled to listen to their message.

"If people are unable to come to us, we will come to you," he said.

Eric Barker
Officials Voice Varying Degrees of Support for Dam Breaching
Idaho Press, July 9, 2021

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