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Commentaries and editorials

Our Salmon, our Communities and Our Children Cannot Afford the Status Quo

by Rebecca Miles
The Idaho Statesman, June 5, 2005

For the Nez Perce Tribe, salmon are more than an icon of the Pacific Northwest; to us, the Nimiipuu, salmon are sacred. Salmon are the heart of our culture, our beliefs, our traditions, our language, our health, and our economy. Our fate has been intertwined with these magnificent fish since time immemorial.

In 1855, our ancestors had the foresight in our treaty with the United States to reserve the rights we had always exercised -- including the right to take fish at all our usual and accustomed places. The U.S. Constitution states that treaties, such as ours, are the "supreme law of the land."

This year, the 150th anniversary of our treaty, there were not enough spring chinook for the ceremonial and subsistence needs of the Nez Perce and the other Stevens Treaty tribes (Umatilla, Yakama and Warm Springs). For too long, the salmon and our people have borne the impacts of the Columbia and Snake River dams.

Our vision of the future includes both healthy, harvestable salmon populations and vital, sustainable communities. We have lived here forever, and we are committed to making our vision of the future a reality for our children and grandchildren.

The Nez Perce Tribe is doing everything it can to rebuild salmon to healthy, harvestable levels. We have received national awards for our habitat rehabilitation work in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service. We operate the Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery, a facility that uses state-of-the art techniques to mimic nature and that is designed to assist in rebuilding the natural runs. And to be sensitive to the needs of the salmon, we have taken measures to voluntarily restrict our treaty fisheries.

Yet these actions alone are not enough. The federal Columbia/Snake River dams do the most harm to salmon, and these dams need to make the largest contribution to rebuilding the runs. Judge James Redden's recent ruling comes as no surprise. It is simply a reminder that the law does not allow the impacts of the Columbia/Snake River dams and the imperiled status of the fish to be ignored by the federal government.

The Nez Perce Tribe calls on our fellow citizens to demand that their political leaders at the local and national level invest in a future in the Pacific Northwest that includes healthy, harvestable salmon runs and sustainable communities. We need to consider the best scientific and economic options, not just the most politically expedient ones. The Nez Perce Tribe continues to support breaching the four lower Snake River dams and investing in the local communities affected by that decision. The best science and the best economics support breaching these dams. We are committed to working with our neighbors in making this transition and protecting our Northwest way of life. Neither the salmon, nor our communities, nor our children's children can afford to continue the status quo.

Rebecca Miles is chairman of the Nez Perce Tribe.
Our Salmon, our Communities and Our Children Cannot Afford the Status Quo
The Idaho Statesman, June 5, 2005

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