Kalispel Tribe recognized for watershed stewardship
At the 12th annual Winter Waters event, the Upper Columbia River Group of the Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Law and Policy honored the Kalispel Tribe as the 2019 Watershed Heroes for stewardship of the waters and aquifer of the region.
Before presenting their award, Tom Soeldner of the Sierra Club Group also recognized the Protect Mill Canyon Watershed Group as "Water Guardians" for challenging a permit to use bio-solids on agricultural land and successfully preventing application above Mill Canyon west of Spokane. The group is now working on a state moratorium to prevent such bio- solid application in other areas.
In honoring the Kalispel, Catholic Bishop Emeritus William Skylstad thanked the tribe for their stewardship of the Pend Oreille Basin.
"An honoring event helps us remember, be in contact with a remarkable tradition and history, and be a people of relationships, goodwill, survival and strong vision for the common good," he said.
He recounted that in 1870, the tribe was almost annihilated—dropping from 1,600 in the early 1800s to 100 in the early 1900s. They were told by the U.S. government to move from the Priest River-Pend Oreille area to a reservation in Montana. While the Upper Kalispels moved to the Jocko Reservation, the Lower Kalispels refused to move.
Their refusal resulted in 1914 in their 4,600-acre original reservation—one mile wide by eight miles long—along the Pend Oreille River, miniscule compared with the 200-mile long original land.
In 1965, the average tribal income was $1,400. There was one phone on the reservation, and few had running water in homes.
"In 1996, the Kalispels' mission statement expressed a commitment to growth, preserving their tradition and culture, and education," Bill said. "Today, the tribe models resiliency, determination and commitment to community, overcoming difficulties to flourish and be regional leaders."
The bishop listed some accomplishments:
• Since 2000, the tribe has donated $18 million through its Charitable Fund to help the poor, keep alive the Salish language, protect the environment and sponsor civic efforts for the common good.
• They have become a voice for the voiceless in the region, addressing issues of fish, wildlife and concerns for generations to come.
• They have advocated for the environment, deeply sensitive to how all are connected.
Ray Pierre, vice-chair of the Kalispel Tribe, spoke of their efforts to preserve natural resources, especially through their fisheries and training biologists.
In an interview with John Osborn of the Sierra Club, Glen Nenema, chair of the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, said the Tribe's priorities are to care for the land they have been on for centuries, to address threats to their natural resources and to care for members' health.
Growing up in the 1950s on the reservation knowing his great grandparents, grandparents and mother, Glen not only found the simple, slow pace of life then "rich in many ways," but also experienced the Tribe's struggles with alcoholism, neglect and abuse that grew out of their losses.
Glen helped set up the Camas Institute for education and behavioral health to address spiritual, mental, physical and emotional needs, including the Salish language program and daycare.
John invited him to tell of the Kalispel Tribe's work for decades to protect the Pend Oreille River.
The Kalispel were fishermen, gatherers and hunters, Glen responded
"Fish were important for food. The river was our highway to Montana," he said, noting he fished as a boy, but after the dams were built, fishing began disappearing.
"I always felt it was good medicine to walk along the river, to be there with the river and mountains," Glen said. "Sometimes we ask the river to take away what hurts us, to take it downriver.'
At the end of his walks, his head would be clear, he said, because "the water is strong medicine."
The Albeni Falls dam, built on traditional land, and the Box Canyon dam both affect wildlife and fish. The tribe has worked to mitigate those impacts and restore native fisheries.
They worked many years with the Public Utility District (PUD) and filed a lawsuit over the Box Canyon dam, Glen said.
Beginning with the Northwest Power Planning Act, they have sought solutions for the negative impact of dams. They had no funds, technical people or biologists to explain options until they worked with Allan Scholz of Eastern Washington University's fisheries department. His students help the tribe understand the act, giving "us the technical ability to help protect our future," he said.
John asked about the cleanup from mining pollution and smelting wastes in the Coeur d'Alene Basin, cleanup from Tech Resources in Lake Roosevelt, uranium pits on the Spokane reservation and pollution flowing into the Spokane and Columbia Rivers.
Glen said people in the sparsely populated Upper Columbia Region have been vulnerable because the government has not advocated for them and "has often abetted polluters."
Bearing the brunt of impacts from the past and present, tribes were motivated by tribal interest to advocate for the public interest and common good to protect the environment, he said.
The Kalispel Reservation, being in a Class 1 air quality area under the Clean Air act, is supporting the challenge to a proposed PacWest silicon smelter in Newport," he added.
About 20 years ago, there were hostile meetings and interactions with agencies. Now the Kalispel Tribe collaborates with utility partners, federal regulators and other entities in a comprehensive plan for the Pend Oreille Basin, particularly related to restoring fisheries with native trout, Glen said.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, April, 2019