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DR Michel finds Fig Tree educates on tribal issues

DR Michel of Upper Columbia United Tribes

DR Michel, executive director of Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT), appreciates that The Fig Tree educates people about tribal issues, telling them that what UCUT does benefits everybody.

"The heart of our mission statement is that we do our work for the benefit of all people," he said, noting that this is the message he has shared at ten annual One River Ethics Matter (OREM) conferences along the river to inform people and to advocate for inclusion of ecosystem functions in the 2024 renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty.

The Fig Tree has regularly covered those conferences.

"We connect with Fig Tree editor Mary Stamp because she knows how to spread the word. It's a huge asset," DR said.

"Stories are important to our community, because the river is about us, not us vs. them. It's about anyone who recreates or uses the resources of the river," he said.

"It's up to us to correct the historic wrongs and provide opportunities that were taken from our generation and future generations, like my first great-granddaughter and the people we have not yet met," DR said.

"What we do today has an impact. My grandparents were the last to see salmon at Kettle Falls before the Grand Coulee Dam was built. Now we have been five generations without salmon. We lived on the river for thousands of years and understand from our creation stories that the salmon offered their lives and took care of us, so we were responsible to take care of them," he said.

DR is aware that bringing the salmon back will involve short-term costs, but he emphasizes its long-term benefits for everyone who lives along the creeks in the Columbia River Basin.

"The river and the salmon are who we are as tribal people," he said. "Salmon being taken out has had an impact on all the wildlife, birds and bears that ate salmon carcasses.

"Return of the salmon benefits not just people and wildlife, but the whole ecosystem. Everything is connected," he said.

DR pointed out that it was hard for tribes to place an economic value on the things given by the Creator, because the benefits cannot be fully represented by numbers, but UCUT did research to set a value for ecosystem benefits at $190 billion annually, compared to $3.3 billion for hydropower. Beyond the economic value of irrigation, navigation, power and recreation, there is economic value to bring the salmon home to the upper river in Canada, he said.

"The Fig Tree tells stories that connect communities and tell of commonalities people share," DR added. "The Fig Tree builds connections and invites people to work together in looking for answers.

"We have had success reconnecting the people to water and connecting to our cultural traditions related to water," he said. "We have had salmon releases at Kettle Falls and different areas up and down the river. We see salmon in the water after 80 years. Salmon released in Tshimakain Creek swam through upper dams and then Grand Coulee, Chief Joseph and along the lower river to the ocean, and then made it back to Chief Joseph Dam. People said they wouldn't remember after being shut out for so long, but they did.

"The salmon's instinct to go back to the traditional spawning grounds is still there," he said. "That's an important part of the story. After all we have done to the fish, they are still living up to their end of the deal. Our responsibility is to be sure they are there for future generations," he said.

"The Fig Tree provides us with opportunities to talk not only to government leaders, but also to those who put politicians in office about why it is important to bring the salmon back. They need to look at short-term and long-term opportunities and to see the system as a whole," said DR, who has been a speaker several times at the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference to help inform people.

At the conference in January, he showed a video that Upper Columbia United Tribes along with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

It's about education to encourage folks to talk to friends and family, he said.

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, June 2024