Many share Columbia's voice needed in treaty renegotiation
The Ethics and Treaty Project with the Cowlitz Tribe and Washington State University's Native American Affairs recently virtually held the seventh annual conference on "One River, Ethics Matter" about issues in renegotiating the Columbia River Treaty based on justice and stewardship, not just power, irrigation, transportation and flood control.
The ethics conference for the river promotes the idea that all are stewards of the land and water.
Physician and conservationist John Osborn along with retired Lutheran pastor Tom Soeldner founded the Ethics and Treaty Project to facilitate conferences based on 1) hospital ethics about who decides for and speaks for critically ill patients; 2) the Columbia River Pastoral Letter for the spiritual, social and ecological transformation of the river, and 3) the Truth and Reconciliation lessons on institutional racism in South Africa to provide a platform to highlight a historical wrong and speak truth related to the impact of dams on the river, the tribes and first foods like salmon.
The first conference in 2014 in Spokane was followed by gatherings in Portland, Boise, Revelstoke, Missoula, Castlegar/Spokane, Ridgefield (online) this year, and in 2021 it will be in Okanagan in B.C.
The themes of "water is life," "rivers as healing," and "water and land of the region feed the people as the people care for the water and land" were repeated throughout the conference.
The first panel on "Rivers of Our Moment," looked at ethical relationships and responsibilities of humans and water from an indigenous worldview and a Judeo-Christian perspective. Tanna Engdahl, an elder and spiritual leader of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, and John Rosenberg, a retired Lutheran pastor and environmental activist working on fisheries restoration in Tumwater, spoke. Steven Fountain, director of the Native American Affairs Program at Washington State University-Vancouver, moderated this panel discussion.
Tanna told of Coyote creating the earth and sun, rivers, valleys and mountains, wingeds, four leggeds and two leggeds—supporting each other and every aspect of life as created—the first rule of life for the Cowlitz and most native people.
Indigenous people understand the purpose of life is to make good decisions and live in gratitude for the minutia of each day, raising young to respect elders. Youth do a vision quest, like baptism in nature, and are recharged by meditation, songs, prayers and water, she said.
Tanna said settlers thought "our relationship with the Creator was inferior." Fur traders with Indian wives invited Catholic priests to validate their marriages and children. Conversion began by force or attraction to rituals and beliefs. Competing denominations accepted "cruelty to lesser people," and took the land, believing the "lesser people" did not deserve it, she said.
"A horrifying aspect of the new religion was 'dominion over land and water,' justifying misusing land and water—and creating imbalances and legal frameworks to set them," said Tanna, who now sees attraction to "old ways of harmony."
"As we develop finesse in legal battles with the federal system, we have had the Native American Religious Freedom Act and the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act," she said.
"We are now returning to rivers and practicing age-old ceremonies. Even Christianized Cowlitz know the same God hears us," Tanna said.
John Rosenberg shared scriptures on water and land ethics, and reviewed faith communities' recent efforts to heal relationships with Native Americans.
In 1987, Northwest bishops and executives apologized, recognized freedom of religion and affirmed the right to access sacred sites. In 1997, they committed to join tribes in the struggles for political and economic justice. In 2014, Earth Ministries and others joined tribes to oppose coal export terminals.
In 2001, state religious leaders affirmed the Catholic Bishops Pastoral Letter on the Columbia River Watershed for "all people of goodwill." They spoke pastorally of caring for creation as stewards of the "Columbia as sacred commons to provide for the common good," John said.
They said water is a sign of God's presence, and called the region's citizens to stand with tribes to conserve and protect the watershed. The watershed includes rainfall, streams flowing to oceans that evaporate and start the cycle again.
Tribes know the watershed, he said: "We need to learn from them so we love and save even places we don't know."
In discussion, Tanna said native people speak for the river, "a life force with a voice sensitive people hear."
John said many are deaf to the river, but "tribal people and scientists help us hear it. The river speaks clearly. Tribes can speak on behalf of the river and need to be included in Columbia River Treaty negotiations."
Tanna said the conferences build understanding among those who care so they can challenge people in the federal government, living far away and seeing just trade, commerce, hydro, flood protection and irrigation.
"The U.S. negotiating team on the Columbia River did not include Native Americans, but who decides what goes into the treaty, who speaks for the river and salmon, who keeps the river clean, who supports all who swim in the river?" asked Tanna.
In the second session on "Rivers through Our Memory," three leaders of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe—Mike Iyall, historian, Christine Dupres, historic preservation officer, and Nathan Reynolds, Cultural Resources Department director—described the historic abundance on land and in the water that fed a thriving population living along the river. Numbers of salmon and native people dwindled with European immigrants bringing disease and coming to exploit.
Mike said ancestors understood the river's seasons, gathering roots and berries, and hunting in highlands in the spring and summer, and returning to the flood plains to fish into the fall.
Christine said people lived in abundance because their culture respected the land, water and wildlife. Europeans moved brown people onto reservations, yet assumed the land was untouched wilderness.
"The Cowlitz did not negotiate a treaty or cede land," she said. "We remained in Southwest Washington close to the river and land.
"Colonialism impacted tribes. Past and present policies are connected," she said. "Settlers took natural resources and converted them into wealth."
With the termination of tribes—61 in this area—from 1946 to 1961, native Americans were told to move to cities for jobs, but there were no jobs. They lived in poverty.
Nathan said levees turned floodplains with meandering streams and estuaries in Portland and Vancouver into dry land for real estate.
Mike said dams turned the river into a long chain of lakes, so spring runoff no longer carried baby fish out to sea.
Nathan said the Cowlitz had harvested, smoked and dried eulacon (smelt), lampreys (eels) and salmon, which are endangered species and need to be protected by the treaty.
He helps the Cowlitz acquire land in traditional areas to preserve prairie habitats, oak woodlands, lupine, white tail deer and mountain goats. He is working on a nearly $50 million Salmon Restoration Project to create habitat for smelt, lamprey and salmon.
The third panel, "Rivers through our Vision," speakers were John Marsh, policy analyst with the Cowlitz, Jim Heffernan, policy analyst with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission; Sandra Luke chair for the Lands and Resources Sector of the Ktunaxa Nation in British Columbia, and three youth, Emma Johnson, Shay Way and Rosalie Fish. They envisioned the watershed's future with attention to spiritual, community, ecological and ecosystem realities.
Their visions include: free flowing water to restore the estuary health; restoring fish passage, and collaboration of Columbia Basin tribes to restore ecosystem functions.
Jim qualified his presentation noting that the Yakama Nation speaks for itself on issues related to the Columbia River Treaty.
Jim and John Marsh said the decision for the U.S. Department of State was to continue, terminate or modernize the treaty. They outlined how the Columbia Basin tribes collaborated to create a regional forum that provided a consensus recommendation to them in 2013 that included the need to integrate ecosystem function into a modernized treaty. By 2016, they decided to modernize the treaty through negotiations with Canada.
The U.S. and Canada initiated formal talks in 2018. Though initially denied a seat at the negotiating table, Indigenous Nations in Canada gained observer status in April 2019, but Columbia Basin tribes in the U.S. were allowed to send only technical representatives with limited participation. When negotiations resume in 2021, Columbia Basin tribes want to sit at the table, as the Indigenous Nations are now.
Sandra envisions healthy citizens and communities speaking their languages and celebrating who they are and were, managing their ancestral lands and resources as self-sufficient, self-governing nations.
"We uphold our covenant with the Creator not to overuse the land—a foundation of our spirituality," she said. "What we do to the earth, we do to ourselves. Our people have cared for the land, and the land has cared for our people."
Youth shared their visions. Shay told of restoring lamprey to help clean the river. Emma restores cultural ceremonies related to smelt, salmon and lamprey. Rosalie runs and wins races to bring attention to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), relating that violence to violence against the environment.
In the fourth panel, "Rivers as Our Responsibility," Martin Wells, retired Lutheran bishop, said he became involved with conferences as bishop of the former Eastern Washington Idaho Synod, which encompassed the Columbia River Watershed.
He was also inspired by the Catholic Bishops Pastoral Letter's call for taking responsibility to seek the river's health. He calls for nurturing and conserving the watershed for the common good of communities, water, land, air, wildlife, indigenous traditions/spirituality/culture, economic and environmental justice.
Other speakers were Taylor Aalvik, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe's director of natural resources; Celia Delaney, a member of the Klamath Tribe and licensed mental health worker who helps the Cowlitz deal with trauma, and Pauline Terbasket, executive director of the Okanagan Nation Alliance, which is restoring salmon to the Okanagan.
Taylor told of recovery efforts on the Lewis River—a major tributary of the Columbia—partnering with government entities, conservation nonprofits and tribes to restore an estuary drained for real estate near Longview, by creating meandering channels where salmon can spawn.
Celia said the fight for land and water rights, and the loss of cultural and religious rights created intergenerational trauma that impacts mental health of Native Americans. Many are affected by loss of sovereignty, boarding schools, poverty, alcohol, drugs, MMIW, depression, anxiety, PTSD and now COVID.
"We can heal by going to the water. Water carries memory. Water shapes us. Water is life," said Celia who takes youth outdoors in the summer to do native sports, drum, hike, swim and paddle. "Just sitting by water treats anger, anxiety and depression. Fish ceremonies also heal."
"Water connects us," said Pauline of the link between salmon recovery for the Okanogan Syilx Nation and all tribes along the Columbia River, including the Cowlitz. "The lower river is connected to the upper river."
It is important to know the history, culture, language and resilience of our people along the river, because "every voice has impact. Indigenous voices are not inferior to colonizers," she said. "What watershed and waterway is your home? How do you connect with indigenous neighbors who share the land and waters?"
Pauline hopes to build relationships regarding shared responsibility for the river and what "water ethics guide our actions for seven generations ahead."
In Kelowna, B.C., she has been working with the community for many years on a 12-year Salmon Re-Introduction Project to restore the Okanogan River, for returning salmon, which included River Restoration, changing its channelized canals into meandering oxbows with natural gravel beds.
"We have the right to be involved in what happens to our land, water and people," she said. "Because of years of commitment to be partners with numerous governments and agencies, good science, our people's cultural knowledge, there has been some habitat improvement, and we have seen thousands of adult salmon return this year. When we work together and care about land and water, and the land and water will care for us. Water is life, my life, your life and the life of our children and the people to be."
Closing the conference, Tanna said "all of us are ancestors in the making, so we need to think and plan for seven generations. I look to move forward so my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren have a better future."
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree ,January, 2021