Historic summit of tribes presses dam removal on Inslee, Biden, congress

SQUAXIN ISLAND RESERVATION, Mason County — In a historic gathering of more than 15 Indian nations, tribal leaders from around the Northwest called for immediate action to save endangered orcas and the salmon they depend on.

The call for salmon and orca recovery was joined by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, who each stated dam removal on the Lower Snake River, a tributary of the Columbia, must remain on the table and a comprehensive solution quickly reached to save salmon and orcas from extinction.

Their statements were delivered at the Salmon Orca Summit here, co-hosted by the Nez Perce Tribe and Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, representing more than 50 Indian nations.

From the interior of Idaho all the way to the coast and everywhere in between, tribes gathered Wednesday and Thursday in a show of unity behind a dam-busting proposal by GOP Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho. His Columbia Basin Initiative would take down the four dams on the Lower Snake River and replace their benefits, with billions of dollars of investment in a new future for the Pacific Northwest.

Simpson, present for both days of the summit, said that the time is now to make whole tribes that are unable to enjoy a way of life guaranteed forever in the signing of the treaties with the United States in 1855. The ability to harvest salmon has always been at the heart of the cultures their ancestors sought to preserve.

Salmon recovery is not just about removing four dams, it is about restoring a way of life, said Devon Boyer, chairperson of the Fort Hall Business Council for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in southeast Idaho. It was the Sho-Bans who petitioned for listing the first salmon under the Endangered Species Act in the Columbia-Snake river system, 30 years ago this year.

To conclude the summit, tribal leaders read resolutions endorsing dam removal agreed to by the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and the National Congress of American Indians, representing more than 500 tribal nations.

President Fawn Sharp, vice chairperson of the Quinault Indian Nation, signed the national resolution, which also calls for another summit.