Through millennia we Native people have been as one with the ocean, the forest, the mountains, rivers and the sky and all the many forms of Creation.
Like breathing in and breathing out, from one generation to the next, and from one century to the next, we have never questioned the right of the salmon to exist, or the whale or the hawk. That would be arrogant and disrespectful of our almighty Creator who designed every living creature with specific and intricate purpose. We didn’t need an Environmental Protection Agency or an Endangered Species List to tell us what was right and what was wrong.
It has been instinctive to us, and ingrained in the teachings our elders have passed from one age to the next that this Earth of ours is a delicate place. It is a place where one form of life depends on the next and they all depend on the many. We have known that we humans, too, are part of this chain of life, and that the chain is not complete unless it is connected into a circle. It is only then that it is without end.
We have known that this chain is about far more than mere physical sustenance. It is about culture and identity. It is about meaning, purpose and value. It is about humility and respect. Once it is truly understood there is no need for avarice and greed, or for coveting of more than is truly required. Value in life centers around such pursuits as peace, art, learning and teaching, helping others and exploring the Earth around us.
Tribal members have always been scientists of a sort. We have never seen a conflict between our value of science and our deep spiritual values. We have always practiced many of the same processes our scientists do today. We have learned by observation, and although most of our record-keeping was oral, we were good at it. And these records were passed from generation to generation, from the old to the young in a continuous compendium of knowledge that many today know as Tribal Ecological Knowledge, or T.E.K. Our scientists today, as well as more and more non-tribal scientists have realized the great value of this knowledge, gathered cumulatively over a course of thousands of years.
It is very unfortunate that such values seem to have escaped the current President of the United States. In fact, neither he nor his lieutenants seem to have much use for much science at all.
As reflected in his decisions in office to date, including his initial budget proposal and his prioritization of polluting fuels over clean energy, his values are an accentuation of some of the worst characteristics of a political system that could otherwise be great.
President Trump’s proposed cuts to some very important programs and agencies will hurt our Tribe, our region, the country and the world. His targeting of climate change is a key example.
Climate change is real and it is upon us. Here at Quinault Nation we are faced with the challenge of having to move our traditional village of Taholah due to climate change-induced sea level rise and intensified storms. Just a few years ago the ocean was hundreds of feet away from the village. Now it’s at our doorsteps. The glacier on Mt. Anderson, which has fed cool water to Lake Quinault and Quinault River for thousands of years has completely melted over the past few years. Ocean acidification is hurting shellfish and ocean warming and hypoxia are having a major impact on our salmon.
But President Trump has made no secret of the fact that he just doesn’t buy it. His proposed budget makes massive cuts in funding and personnel in the Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, directly targeting climate change programs and other ecological programs which have become crucial in today’s environment. He, his new EPA Director Scott Pruitt, and other Trump lieutenants have even used Gestapo-type tactics to try to uncover and discard climate change research and data. To their credit, scientists and other personnel there have openly protested and taken steps to do all they can to save this critically important information.
Trump also promised to ditch the Paris Climate Change Agreement in his campaign. To do so would be tragic. Of 197 countries that signed the agreement 136 have now ratified it, including the U.S. under President Obama. That makes it enforceable. It is an historic achievement, calling for all signatory nations to work to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and to adapt to climate change impacts. The Tribes, including Quinault Nation, are supportive of the agreement and seeking a greater role in its implementation.
Trump’s budget would also end programs to lower domestic greenhouse gas emissions. Pruitt has actually denied that carbon dioxide is a leading cause of climate change. That can only be characterized as a callous disregard for scientific fact.
The budget also calls for devastating cuts in ocean research with a reduction of 16 percent, or $1.5 billion from NOAA. Included is a $250 million cut from coastal research programs that prepare communities for rising seas and worsening storms, including the popular $73 million Sea Grant program, which works with universities, again reflecting disregard for science. These cuts will harm coastal readiness in the face of rising seas and damage states that rely on these funds to manage their shorelines.
The utter disdain for science demonstrated by this administration is insufferable. As a tribal leader I also view it as unconstitutional. Our treaty was signed in good faith, and it is the federal government’s responsibility to protect our fishing, hunting and gathering rights, on our ceded areas and in the ocean. It also has a critically important role in helping to assure the safety of all of our communities. Whether you’re tribal or non-tribal, no one has to convince you that we’re experiencing more intense storms in the winters and droughts in the summers. You’ve experienced them yourself.
Tribes did not cause climate change. We didn’t cause the ocean to warm, or the glaciers to melt, the seas to rise, the storms to become more violent, the prolonged summer droughts or the water to acidify. We are working to correct these problems, because our values, as Native Americans, drive us to do so. But the impacts of climate change are clear violations of our treaty rights. The United States Constitution, which we have fought to protect, and which President Trump swore to uphold, defines treaties as the supreme law of the land.
We call upon President Donald Trump, his cabinet and the Congress of the United States to uphold the United States Constitution and thus the Treaty of Olympia made with the Quinault Nation, as well as all other treaties made with other Tribal Nations.
We call upon them to stand up for the values that can help reconnect the chain of life.
Fawn Sharp is president of the Quinault Indian Nation.