NW Native Groups Want Fish Passage in Columbia River Treaty

Mar 21, 2014

Area Native Americans met in Spokane this week to discuss various options available to increase salmon runs in the Columbia River. The talks are aimed at eventually getting such discussions included in negotiations for the Columbia River treaty between the US and Canada.

The Columbia River treaty is up for possible renegotiation beginning this fall. The 1964 treaty between the US and Canada forced mostly on electrical generation and flood control. But now Tribal leaders want to make sure Salmon recovery is part of any new document.
 
For the Spokane tribe, Salmon was a very important part of the culture. While Salmon runs from the ocean to Spokane stopped back in the 1910 with the construction of the Little Falls dam, the fish were permanently cut off from reaching the confluence of the Spokane and Columbia rivers in 1942, with the arrival of Grand Coulee dam.

Matt Wynn is with the Spokane Tribal council, and says restoring those runs would bring a renaissance to their way of life. He says it would mean a return to their cultural beginnings. "For time immemorial we were a salmon people, and even the hang gesture for our people that didn't know what to call them, they would do the hand gesture from the hand to the mouth: salmon eaters."

Now 15 U.S. tribes and several from Canada are pushing to see fish passage established at the huge Grand Coulee Dam, which never received any such arrangement.

Ideas discussed at the conference in Spokane include older concepts like truck returning salmon around the dam, as well as new technology like a vacuum system called "Whoosh".

Wynn: "Its this tube like a vacuum, and it pulls the fish through. The longest one was 235 feet, and it goes up a hill at a pretty steep gradient, and they were pulling the fish up and over."

The tribal leaders will meet again in Portland in April to discuss the strategy for trying to get these concepts for fish passage included in the Columbia River Treaty.

Wynn says they have received no feedback yet from the U.S. State Department, which would negotiate the treaty with Canada. But, the British Columbia government has said it does not want salmon restoration to be part of the negotiations over a new treaty.