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Healthy Floodplains, Living Rivers

Aug 31, 2016

In preparation for the 2016 Future of Our Salmon Conference in October, CRITFC, along with a number of other intertribal organizations and tribes co-hosted a pre-conference Technical Workshop in Spokane, Washington. The workshop was held in preparation for the main conference that will take place in Portland on October 18-20.

The Columbia Basin is home to numerous tribal nations on both sides of the US/Canada border. They all have long known that the actions and decisions of one group can impact and influence those who live both upstream and downstream. The understanding of this shared impact and responsibility to the natural resources of the region is one of the reasons that fifteen US tribes and seventeen Canadian First Nations have come together for the second time to host the Future of Our Salmon Conference. These tribal nations come from and have ancestral use and management authorities throughout the entire Basin, from the upper reaches of the Columbia River in British Columbia, to the Snake River headwaters in Yellowstone National Park, to the mouth of the great river as it empties into the Pacific Ocean. Their health and fate are linked—along with that of the entire region—to the health and fate of the waters of N’Chi Wana—the Big River.

This year’s conference theme is  “Healthy Floodplains, Living Rivers” to highlight the vital role of floods and floodplains to healthy rivers. The tribes viewed floods as natural occurrences that helped heal and sustain the land. They knew the times of the year when floods normally occurred and acted accordingly. They also knew that rivers are by their nature unpredictable and needed to be respected at all times. At the workshop, Colville tribal leader John Sirois spoke about traditional knowledge of rivers. He pointed out that tepee doors always faced east except when they were set up near rivers because thousands of years of experience had taught them to always be aware of the river as it could change in an instant. From the time they were born, children learned to respect rivers and their potential to flood. A Nez Perce story tells how children should never to fall asleep near a stream because Dragonfly would come by and sew their eyes shut. This scary possibility, much more effective and memorable to kids than saying  “always be aware of the river because it could rise and sweep you away in an instant,” taught them to never let their guard down when it came to interacting with a river.

In our modern world, humans have tricked themselves into believing that they can have absolute control of rivers and seem surprised when a river doesn’t obey. Unfortunately this has resulted in rivers and streams that can be harmful or inhospitable to salmon and other fish, degrade rather than replenish the land, or cause human suffering when floods destroy homes and other infrastructure in areas where they shouldn’t have been built. Hopefully the efforts to undo the damage that avoiding floods and controlling rivers has done will gain broader support. By working together, we can help rivers act like rivers again.

The goal of the Future of Our Salmon conferences is to facilitate dialogue between co-managers of the resource and a broad range of other interested parties in an ongoing quest for a unified vision of fish restoration in the Columbia River Basin. The conference is for federal, tribal, First Nation, state, provincial, and local government representatives; Indian, sport, and commercial fishers; environmental organizations; and anyone else interested in maintaining and restoring ecosystems for sustainable populations of anadromous and resident fish throughout the Columbia River Basin and its tributaries. Visit the conference page to learn more and to register.