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An Interview with Elaine Harvey, CRITFC’s new Watershed Manager

Jul 18, 2023

Elaine Harvey (Yakama)

CRITFC is excited that Elaine Harvey (Yakama) has joined our team to lead the Watershed Department. Elaine is respected for both her professional and educational accomplishments as well as her dedication in the longhouse communities to the culture of the Columbia River Plateau people. Prior to taking on her new role, Elaine served as the Environmental Coordinator for Yakama Nation Fisheries. Elaine’s work and experience makes her uniquely prepared to combine traditional wisdom and knowledge with Western science in the efforts to save salmon and the rivers where they live. CRITFC Public Affairs Specialist Andrea Tulee (Yakama) sat down with Elaine to talk about her new role and where the work of tribal salmon restoration is heading.

Hi Elaine, thanks for talking with me and congratulations on your new role. Can you introduce yourself?

Hi, my name is Elaine Harvey. I’m a Yakama citizen from the Kamiltpah and Wilawitis bands. I live in Goldendale, Washington. Prior to accepting my current role I worked in a number of different capacities for the Yakama Nation Fisheries program, including project manager for the Rock Creek Fish and Habitat project, Hydrosystems Oversight Coordinator, and Environmental Coordinator.

You will be leading CRITFC’s Watershed Department. Can you tell us why you were interested in this position and how it fits into the tribes’ goal to put fish back in the rivers?

I was interested in the CRITFC Watershed Department Manager position because it would allow me to look at all the watersheds in the Columbia Basin. It is quite expansive, but being able to focus on all the different tribal areas to evaluate what is impacting fish survival is important. Also, by taking a basin-wide approach to prioritize issues, tribes will be able to better identify what is really impacting all our culturally significant fish. For example, the suckers are an important ceremonial fish that do not get a lot of attention because no one wants to fund projects to study them.

Tribal members are noticing the number of bridgelip sucker (one of the four sucker species found in the Columbia Basin) have been declining. These were historically plentiful throughout the Columbia Basin. Tribal fishers rarely even catch them for spring feasts anymore.

Overall, we are losing fish in stream systems throughout the Columbia Basin. This is a sign of both bad water quality and loss of fish habitat. Climate change is having an impact, too. Lower water levels and higher temperatures stress all fish, especially salmon, steelhead, and suckers. Many native fish in our region require cold water and now most summers we see water temperatures that are over the stressful or even lethal limits in for these fish. These conditions unfortunately help introduced, non-native warm water species such as bass and catfish that prey on juvenile salmon and steelhead.

I am thankful that CRITFC and the tribes are looking at predation issues. There is so much happening and impacting the fish just within the predation sector. There is a lot of focus on the sea lions in the mainstem Columbia, but we also are seeing invasive piscivorous fish and birds impacting our fish resources as well.

I think looking at the whole Columbia Basin is important and then honing in on the four treaty tribes’ regions will provide us with a deeper understanding of important watershed issues.

I am intrigued to hear about this important work and curious to know what influenced you to pursue this type of career. Who has been the biggest influence on your life and what lessons did that person, or those people teach you?

My elders, especially those from the Kamiltpah Band, had the most influence on me to pursue my education in fisheries. Many of them are gone now. Most of the families from our longhouse are fishing families. I grew up in a fishing family and all our ceremonies are really tied to salmon and all the different fish like Pacific lamprey and suckers. I also observed the salmonid populations decline over time and how it affected our longhouses and our elders, leaders, and chiefs.

I remember back in the 80s, there was a year when we did not have spring salmon. No longhouse had salmon for their feast and had to serve frozen salmon from the year before. That was a very sad experience and that is when I decided that I wanted to work in fisheries to try to help with the tribal work to protect and restore salmon.

You just answered my next question but are there any other experiences that stand out that have prepared you for this new role?

Working for our tribal fisheries program has been the main experience that prepared me, but also, I worked with many different non-governmental organizations (NGOs). I have been an Executive Board Member of Columbia Land Trust for over three years, which an agency that protects lands for primary conservation purposes. I am a board member for the Friends of the White Salmon which protects the riparian corridors of the Klickitat and White Salmon rivers. I also work with the Columbia Riverkeeper, which is an organization that protects the Columbia River, the environment, and supports tribes to protect treaty-reserved resources.

How does your upbringing and belief system influence your professional stance on issues pertaining to resource conservation and climate change?

My upbringing is mainly through the longhouse/Washut religion. There is a strong teaching that everything is connected on our mother earth. For example, if we negatively impact the water then there will be a trickle-down affect on everything else in the watershed. All of the resources made a way for our people to survive for thousands of years and it is up to us to be their voice and to protect the wildlife, fish, and their habitat. Our longhouse ways tie us to the land, and it ties us to the resources like the N’chi Wana, Pahto, and Wyeth. Our religion really ties us to where we are from.

You graduated from Heritage, Central and UW. What were your favorite courses? Also what was one of your fondest memories from college?

My favorite course topics at the University of Washington (UW) included fisheries science and Indian Law. I think the Indian Law courses were really important to understanding current tribal capacities. Today that is what we live by, with the decisions made in court cases like US v WA and US v OR which is directly correlated to our tribal fisheries. At Central Washington University, I took many environmental law courses which were quite essential to my work.

I am not really an artistic kind of person, but they offered a tribal coastal art course at UW. Marvin Oliver, the professor had Quinault and Alaskan ancestry . He taught us the simplest coastal designs and patterns which could then be combined to create images of whales, salmon, bears, and other spiritual beings. I thought I couldn’t draw, however, my final project was a painted eagle on a hand drum and I was really proud of how it turned out.

What advice can you provide to young people who want to get active in the issues that affect their tribes or communities?

I would like to promote our youth to get involved in youth councils like the Umatilla youth group. I am really glad they are active and outgoing. Any kind of Native youth group is really important to expand your leadership skills and get out of your little shell. You’re expected to participate, use your voice, and represent your tribe while traveling to different areas. If our Native youth can be involved with the community and different clubs to get themselves out there, those are the types of things we need. Native youth should volunteer as much as possible because those are points they can earn to win scholarships. I was a recipient of the Bill Gates Scholarship and volunteer work gave me extra points that helped me to be selected. I was also an AmeriCorps and Salmon Corps recipient.

That’s awesome I didn’t know you were a Bill Gates Scholar. That is one of the best scholarships so hopefully more of our youth will become aware of it and apply. One last question: a lot of the people who read this interview will be from the non-tribal public. What message would you like to leave them on how they can develop a stronger connection with the Columbia Basin and help you and the tribes’ efforts to protect and restore the salmon and the watersheds where they live?

We all call this place home here in the Columbia Basin and since we call this place home, we are all the stewards of the land and waters for all that inhabit it. To be a good steward of the land, we must all be cognizant of our actions on the landscape that will have an impact to the fish and wildlife and their habitats. We can work together to improve and conserve water quality and quantity which is essential to all life in our region. Tribes, NGOs, state departments, private businesses, and individuals can all work together to protect and restore the salmon and watersheds throughout the Columbia Basin.