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Landmark Agreement Between Tribes, States, Fed Gov’t Signed

Mar 5, 2024

Combined effort and commitments between Federal government, tribes, and states strengthens collaboration for Columbia Basin restoration, salmon revitalization, and Pacific Northwest ecosystem preservation.

The ceremonial signing took place inside the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office next to the White House.

A major advancement was made for the Northwest region’s ecological health today when the Biden Administration signed a Memorandum of Understanding with four tribes and two states in their efforts to develop a sustainable long-term strategy to restore salmon and other native fish populations to healthy and abundant levels.

Today’s ceremonial signing formalized the Biden Administration’s December 14 historic agreement in partnership with the Yakama, Umatilla, Warm Springs, Nez Perce, Oregon, Washington, and conservation groups to restore wild salmon, steelhead, and other native fish populations, expand tribally-sponsored clean energy production, and provide stability for communities that depend on the Columbia Basin. The event was hosted by the White House Council of Environmental Quality.

The Memorandum of Understanding is between the United States Federal Government; the “Six Sovereigns” — the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, the Nez Perce Tribe, the State of Washington, and the State of Oregon; and nine conservation groups.

Speakers at the signing were White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory; Senior Advisor to the President for Clean Energy Innovation and Implementation John Podesta; Oregon Governor Tina Kotek; Washington Governor Jay Inslee; Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee Chair Shannon Wheeler; CTWSRO Chair Jonathan W. Smith, Sr.; Yakama Nation Tribal Council Chair Gerald Lewis; CTUIR Board of Trustees Member, Fish and Wildlife Commission Chair, and CRITFC Chair Corinne Sams; and Federal agency representatives.

Click here to watch the entire ceremony.

“This Agreement is a historic opportunity to help save our salmon and secure a just and prosperous future for everyone in the Columbia Basin,” said Jeremy Takala, Chair of the Yakama Nation Fish and Wildlife Committee and CRITFC Vice-chair. “We must restore Columbia Basin fisheries to healthy and abundant levels. The economic and ecological health of our region requires it, and tribal treaty rights demand it. Treaty fishing rights include the right to actually catch fish, not just the right to dip our nets into empty waters without salmon.”

The Pacific Northwest is witnessing death to salmon by a thousand cuts, but a primary impediment facing diminished salmon populations in the Columbia Basin are the effects dams have on the ecological conditions necessary for their survival. For nearly a century, hydropower operations on the Columbia River heavily impacted salmon runs. Today those impacts continue to grow as temperatures rise and precipitation, flows, and water demands become uncertain.

After the signing ceremony, the signatories gathers before a crowd of attendees eager to get a photo of the historic agreement.

The commitments agreed to by the US Government address recommendations put forth by the Six Sovereigns in their Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative (CBRI). The Six Sovereigns created the CBRI as a comprehensive solution to their shared and complex challenges in the Columbia Basin. It is focused on designing a future that rebalances energy infrastructure to support all economic sectors in a way that isn’t built on the backs of salmon as well as address historical tribal inequities.

The CBRI was informed by leading analyses such as CRITFC’s Energy Vision and the NPCC’s 2021 Energy Plan, both of which strongly demonstrate that an energy transition is taking place in the Pacific Northwest. This transition can be built on salmon-safe energy resources that must be harnessed in ways that end over-reliance on dams and their operations that are driving salmon runs toward extinction, impacting salmon.

Salmon are a keystone species to the Pacific Northwest’s environment and are at the center to the cultures of the region’s tribes. Without salmon, both the ecosystem and the way of life of all people who depend on healthy, abundant salmon runs will be irreversibly damaged. Over the course of developing the Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative, the Six Sovereigns strove to balance many needs and demands, however the needs of the salmon were consistently at the forefront of their thinking.

Following the signing ceremony, White House and Tribal leaders gathered in The War Room of the Eisenhower Executive Building to exchange words and gifts.

“While there are many cultural, ecological, and economic aspects to this issue, we all have a special obligation to center salmon and other natural resources who can’t speak for themselves,” said Aja DeCoteau, CRITFC executive director. “Today’s agreement between the United States and the Six Sovereigns keeps the needs of salmon in the forefront of all our efforts and puts us on the path toward healthy, sustainable salmon runs and an energy system that is both climate responsive and supports tribal cultural resources and values.”

The CBRI and today’s MOU must now be implemented for the Federal government to meet these obligations that are vital to a future that includes salmon, by harnessing the energy grid transformation in the Pacific Northwest now underway.

Words of Tribal Chairs

“Since time immemorial, the strength of the Yakama Nation and its people have come from Nch’í Wána – the Columbia River – and from the fish, game, roots and berries it nourishes. We have fought to protect and restore salmon because salmon are not just a natural resource, they are a cultural resource. The Biden Administration has announced its commitment to partner with us, our sister tribes, and our neighbors in the work that we have been doing, and will continue to do, to restore healthy and abundant salmon runs to the Columbia River. We can, and must, restore our salmon; and working together we can, and will, do so in a way that ensures our communities will have the energy and other resources they need for generations to come.”
— Chairman Gerald Lewis, Yakama Nation

“As Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) we are bound to the salmon and the rivers – these are our life sources. We will not allow extinction to be an option for the salmon, nor for us. The United States is bound to salmon and to us by Treaty where we reserved all our fisheries – our Treaty is the supreme law of the land under the United States Constitution. The federal dams on the lower Snake and mainstem Columbia rivers have had – and continue to have – devastating impacts on the salmon and our people, burdening our Treaty partnership. So today, as the Six Sovereigns and the United States commemorate our commitments to advancing salmon restoration throughout the Basin – including preparation for breach of the four lower Snake River dams – we are also restoring Tribal Treaties to their rightful place under the rule of law. Our work together here opens opportunities for new partnerships with renewable energy project developers, corporate clean energy procurement teams, policymakers, investors, and all parties interested in this historic opportunity to build a future of abundance in the Pacific Northwest.”
— Chairman Shannon F. Wheeler, Nez Perce Tribe

“It is an unfortunate truth that development in the Pacific Northwest, including in the energy sector, proceeded without, and in many cases hostile to, consideration for the Treaty rights, traditional knowledge, and cultural identity of the Treaty Tribes. Living up to past promises and using our indigenous knowledge is crucial to advancing an equitable and just future in the Columbia Basin. I would like to thank the Biden Administration for its leadership in recognizing the need to depart from “business as usual” in the Columbia basin, and work towards effective lasting change. We greatly appreciate the time and effort the Administration has committed to develop this plan to rebuild our salmon and native fish stocks to healthy and abundant levels, and to advance the clean energy transition in partnership.”
— Chairman Jonathan Smith, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs

“The United States owes a trust responsibility to the CTUIR through its treaty relationship, and the CTUIR reserved in its Treaty the right to fish at usual and accustomed places throughout the Columbia River Basin. This agreement aims to restore salmon and steelhead populations to healthy and abundant levels so the tribes may continue to exercise their right to fish as they have since time immemorial.”
— Chairman Gary Burke, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation