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Tribes, CRITFC Among Inaugural Members of Biden’s Freshwater Challenge

Apr 24, 2024

Tribal representatives from throughout Indian Country attended the one-day White House Water Summit, addressing topics ranging from salmon habitat improvements, improved drinking water supply systems on reservations, pollution prevention, and addressing water issues in a changing climate.

On Tuesday, April 23, as part of Earth Week, President Biden convened state, tribal, and local leaders from across the country for a White House Water Summit where the Administration announced a new national goal and partnership to conserve and restore freshwater resources. The America the Beautiful Freshwater Challenge: A Partnership to Conserve and Restore America’s Rivers, Lakes, Streams, and Wetlands sets a bold, new national goal to protect, restore, and reconnect 8 million acres of wetlands and 100,000 miles of our nation’s river and streams.

All four of the Columbia River treaty fishing tribes as well as CRITFC were among the over 100 inaugural members have already signed on to this challenge to protect, restore, and honor rivers and fresh water

The Water Summit gathered tribal, state, local, and federal representatives to discuss three main topic areas around water: Water Conservation & Protection, Clean & Safe Drinking Water, and Water & Climate Change. The summit was opened with remarks from Warm Springs Chair Jonathan W. Smith who spoke of fishers at Celilo Falls safely drinking directly from the Columbia River and how substandard water systems on his reservation impact his community. Yakama Nation Chair Gerry Lewis provided an opening prayer and remarks, telling the attendees about the sacredness of choosh (water) and how all life depends on it. He also wore a special medallion featuring salmon and future generation of this sacred First Food.

Yakama Nation Chair Gerry Lewis provided the opening prayer and song for the summit.

“In our traditional way, when we gather together in the longhouse for our services, we sit together at the ceremonial table and we wait for the water to be poured,” explained Chair Lewis. “Next, the salmon is placed on the table, followed by the deer, roots, and berries — our First Foods. Finally, we completely the meal with water. We are taught this order, and that water is the lifeblood of our existence. There are 574 sovereign federally recognized tribes in the United States. Our communities and cultures are all unique; but we are connected by our understanding that water is sacred — water is life.”

Read about some of the watershed restoration work and recommendations CRITFC and its member tribes have established that align with the Freshwater Challenge that are found in Wy-kan-ush-mi Wa-kish-wit, the tribes’ Spirit of the Salmon plan to restore salmon and protect the watersheds where fish live.