Sacred Earth Matters annual planning retreat
Please join us on Saturday June 5 for a fun meeting to plan the activities of SEM for the year 2021-2022. This is a time when we brainstorm all of the possibilities for actions that address our mission. If you have ideas, or just want to help save our sacred earth from over heating, please plan to come. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for the Zoom link.
SEM Mission: To celebrate the sacredness of all creation and to empower and mobilize our congregation and community to urgently respond to the climate crisis affecting all of life, building a just and sustainable world.
Treaty-reserved fishing rights
U.S. Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho has made a bold proposal to “breach” or tear down the four hydroelectric dams on the Lower Snake River, the Columbia River’s largest tributary. Closer to home, Seattle City Light is in the process of relicensing the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project. It’s a series of three dams which provide 20% of City Light’s power; the current license expires in 2025.
What do they have in common? Honoring the fishing rights of our indigenous Indian Nations.
It was the Nez Perce who kept Lewis and Clark alive with salmon from Idaho’s rivers in 1805. Although the dams weren’t constructed until 1957 and 1975, the Lower Snake River’s coho salmon are already extinct and its sockeye salmon are approaching extinction.
The Upper Skagit tribe is also concerned about the survival of fish to maintain their fishing culture. They’re opposed to the federal government renewing City Light’s license. They want the 1961 Gorge Dam (it replaced a 1924 dam) removed and the river returned to a dry portion of the riverbed.
SEM is monitoring both projects and will be providing updates to the congregation. Accordingly, it might be useful to know something about treaty-reserved fishing rights.
Salmon and steelhead were a staple of the Native American diet when Congress created Washington Territory in 1853 and its first governor, Isaac Stevens, entered into treaties in 1854-55 with the tribes who had inhabited the area for millenniums. These sovereign nations were flexible in the negotiations, but adamant about retaining their fishing, hunting, and gathering rights.
Things went fairly smoothly until the 1880s when larger numbers of settlers arrived. By the early 1900’s there were dozens of canneries, and large commercial operations eclipsed what the tribes could catch. The state started applying state regulations to the Indians, charging them fishing fees, and making arrests for fishing in non-reservation areas. Tribes pursued legal remedies in state and federal courts with mixed results. With the Black civil rights movement and sit-ins continually in the news, tribal leaders began staging fish-ins and fish wars. The first of these civil disobedience protests in 1963 and multiple others were at (Billy) Frank’s Landing on the Nisqually River.
As the U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, Stan Pitkin, watched a pitched battle at a fishing camp on the Puyallup River in 1970, he decided to bring the fishing-rights issue to a head. He filed a complaint, titled United States v. State of Washington, in the U.S. District Court for Western Washington on behalf of the U.S. and as trustee for seven tribes. Another seven tribes joined the action. Attorney General Slade Gorton represented the state. Discovery and pre-trial motions took three years, and the trial itself didn’t start until 1973.
Judge George Boldt handed down his decision in 1974 which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the ninth Circuit affirmed in 1975. “The Boldt Decision” affirmed “the right of taking fish at usual and accustomed grounds and stations is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory…” It’s one of the biggest court decisions involving Native rights and tribal sovereignty. Read more about this topic in next month’s Church & Home.
The Earth is Sacred – Not Ours to Wreck