Even before we eat the salmon at the feasts, we drink choosh. Tribal people have known since time immemorial that water is what all life depends on. Where tribal people could once drink pure water straight from the rivers in the region, today we don’t even dare. It is unacceptable that our most precious medicine has been turned into something that can harm us and the fish, animals, and plants that all depend on it. The tribes have been advocates of improving water quality for decades, particularly since our diets rich in fish expose us to higher amounts of toxic substances found in the water.
On November 14, CRITFC hosted a Columbia Basin 15 Tribes meeting with Dennis McLerran, EPA Region 10 Administrator. Over 40 Columbia Basin tribal leaders and tribal staff attended to discuss water quality issues of common concern. The meeting gave them the opportunity to express tribal views on the water quality standard processes in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, EPA rulemaking, the Columbia River Restoration Act, and other topics. Prior to this meeting the tribes met with Rob Duff, Washington Governor’s Office Policy Advisor, to review the Washington Governor’s Toxics Reduction Initiative. As a result of these meetings, the tribes agreed that future strategies are needed to move forward including the need for improved state water quality standards and documenting our concerns directly with the EPA. It was decided that the 15 tribes should meet annually on water quality issues due to the many continuing pressing concerns. By speaking together with one voice, the Columbia Basin tribes are forcefully reminding the US government that water should be protected, pure, and respected, not just because it’s a treaty protected obligation, but because all life in the region is counting on it.