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Pauline Terbasket, Executive Director, Okanagan Nation Alliance in front of the graphic poster of the conference. In the final panel was the theme that tied the whole conference together: “Water is Life” and our rivers are sacred and must be defended.

The Columbia Basin is home to numerous tribal nations on both sides of the US/Canada border. They all have long known that the actions and decisions of one group can impact and influence those who live both upstream and downstream. The understanding of this shared impact and responsibility to the natural resources of the region is one of the reasons that fifteen US tribes and seventeen Canadian First Nations came together for the second time to host the 2016 Future of Our Salmon Conference. These tribal nations are from and have ancestral use and management authorities throughout the entire Basin, from the upper reaches of the Columbia River in British Columbia, to the Snake River headwaters in Yellowstone National Park, to the mouth of the Great River as it empties into the Pacific Ocean. Their health and fate are linked—along with that of the entire region—to the health and fate of the waters of N’Chi Wana—the Big River.

One tribal creation story recounts how right after Salmon promised his body to feed the humans, Water spoke up and offered himself to be the home for Salmon. Not only is water a central part of Columbia Basin tribal religions and cultures, it is fundamental for life on earth. Protecting and restoring water is perhaps the most important aspect of protecting and restoring the Columbia River salmon. No one group can completely restore salmon alone, but the power of wy-kan-ush (sacred salmon) is reason for hope.

The world over, salmon affect the cultures of the people in which they come in contact. The widely different traditional cultures of Japanese Ainu, Pacific Northwest tribes, the Norwegian coastal areas, and the Russian Far East each have salmon returning to their lands and each share a reverence and gratitude for the bounty that salmon provide. The modern Pacific Northwest is no different. Salmon have shaped the culture of the newcomers to this region just as they shaped tribal cultures before them. Salmon are the icon of this place. They are valued as food, as a resource, and as a representation of the wildness and wilderness for which the Pacific Northwest is known. They shape our land use policies and power grid. Whether they realize it or not, every single person in the Northwest is a Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum. We are all Salmon People.

Healthy Floodplains, Living Rivers

The theme for the 2016 Conference was “Healthy Floodplains, Living Rivers.” It focused on the vital role that floods and floodplains play in healthy rivers. It gave attendees a broader knoweldge of floodplain function and management and explored how the impacts from climate change alter these processes

Out of the conference, a call to action was developed to help guide tribal, state, federal, and academic efforts and study on how best to repair rivers that have been modified for convenience or flood control:

Recommendations

A collaborative and unified whole-basin vision and action framework must be developed and implemented. Such a framework would target and focus actions to connect all agencies, tribes and communities through support of common objectives for improved natural floodplain health and ecological function in the Colombia Basin. An action framework would immediately call for no net loss of floodplain habit and then prescribe widespread floodplain enhancement actions. To initiate development of this approach, form a post-conference transboundary planning committee to:

  • Identify entities that have management authorities related to Columbia Basin floodplain land or water management.
  • Send inquiries to entities requesting that they delineate how their respective authorities can be implemented (as per “Workshop Call to Action Points”) to increase efforts to address natural floodplain function in order to achieve net ecological/social/economic benefits.
  • Compile responses into a draft master list of improved Columbia Basin floodplain and water management actions.
  • Utilize GIS designation of historic, current and planned floodplain areas to locate restoration actions and track floodplain area recovery.
  • Develop education and outreach approach that identifies necessary stakeholders and promotes understanding and benefits of actions.
  • Disseminate draft framework to agencies, tribes, and stakeholders for comment.

Thank you Gary James and your team for your work in developing this Call to Action.

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