Treaties: Preserving Native American Culture and Alleviating the Effects of the Bonneville Dam.

The land was rich in natural resources when the first non-Indians arrived. After creating the Oregon Territory in the 1840's, congress opened up the territory to homesteading. The Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest lived on the land which is now Washington and Oregon; until the arrival of white homesteaders. When the white settlers came, they realized what a large industry could be made from the salmon and started pushing the natives off the land. The tribes fought for their land and their fishing rights. As a result, many treaties and government projects were put into action to guarantee the tribes' fishing rights and to help preserve Native American culture. Although these treaties have been enacted, the voices of the Native Americans were overlooked and ignored by the government.

In 1855, treaties with the 14 federally recognized Columbia River tribes were signed. In these treaties, tribes ceded most of their land but reserved exclusive rights to fish within their reservations and rights to fish at all usual and accustomed fishing places. This treaty also gave them access to off-reservation lands so the tribes could continue using their land for traditional activities. The rights reserved in the Treaty of 1855 were the basis of their economy and the core of their religion. In the 1900's, the tribes rights on the Columbia River were being ignored by the government due to the introduction of hydroelectric power and pressures from the fishery services.

In 1937, the construction of the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River began. Dam operations since the treaty enactments directly influenced the amount of resources available to the tribes. The salmon flows dramatically decreased when the river was dammed and the natives were not able to harvest the salmon as they did prior to dam construction. The creation of the dam eventually flooded important Indian fishing places and blocked salmon migration to 2,800 miles of fish habitat. In 1938, Congress passed the Bonneville Project Act to market power from the Bonneville Dam. With the creation of the Bonneville Dam, salmon populations decreased. In order to mitigate the Bonneville, the government decided to create hatcheries along the river. So the Mitchell Act was passed in 1938, which promised that fish lost because of the dams would be replenished with the help of hatcheries. In 1948, they began implementing the Mitchell Act and created hatcheries below the Bonneville Dam and two above the Dalles Dam. The problem with the Mitchell Act was 85% of the tribes' mainstream fishing areas did not benefit from the hatcheries; the fish returned to the lower Columbia, not the reservation fishing areas. This caused the Indians to reject their tradition of on reservation fishing and forced them to fish off of their reservation land. This upset the Indians because they felt their rights of the Treaty of 1855 were being ignored. Washington officials made an attempt to require tribal fishers to obey the state conservation laws; but instead, the Indians continued to observe the treaty rights they had been granted in 1855 and continued to fish. The fish and game officers began to confiscate tribal fishing boats and arrest Indians who continued to fish. As a result of this, a case was assigned to review the situation; which was the US vs.Washington. Federal District Judge, George Boldt came to a decision in 1974 declaring that Indians had been denied their 1855 treaty rights to fish off their reservations. They were granted the right to harvest the salmon off their reservation lands. Included in this decision was that the tribes were entitled to a "fair share" of the fish runs; which was 50% of the harvestable fish destined for the tribes' usual and accustomed fishing places. In 1980, a decision came into effect saying that hatchery salmon do count in the number of salmon caught by the tribes. This decision significantly affected the number of salmon the tribes could catch on a yearly basis.

In 1982, the Northwest Power Planning Council adopted a fish and wildlife program that drew heavily on the recommendations and opinions made my the tribes. This program was improved three times since the creation of it, and has effectively filtered out or ignored the tribes' original recommendations. Native Americans have been in a constant struggle to get their voices heard; even though there has been treaties signed between the government and the tribes. Part of this reason is pressure form the fishery services and the high demand for cheap hydroelectric power. As a result of this, native American tribes feel they are being discriminated against.

Instead of being ignored and letting the government take over the salmon restoration, the Indians decided to take matters into their own hands. In 1994, four tribes, The Nez Perce Tribe, Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Yakama tribes developed their own Columbia River Anadromous Fish Restoration Program called Wy-Kan-Ush-Mi Wa-Kish-Wit: Spirit of the Salmon. The plans' purpose is to put fish back into the rivers and protect the watersheds where the fish live.

"The sacred salmon runs are in decline. It is the moral duty, therefore, of the Indian people of the Columbia River to see them restored. We have to take care of them so that they can take care of us. Entwined together inextricably, no less now than ever before, are the fates of both the salmon and the Indian people. The quest for salmon recovery is about restoring what is sacred to it's sacred place."
-Ted Strong, Yakama
US vs. Oregon.
Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Comission
Last Visited: Tuesday October, 27, 1998
Last Updated: October 20, 1997

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