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Save Our Wild Salmon

Salmon run April 21, 2024
By Leonard Forsman

For thousands of years, our ancestors managed this region’s landscape based on our knowledge of the animals who share this region, and their habitats. This ecological knowledge was passed along from generation to generation, forming the foundation of our values and culture, until, at treaty times, our right to continue these practices was undermined.

This change was memorialized by our ancestor, Chief Seattle, in the speech he delivered as negotiations with Washington territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens were wrapping up:

“Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as they swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch.”

Today, after decades of work led by our fishers, elected leaders and culture keepers, we have modern tools available to us to advocate for the health of our region’s ecosystems and the prospects for future generations. This Earth Day, much of that effort centers on supporting the Climate Commitment Act, restoring vital waterways and advocating for growth that makes room for a thriving natural world.

Climate action

The climate crisis is urgent, especially as special interests work to repeal the Climate Commitment Act through Initiative 2117. Streams and oceans are heating up, threatening salmon populations. Puget Sound waters are getting more acidic, harming shellfish populations and the marine food web. Shorelines are eroding on our reservation and throughout our traditional territory.

Climate change is a threat to our way of life as Suquamish people and to all life.

When the Climate Commitment Act was passed by the Legislature, we were hopeful that it would reduce our region’s carbon footprint and help us all adapt to the rapid changes. The CCA isn’t perfect — it can be improved. But to throw it out and threaten the progress we’ve made based on speculation about its impact on gas prices is shortsighted.

Protecting salmon habitat

This Earth Day comes as we mark the 50th anniversary of the Boldt decision, which determined that treaty tribes have the right to half the harvestable salmon and shellfish in Puget Sound and beyond. The ruling has been foundational to our work to protect the natural habitats that support these species.

One of our efforts has received a lot of attention from the news media in recent months. After decades of delays and after appeals up to the U.S. Supreme Court, a decision was issued ordering obstacles to fish passage, like culverts, be removed. A treaty right to fish is not a meaningful right if fish runs go extinct. The Washington Department of Transportation has made real progress in removing obstacles and replacing them with bridges and other structures that support healthy streams and rivers as required by the court. We’re excited to see the early signs of salmon recovery

Over time, we hope to restore our region’s stream and river systems as much as is feasible to pre-contact conditions. Roads and bridges that preserve these waterways allow our state’s growth to coexist with a healthy environment.

Growth and waterways

Growth is inevitable in our region. As part of our treaty rights-protection efforts, we have worked for decades to control sprawl and manage growth in partnership, and sometimes at odds with, local governments.

We encourage all jurisdictions to prioritize sustainability and natural resource protection when they update their comprehensive plans. Confining dense development to urban growth boundaries, preserving rural areas, and investing in on-site stormwater retention and water treatment systems are necessary to protect the region.

In our ancestral tradition, the people, land, animals and plants are inseparable — we all share the same spirit. This respect for the natural world is what we’re working to restore. The damage done won’t heal overnight, but together with many others, we’re making progress. I urge all of us to recommit to the long-term restoration of this beautiful region we call home. Your children, and mine, will thank you.

Leonard Forsman is chairman of the Suquamish Tribe, a signatory to the Treaty of Point Elliott.

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