Friday, March 25, 2011

Salmon People

I read an article on the famous Boldt decision of 1970 which gave seven western native American tribes the right to harvest 50% of the Columbia river salmon.
After years of being basically kicked to the curb by the white man this ruling, which was subsequently upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court, the tribes were getting some portion of what was theirs for centuries before the white man came west.
Some may argue that this is not right and that what was done by our trespassing forefathers of a hundred years ago is not our fault. I would simply say how can a huge injustice ever be adequately repaid. The native Americans of centuries ago relied on the returning salmon for every aspect of life. The salmon were their ancient heritage and in every way as important to them as the bison was to the plains tribes.
Their whole social structure revolved around the salmon along with their spiritual beliefs. To say that they were not entitled to what Federal Judge George Boldt ruled is either selfish, greedy or just ignorant. In my opinion the injustices that were inflicted upon the native American tribes throughout North America can never really be fully repaid or understood by the white man as to the magnitude of the wrong done.
Of course the Boldt decision is not without it's flaws. A very large one is the allocation process, as far as who gets what, has to rely on fishery biologists estimating what the future runs will be. This process has proved to be a failure in these recent lean years as the estimations of run sizes has fallen flat on it's face once again in 2011. However it is what it is and until something better comes along it's the best way.... I guess.
That being said we sports anglers are not owed fish to catch. The non-tribal commercial netters, whose greed in the past is one of the main reason we are where we are in the first place, are not just automatically entitled the salmon.
With hydro-electric dams, spawning habitat degradation and poor hatchery processes we all own some of the blame. Whether it be our generation or the generations of our fathers we basically ripped off the tribes and got greedy. The notion that the fish will always return in the huge numbers they once did is just plain stupid and to fight like dogs for the scraps of what is left is a very disturbing commentary on where we are as a civilized people.
Yes the tribes deserve what they got with the Boldt decision and a whole lot more as far as I am concerned.
I like going to Sherars Falls on the Deschutes to watch the people of the Warm Springs tribe net returning salmon and steelhead. With impossibly long handled nets these graceful fishermen try to intercept the salmon that are held up in the violent water beneath the falls.
They put up with the white tourists that stop along the road and snap their pictures and who cannot begin to understand the symbolism of what is taking place.
I deeply admire these people in that they have stubbornly held onto the ancient traditions of their ancestors despite losing nearly everything due to the encroachment of our ancestors.
I understand their mistrust of the society who took their land and their salmon. They did not invite us here and that makes us invaders.
Along with the theft of their land we also introduced disease and alcohol to them.
So if you ever get the chance to observe this fishing ritual at Sherars Falls take a moment to realize all these proud and noble people lost and how, even in this day and age, tenaciously they cling to what is left of their ancient heritage.


  1. Well written.

    Now that I'm knee deep in the salmonid catch controversies at Bonneville, I appreciate a realistic look at the native harvest that is happening.

    Most of the folks who fish right near the dam (that I've talked to personally) view the indians like they view the sea lions -- anything that takes fish that isn't ME needs to get the hell out of here, either by mandate (native fisheries) or by death (sea lions). A tiresome rehashing of the entitlement issues that have put the environment on the chopping block during the whole occupation of this fine continent.

  2. I'm with you Shane.

    The tribes reserved the right to fish in all usual and accustommed places in common with all other citizens of the territory. The Boldt decision ensured that.

    The old footage of Celilo is simply incredible. It is so sad that environmental awareness came just a few decades too late for that place. It would never be inundated by a dam today. Sad.

  3. Fighting over the scraps...
    Well put. We never seem to think as we condemn the native tribes, that we (the white people) systematically went about destroying the salmon with deforestation and dams.

  4. Was hunting around for the piece on Haig-Brown and found this.

    I sympathize strongly with your sentiments Shane.

    However, as an economist, I cringe every time Solomon has to figuratively cut the pie in half. It never should have gone down this way.

    If the "best use" of in-river salmon and steelhead is in a recreational fishery, then it is truly a shame that Washington State First Nations were never invited to co-manage the best salmon and steelhead streams for anglers paying use-based and harvest-based fees.

    Washington State anglers really screwed up in provoking this court decision.
    There are far too many wild and ocean-ranched steelhead finding their way into fish markets given the latent, potential willingness to pay for the experience of angling and sometimes harvesting steelhead with rod and reel.

    As you may be aware, Quebec's mostly public Atlantic salmon and sea-run charr waters are intensively managed. Two of the best Atantic salmon streams in the provinces are co-managed with the local native bands.

    If ordinary workin' stiff quebecois can pay C$35 to C$60/day to fly fish Atlantic salmon on THEIR PUBLIC waters, I'm sure that anglers on the west coast can do similar.

    It would be a huge win-win-win for quality angling, First Nation community economic integration as well as fishery and watershed protection.