“Native Americans fishing at Neah Bay” by IMLS Digital Collections & Content is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Interfaith picnic to focus on plight of salmon

By Matthew Kincanon

Save Our Wild Salmon, along with other groups, will be holding an interfaith picnic on Saturday, June 10 at 9am, at Wawawai County Park along the Snake River in Colton, Washington to educate participants on the issues surrounding the decrease of the salmon population in the Snake River and how it has affected wildlife and Native American tribes.

Sam Mace, Inland Northwest director of Save Our Wild Salmon, said they “intersected with the faith community on salmon recovery issues.”

“There’s been so much involvement and excellent work from the church community on the coal trains and climate change issues,” Mace said. “We thought it was time to get the engagement and whether we could build some bridges and do some joint work on the salmon front.”

According to Jacob Schmidt, an organizer at Save Our Wild Salmon and whom Mace called the driving force behind the event, the four dams built at Snake River have resulted in salmon runs being “entirely cut-off.” He added that the other runs were weakened due to the salmon being “picked-off by predators” and water temperatures being too hot for the fish.

Schmidt said the Snake River’s four dams provide little power and flood control, while only one of them provides support for irrigation.

“Right now, the federal agencies that are in charge of how we operate the dams and how we restore the salmon,” Mace said, “have been ordered by a judge to do a new process and new plan that must include options of looking at removal of the four Snake River dams.”

Mace added that, by 2020, these plans will be put in front of the public, with a final decision being made by 2021.

Schmidt said the Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for protecting and restoring the salmon population, as well as those who have to come to a decision regarding the four dams by 2021.

“We have two percent of our wild runs left in the entire Columbia River basin,” Mace said. “Which makes the importance of restoring the Snake [River] even more important.”

Regarding the Native American tribes affected by the salmon population’s decline, Mace said this issue has affected their culture, spiritual life and livelihoods.

Both Schmidt and Mace said some of the treaties the organization is trying to honor include the treaty from 1855, which involved the Nez Perce and other tribes giving up a portion of land while reserving their right to hunt and fish, and the 1985 Pacific Salmon Treaty.

Mace said the Native American tribes still fish, but are not able to get “the number of salmon that they should be getting,” due to the fish’s significant decline.

As a result of the decline of salmon, Schmidt said Native American tribes have had to purchase the fish from Alaska.

“The loss of salmon has hit them [Native American tribes] so hard,” Mace said, “and when the dams came in, not only did they lose salmon, but they also got their lands inundated by water.”

Mace mentioned an instance she heard from a Palouse tribe elder where her mother was “forcibly removed by the sheriff as the waters were rising,” near where Ice Harbor Dam is located.

Mace said they lost sacred sites and ancestral burial grounds due to the flooding and archeological excavations that occurred there.

Schmidt said he and several others have written letters to Washington State governor Jay Inslee and senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell to remove the dams from Snake River, adding that Murray and Inslee have been the most helpful.

According to Schmidt, one of the actions done by Inslee he found significant was when the governor declared June to be Orca Awareness Month in 2013 due to the orca population suffering from the decline in the salmon population.

“The loss of salmon in the Puget Sound and the loss of salmon in the Columbia River is causing our orcas to starve,” Mace said, “and the scientists are linking that to malnourished mother orcas and malnourished calves, which is leading to deaths.”

Despite efforts done to help the restore the salmon population since 1992, Schmidt said none of the species of salmon affected by the dams have been removed from the endangered list.

Both Schmidt and Mace said this year’s salmon return will be one of the lowest since the 1990s.

“This year is a devastating year for the fish coming back up,” Mace said, “and next year is looking to be potentially worse.”

According to Mace, the goal of the picnic is to start a conversation on the issue, educate people on what is happening, “introduce people in Spokane, with the congregations, to Nimiipuu, to the Nez Perce,” and describe what is at stake to this group and what the salmon mean to them.

Schmidt said he also wanted to “connect the faithful people of Spokane with the Snake River,” inspire people to take action and have them hear about how the salmon runs are connected to spiritual traditions.

Those attending will meet at Salem Lutheran Church (1428 W Broadway) and carpool down to Wawawai County Park and return to Spokane by 4pm. Lunch will be provided, but attendees are free to bring a potluck item.

According to Schmidt and Mace, the picnic will involve both of them giving background information on the salmon situation, a panel of speakers with Schmidt moderating, a walk on an interpretive trail, and Alaskan salmon for lunch.

The speakers at the picnic will include Schmidt and Mace, wheat farmer Bryan Jones (Dusty, Washington), Gary Dorr (chairman of Nez Perce General Council, in Lapwai, Idaho) and Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment board members Lucinda Simpson, Elliot Moffett. Pastor Eric Dull, from St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Spokane will be giving an invocation.

Groups sponsoring the picnic are Salem Lutheran Church, St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Save Our Wild Salmon (Spokane, Washington), Earth Ministry (Seattle, Washington), and Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment (Lapwai, Idaho).

About Matthew Kincanon

Matthew Kincanon is a former Digital Content Producer with a journalism and political science degree from Gonzaga University. His journalism experience includes the Gonzaga Bulletin, The Spokesman-Review, and now SpokaneFāVS. He said he is excited to be a freelancer at SpokaneFāVS because, as a Spokane native, he wants to learn more about the various religious communities and cultures in his hometown.

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