Snake River Dams Another Example
by Mohamed Salem
Government, corporations continue to neglect Native American rights in favor of ignorant policies
The history of Native Americans has always been a morality tale. Since the establishment of the U.S., policies have never taken indigenous tribes into account. There is a strong connection between the indigenous Nez Perce tribe and salmon, said Gary Dorr, former chairman of the Nez Perce tribe General Council. Salmon is not only a major source of subsistence, but also a part of the tribe's heritage and legend.
"Our culture is the salmon," he said. "The dams destroy our way of life. The fight against the dams is a fight for our fishing rights and sovereignty."
There are currently four dams on the lower Snake River: the Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor dams. They endanger wild salmon and steelhead populations. For years, tribal harvest activities have been affected by changes in the salmon population.
Today, the tribe's fish consumption is a fraction of what it used to be. Sixteen million salmon returned each year in the time of Lewis and Clark in comparison to 10,000 now, according to Save Our Wild Salmon, a non-profit organization.
The U.S. government broke its promises with the Nez Perce tribe and their historic treaty. According to Article three of the U.S. treaty with the Nez Perce tribe in 1855, "The exclusive right of taking fish in all the streams, where running through or bordering said reservation, is further secured to said confederated tribes or bands of Indians, as also the right of taking fish at all usual and accustomed places, in common with citizens of the Territory."
The government never consulted the tribe about the dams in a meaningful way before constructing them, Dorr said.
"That's an infringement of our treaty terms," he said, "and an obstruction to our way of life and rights."
Arguments on the economic significance of the dams are nonsensical, given the scientific knowledge we have today. As a civil engineer, I can tell you that windmill farms and solar energy are more efficient, permanent and environmentally-friendly sources of clean energy and are better alternatives to the four dams. Given the geography of the Palouse area and its climate, we can build renewable energy sources at extremely low costs, with no cultural damages.
"We all have a shared cost," Dorr said. "The tribal members, activists, water protectors have a cost of loss of culture, which we have been paying for dearly since the dams went in."
For years, people have been voting for politicians that address their issues, but rarely have Native American issues or their abuse been addressed. Taking down the four dams will be a victory for our environment, future generations and the Nez Perce. Until then, we're guilty of silence, and the Native American morality tale will remain stuck in its bystander chapter.
The construction of four dams on the Snake River is a prominent example of this. In September, many wildlife advocates, including members of the Nez Perce tribe, held their third annual "Free the Snake Flotilla" to protest the dams and call for their removal.
The dams were built without any prior consultation or consideration of the cultural or environmental impacts on the Nez Perce tribe. Citizens and politicians should no longer be silent about these violations of Native American rights.
The dams are only one example in a long history of exploitation, and one that continues into the present. The Dakota Access Pipeline construction, which began in 2016, echoes the fact that corporations were given priority over the indigenous people's territory.
It's also essential that we understand the Native American fight for their lands, rights, privacy and existence never ends. Every era brings its means of exploitation and abuse, and as long as this abuse is happening in any way or form, the fight is never over. Corporations and inconsiderate government policies will continue to abuse the Nez Perce tribe's territory.
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