Ktunaxa elder Alfred Joseph serves as Chief of the Akisqnuk First Nation, which is located near the headwaters of the Columbia River where salmon used to migrate to before Grand Coulee Dam. The Ktunaxa Nation has been shut out of the CRT negotiation along with the Okanagan Nation Alliance, the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council, and 15 Tribes in the U.S. (Photo by Peter Marbach)

OPINION: Exclusion of Indigenous voices in U.S.-Canada water agreement puts salmon restoration in Columbia River at risk

Graeme Lee Rowlands is a researcher at Quest University

Graeme Lee Rowlands

Researcher at Quest University

Salmon used to swim all the way up the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean near Astoria, Oregon to the Canadian Rocky Mountains at the river’s headwaters in Canal Flats, British Columbia. It was an astounding journey of 2,000 km upstream that cut through a landscape of lush forest, dry desert and high peaks.

But since the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam without fish passage in Washington in 1942 (which the Canadian federal government consented to), salmon have been blocked from their ancestral spawning grounds in the upper half of the watershed. Their absence has deprived upper Columbia ecosystems of valuable nutrients that salmon bring from the ocean and has caused hardship to Indigenous peoples, who historically relied on this resource.

Now, with the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty (CRT) underway, we have a promising political opportunity to bring the salmon back home to the upper Columbia through a collaborative international restoration program.

Federal Treaty Negotiators appointed by both Canada and the U.S. have been in negotiation since May. However, hopes for salmon restoration (and ecosystems more generally) took a dive when both countries chose to exclude Indigenous nations from the process.

Indigenous voices have been the strongest champions for salmon in the lead up to the negotiation. They must be at the table — or we may lose this once-in-a-generation opportunity.

In a recently published study, my colleague and I investigate the factors that may matter most for negotiating salmon restoration as part of the new CRT agreement. We analyzed previous and similar treaties, as well as other fish passage projects and trends in global water governance and found that, in treaty negotiations, parties will often cede rights in one domain to gain advantage in another.

As the upstream party, Canada has a substantial geographical advantage because flood control, hydropower, ecosystem health, water supply, recreation and navigation in the U.S. all depend in-part on managed water flows from Canadian storage dams.

However, as the downstream party, the U.S. has an advantage on the issue of salmon restoration because the essential first step in a restoration program would be to get salmon over American dams, which are the first barriers to their passage.

So, for example, the U.S. could choose to “link” its support for salmon restoration to reduced payments for Canadian water management services. In this scenario, it is unclear if Canada would be willing to prioritize restoring salmon ahead of maximizing treaty revenues.

Our study flags the risk that valuable initiatives to restore the health of Columbia River ecosystems, like salmon restoration, could be sacrificed in closed sessions for shortsighted and inequitably distributed monetary gains. This is why it is critical to have strong advocates in the negotiating room that can guard against this possibility. The CRT renegotiation is not just an opportunity for the U.S. and Canada to pursue salmon restoration. More broadly, it is an opportunity to break with a long history on the Columbia River where ecosystems and rural people, especially Indigenous people, have been systematically marginalized for the sake of generating far away profits.

The original CRT agreement, which came two decades after the Grand Coulee Dam, flooded four of Canada’s agriculturally and ecologically rich valleys and created a system in which water flows are managed solely for downstream flood control and hydropower generation. And it did so with almost no local input or direct local benefits. Our governments have assured us that things are going to be different this time. But their choice to exclude Indigenous nations from the negotiation suggests otherwise.

This decision is inconsistent with the spirit of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada and the U.S. have endorsed, and is part of a worrying trend, reflected in the recent Supreme Court decision deeming the Canadian federal government need not consult Indigenous peoples when drafting laws.

It also stands in opposition to Canada’s commitment to true and meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

Indigenous leaders have been far-and-away the most effective champions for the health of the Columbia River’s life-giving ecosystems — which benefit all residents of the Basin on both sides of the border. To ensure that the new CRT prioritizes the environment in a meaningful way, our best hope is to elevate Indigenous voices.

They must be at the table. Their rights and our future demand it.

Graeme Lee Rowlands is a researcher at Quest University Canada, in Squamish, British Columbia; an environmental educator and a Contributor to EvidenceNetwork.ca, which is based at the University of Winnipeg. He has traveled the entire length of the Columbia River by bicycle, canoe, and kayak to learn directly from people and place.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Graeme Lee Rowlands is a researcher at Quest University Canada, in Squamish, British Columbia; an environmental educator and a contributor to EvidenceNetwork.ca, which is based at the University of Winnipeg. He has traveled the entire length of the Columbia River by bicycle, canoe, and kayak to learn directly from people and place.

Just Posted

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 18 COVID-19 cases, highest daily count since July

The total of COVID-19 cases in the region is now at 662

A Kelowna clinic decided to immunize their patients in a drive-thru flu clinic earlier this month. (Twila Amato - Black Press Media)
Interior Health anticipates increase in flu vaccinations this season

Some 300,000 doses of flu vaccine ready for distribution across Southern Interior

The Local Store is currently open for online harvest orders. (Photo Contributed)
Local Store launches online harvest orders

The orders must be placed prior to Oct. 27 for pick-up or delivery on Oct 30

Top row, left to right: Tom Shypitka, BC Liberals; Wayne Stetski, BC NDP; Kerri Wall; BC Green Part
Kootenay East candidates messages

We offered each candidate in Kootenay East space to hold forth on issues important to them and to voters.

COVID-19. (Courtesy of CDC).
Interior Health reports 12 additional COVID-19 cases

The total number of cases in the region is now at 644

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

Most Read