Darkness to Dawn: Columbia River Native Tribes’ Science and Salmon Restoration Success

Authors: Brian Footen

Disciplines: Anthropology, Biology, Economics, Environmental Studies, Native American Studies, Political Science and Public Administration, Psychology, Social Work and Sociology

Themes: Activism, Climate Change, Cultural Preservation, Economic Development, Environmental Restoration, Indigenous Science, Intergovernmental Relations, Leadership, Natural Resources, Salmon, Treaty Rights and Sovereignty

Tribes: Nez Perce

From the start of its 1243 mile journey in the Canadian Rockies all the way to the Pacific Ocean, the Columbia River drains the heart, soul and bounty of the Pacific Northwest. In this water is a history of a river and people that goes back 15,000 years. The bountiful water has supplied the world with food and energy. The development of the river for hydro-power and irrigation has played a critical role in modern history. This development, however, has come at great cost to the original inhabitants of the area and the primary resource that they thrived on: the salmon. The Nez Perce, NiMiiPuu, lived in the Columbia River basin for thousands of years. This existence was altered by the arrival of European settlers, and in 1855, the Nez Perce signed a treaty that defined an area over which they had jurisdiction and rights to the resources, including salmon, vital to their culture and survival. Since then salmon populations have declined. Dams and the resulting habitat degradation have had negative impacts on salmon survival. Some populations have been listed as endangered, and policies regarding how these fish are treated have complicated the recovery process. Recent efforts by the Nez Perce tribe, however, have shown that in spite of a mechanized river and political resistance, the river still has enough bounty to bring back a salmon run that was nearly extinct.