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)

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.

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

Grand Forks’ Roly Russell met with The Gazette after he was named Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Development Thursday, Nov. 26. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
NDP’s Roly Russell named secretary for rural development

Russell formerly represented rural Grand Forks on the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary’s elected board

RNG plant
Construction on ground-breaking RNG plant in Fruitvale set to go in spring 2021

REN Energy partners with Calgary engineering firm for innovative West Kootenay gas plant

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
47 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health region

1,538 total cases, 399 are active, ten in hospital

This picture of Taghum resident Marc Savard was taken in February when he first spoke to the Nelson Star and little was known about the virus that had shut him out of his job in Wuhan, China. Photo: Tyler Harper
VIDEO: Once an outlier, Nelson man’s COVID-19 experience now typical

Savard was living in Wuhan, China, when the pandemic began

A B.C. Supreme Court Judge ordered a Grand Forks couple to remove their trailer from its last known whereabouts at a Granby Road beach. Photo: Submitted
Grand Forks couple leave Bare Ass Beach after court injunction

The pair had been in a long and contentious dispute with city hall since last Spring

From the left: Grand Forks sculptor David Seven Deers, Rotary Club President Grant Hill and Shinning Raven Woman Council member Regina Burrows pose for The Gazette at Seven Deers’ 9th Street studio Friday, Nov. 27. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks Rotarians raise money for Shining Raven Woman project

President Grant Hill said the Rotary Club “had to be a part of it”

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Top doctor urges Canadians to limit gatherings as ‘deeply concerning’ outbreaks continue

Canada’s active cases currently stand at 63,835, compared to 53,907 a week prior

A Canadian Pacific freight train travels around Morant’s Curve near Lake Louise, Alta., on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. A study looking at 646 wildlife deaths along the railway tracks in Banff and Yoho national parks in Alberta and British Columbia has found that train speed is one of the biggest factors. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Study finds train speed a top factor in wildlife deaths in Banff, Yoho national parks

Research concludes effective mitigation could address train speed and ability of wildlife to see trains

A airport worker is pictured at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C. Wednesday, March 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canada extends COVID restrictions for non-U.S. travellers until Jan. 21 amid second wave

This ban is separate from the one restricting non-essential U.S. travel

Menno Place. (Google Street View image.)
B.C. care home looks to hire residents’ family members amid COVID-19-related staff shortage

Family would get paid as temporary workers, while having chance to see loved ones while wearing PPE

A man walks by a COVID-19 test pod at the Vancouver airport in this undated handout photo. A study has launched to investigate the safest and most efficient way to rapidly test for COVID-19 in people taking off from the Vancouver airport. The airport authority says the study that got underway Friday at WestJet’s domestic check-in area is the first of its kind in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Vancouver Airport Authority *MANDATORY CREDIT*
COVID-19 rapid test study launches at Vancouver airport for departing passengers

Airport authority says that a positive rapid test result does not constitute a medical diagnosis for COVID-19

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

Most Read