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World Water Day, 2014 and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission

World Water Day, March 22, 2014. Waterways of the Columbia River Basin include these photographs of the Lower Columbia River.
World Water Day, March 22, 2014. Waterways of the Columbia River Basin include these photographs of the Lower Columbia River.
Catherine Al-Meten

Today is the United Nations World Water Day, 2014. This day is celebrated yearly to focus attention on the importance of fresh water and the management of freshwater resources. March 22 was officially declared World Water Day in 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. This year’s theme is Water and Energy, and here along the Columbia River, we are well aware of the link between the two. In the past themes have included Water and Food, Water and Cities, and Water Quality. For more information, visit the website of World Water Day.

Columbia River Summer
Catherine Al-Meten

On group of people and tribes that work tirelessly to restore and heal the waters of the Columbia River Basin, is the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. This morning they posted the following statement in honor of World Water Day, 2014.

“Happy World Water Day! Tribal culture has always taught that all life depends on water (or choosh). We, along with all of the First Foods: the salmon, game, roots, and berries depend on clean, healthy water. Let's celebrate the day by recommitting to protecting and restoring all the waters of the Columbia River Basin.”

Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, have been actively engaged in work to heal the rivers in the Columbia River Basin. A major, ongoing project is the restoration of the Salmon runs, cut off to the upper reaches of the Columbia River and her tributaries through the destruction of Celilo Falls and other river systems and the development of dams and hydroelectric systems. Rebuilding the Salmon runs, taking down dams and protecting fish and wildlife, and working tirelessly to get the U.S. government to honor its treaties regarding the care and use of the River, and the traditions and practices of indigenous peoples who live and work along the rivers. As Bill Green, Director of the Canadian-Columbia Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission said recently, “The loss of salmon is equal in cultural impact to the residential schools--I think that gives you an order of the magnitude of cultural loss.” Green was speaking as discussions were underway for the renewal of the 50-year old Columbia River Treaty-a treaty made without the consultation of First Nations peoples. The treaty originally dealt with issues over power generation and flood control.

A number of dams, including the Grand Coulee and the Chief Joseph dams in the U.S., and the Keenleyside, Brilliant, and Waneta Dams in British Columbia, were built without fish ladders. This devastated the Salmon runs, and had tragic and significant effects on fishing for the entire Columbia River Basin. Paul Lumley, the Executive Director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission has made it clear that U.S. tribes have made river restoration projects a high priority. In April there will be a salmon conference, and it is hoped that all interested in Salmon restoration and other issues related to restoring the River will attend and participate in ongoing efforts to restore and heal the waters of the Columbia Basin.

The United Nations World Water Day listed the following as their objectives for this year:

“Objectives:
Raise awareness of the inter-linkages between water and energy
Contribute to a policy dialogue that focuses on the broad range of issues related to the nexus of water and energy
Demonstrate, through case studies, to decision makers in the energy sector and the water domain that integrated approaches and solutions to water-energy issues can achieve greater economic and social impacts
Identify policy formulation and capacity development issues in which the UN system, in particular UN-Water and UN-Energy, can offer significant contributions
Identify key stakeholders in the water-energy nexus and actively engaging them in further developing the water-energy linkages
Contribute as relevant to the post-2015 discussions in relation to the water-energy nexus”

Issues are continually being raised and projects and plans being made that impact the health of the river and the safety and well being of those who live and work along the waterways of the 258,000 square miles of rivers and streams in the Columbia River Basin. Should a new oil transfer terminal be built in the Port of Vancouver? Are safeguards in place to protect the river and the people from spillage and other potential environmental problems related to the use of the river? What is being done to clean up the river, and prevent more it is incumbent upon each of us to take an interest in decisions being made about the use and condition of the rivers, streams, ports, and shorelines of the rivers, lakes and streams. The Oregon Public Health Department and Washington Department of Ecology both maintain sites online to provide updates on health issues for wildlife, pets, and humans. livestock,

Our lives here in the Pacific Northwest affect and are affected by the health of our waterways. Watching the ships, barges, fishing boats, and recreational craft on the rivers and streams, we recognize both the power and majesty of these beautiful resources. Spend some time today outside near the river, and look for ways to involve yourself more fully, more regularly, and more boldly toward doing your part to restore our rivers, streams, and lakes to health. Be wise and respectful in how you use the river and what you do along her banks. Pick up your trash, and develop practices that honor and respect our natural resources.

Water is sacred. It is one of the basic elements of which all life is formed. All sacred traditions refer to the sacredness of water, and equate it to that which the Creator brought forth to water the lands, to help grow crops, to nourish all life, and to be an essential element of all life. Water is used as a symbol for cleansing and renewing, for dedicating and committing ourselves to renewal and for helping in the ongoing care and respect for that which is part of the ongoing creation. Enjoy the beauty of the rivers, streams, and lakes. Be thankful for the waters that fall as rain or snow, or that cover the ground with dew in the morning or shroud the night with fog and mist. Let water flow over your body as you shower or bathe, and be grateful for each sip of water you take and the abundant source of water you have. Our water is a gift, and the more mindful we can be in how we use and treat this gift, the better it will be for those who follow in our footsteps. After you enjoy the waters, do something to help protect, heal, and preserve the resources of our waterways. Make it a significant part of your life, and pass along the gifts to those who follow in your footsteps.

Here is a portion of a letter that Chief Seattle sent to the U.S. government in response to a request to buy tribal land: Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.

We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family.

The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you our land, you must remember that it is sacred. Each glossy reflection in the clear waters of the lakes tells of events and memories in the life of my people. The water's murmur is the voice of my father's father.

The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. So you must give the rivers the kindness that you would give any brother.

If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life that it supports. The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. So if we sell our land, you must keep it apart and sacred, as a place where man can go to taste the wind that is sweetened by the meadow flowers."