April 2, 2013 at 4:06 PM
Court ruling to repair fish habitat affects tribes
Olympia needs to uphold tribal rights
Billy Frank Jr., the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, has been fighting for his people’s rights for decades. In Monday’s front-page article “Tribes’ win may flow beyond culverts,” a U.S. district judge upheld tribal-fishing rights established under the landmark 1974 Boldt decision, rights Billy Frank Jr. and others say are crucial to their way of life. It is about time.
We have consistently not honored our treaties with the Western Washington tribes as we have destroyed crucial salmon habitat and ignored our obligations to protect endangered species. Somehow, we just don’t understand that if there are no salmon in tribal home rivers to catch, the tribe’s culture is at stake. The tribes need to protect salmon as they labor to maintain their way of life. This federal decision is a major step in correcting this injustice.
We, as a society, must now be bold and creative in our efforts to restore the environment (more than just opening culverts), protect endangered species and uphold tribal rights. This determination requires thoughtful, discerning and decisive leadership from our elected officials in Olympia. The time, therefore, is right for Gov Jay Inslee to rally public opinion, to not only restore and preserve salmon runs, but to look to the future and create new habitat for salmon. We must seize the moment, embrace the federal decision, and listen to elders such as Billy Frank Jr. and honor tribal rights — for all our good. It’s not only the law; it is the right thing to do.
– Dennis M. Gawlik, Bainbridge Island
Rectifying past errors
In the mid-1970s my family moved to Newport Hills in Bellevue. Behind our house was a lovely wooded ravine. My two younger brothers would come up to the house after spending hours playing in the ravine. They told stories of huge salmon that had made their way up this tiny tributary of Coal Creek to spawn.
One day I heard the sound of graders, bulldozers and backhoes working in the ravine. To prevent slides and reduce silt buildup in the harbor and estuaries of Newport Shores, the city of Bellevue filled the tributary with concrete culverts and gravel. My heart sank because I knew that this little jewel of a stream, in the middle of a city, would no longer be the terminus for salmon that had spawned there for thousands of years. My father shrugged his shoulders and said something about “preserving his investment” and “progress.”
As it turns out, it was a small event in the “death by a thousand cuts” saga of wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest. I am sad to reflect on those decisions made by bureaucrats without the input of our vast fisheries resources. But I am glad, 30 years later, that some steps will be made to rectify those errors in judgment. Hopefully, in the future, my two sons will be able to watch wild salmon make their way up the fish ladder at the Chittenden Locks whose lives began in a small sandy streambed in Bellevue!
– Greg Gordon, Seattle
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