Learn more about the Treaty Rights at Risk initiative
We are losing the battle for salmon recovery in western Washington because salmon habitat is being damaged and destroyed faster than it can be restored. Despite massive cuts in harvest, careful use of hatcheries and a huge financial investment in restoration during the past four decades, salmon continue to decline along with their habitat. This trend shows no signs of improvement. As the salmon disappear, so do our tribal cultures and treaty rights.
That’s why we started the Treaty Rights at Risk initiative in July 2011. We began with development of a white paper outlining the issues and offering solutions for the protection of tribal treaty rights and recovery of salmon habitat. Then we took our concerns to Washington, D.C. and met with the White House.
We are asking the federal government to align its agencies and programs and lead a more coordinated salmon recovery effort. We want the United States to take charge of salmon recovery because it has the obligation and authority to ensure both salmon recovery and protection of tribal treaty rights. In failing to protect salmon habitat, the federal government is failing in its trust responsibility to honor its treaties with the tribes. This path leads to the extinction of both the salmon resource and our treaty-reserved rights.
Follow-up meetings with federal leadership have been encouraging. Focus is being placed on the need for increased enforcement of existing habitat protection laws, protecting instream flows for salmon, and ensuring that federal programs are helping to meet salmon recovery needs and goals.
As sovereign nations, the 20 treaty Indian tribes in western Washington signed treaties with the United States in 1855-56, giving up most of the land that is now western Washington, but reserving our rights to harvest salmon and other natural resources. For those rights to have meaning there must be salmon to harvest. If salmon are to survive, and if our treaty rights are to be honored, there must be real gains in habitat protection and restoration. Habitat is the key to salmon recovery, protection of our treaty rights and ensuring that salmon will be there for future generations.
Billy Frank Jr., chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, talks about how the decline of salmon and salmon habitat are putting the tribes’ treaty rights at risk: