Two prominent Pacific Northwest tribes said Monday the U.S. government needs to remove three major hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River to save migrating salmon and starving orcas and restore traditional fishing sites that were guaranteed to the tribes in a treaty more than 150 years ago.
The Yakama Nation and the Lummi Nation made the demand on Indigenous People’s Day, a designation that’s part of a trend to move away from a day honoring Christopher Columbus.
Tribal leaders said at a news conference along the Columbia River that the Treaty of 1855, in which 14 tribes and bands ceded 11.5 million acres to the United States, was based on the inaccurate belief that the U.S. had a right to take the land because of a Christian mandate.
Under the treaty, the Yakama Tribe retained the right to fish at all their traditional sites. But the construction of the massive concrete dams along the lower Columbia River between the 1930s and 1960s to generate power for a booming non-native population destroyed critical fishing spots and made it impossible for salmon to complete their migration.
“The Columbia River dams were built on this false legal foundation and decimated the Yakama Nation’s fisheries, traditional foods and culture sites,” Yakama Nation Chairman JoDe Goudy said near the site of now-vanished Celilo Falls near The Dalles, Oregon.