Northwest tribes paddle for Columbia River reconnect

Trip to call attention to the salmon restoration effor

Like a vision from the past, two cedar dugout canoes paddled by indigenous members of the Inland Northwest tribes beached onto the Trail boat launch near Gyro Park on Monday.

About 20 paddlers from the Spokane and Colville Tribes accompanied by two safety boats began their journey in the Arrow Lakes at Scotty’s Marina, and continued down the Columbia to Trail where they stopped at Gyro for dinner.

Their plan was to end their journey at Black Sand Beach near Kettle Falls, an ancient fishing site on the Columbia.

The paddle is one the Spokane, Colville, Kootenai, Coeur d’Alene, Kalispel, and Sinixt tribes’ ancestors made many years ago, paddling to the fishing grounds around the time of the summer solstice every year, until the Grand Coulee Dam’s construction in the 1930s blocked salmon passage to the Upper Columbia.

“We’ve been, I don’t want to say reconnecting, because I don’t think we’ve ever been unconnected, but definitely reconnecting to the river in a different way,” said Colville Tribe organizer Shelley Boyd. “We’re traditionally canoe people and the Grand Coulee Dam changed that dynamic.”

The journey to Black Sand Beach, an area of shoreline created by slag washed down from the Teck smelter, is a prescient reminder to those involved of what industry and settlement has done to indigenous peoples culture, land, way of life, and identity.

The irony didn’t escape Boyd who spoke to the Times with the smoke stacks of Teck looming in the background.

“There’s so many reasons why this journey is important, and someone said something about the Colvilles being against Teck Cominco, and I don’t have a comment to that, except for everyone should be against pollution and damaging the river in that way. There’s better things that we can all do, all of us.”

To call attention to the salmon restoration effort, the Upper Columbia United Tribes purchased cedar logs from the Quinault Indian Nation in Western Washington two years ago. The tribes made dugout canoes for the trip, launching from their home territories.

The tribes are working with Canada’s First Nations on efforts to build political support for reintroducing salmon above Grand Coulee. The Spokane Tribe received $200,000 to study potential salmon habitat above the dam. Other studies have begun looking at ways to address the technical challenges of fish passage at high dams, and one day restore the ancestral fishery.

“It’s our hope that you connect people and you change that awareness one person at a time.”