Treaty Rights At Risk and the Future: What Needs To Be Done

Fawn Sharp, President, Quinault Indian Nation, speaks to what tribes, their leaders and their supporters need to do to work together for Treaty Rights At Risk

Sharp recalled as a little girl fishing with her family on the Quinault River, and the excitement when she saw a cork sunk, which usually meant a fish had been caught.

“I couldn’t imagine myself being separated from that very sacred right.”

She spoke to how The Creator put her and her people on this earth for a reason.

We fought the fight. It’s undeniable – there was something that bound us to the fight and what bound us was the basic principle – The Creator made us Indian people a certain way. The Creator put us in these lands. The Creator put a spirit in us.

When we signed the treaties – it was a young country in 1855. We were 100 years old in the magnitude of the entire world; it was emerging as a powerful country.”

It was this country that tried to assimilate tribes, take away the right to basic things like hunting and fishing but the spirit, with those battles before them – when it seemed like we were losing the battles, we went back to our roots and who we were as The Creator intended.

We see young people in Headstart learning our languages. We see our elders telling our stories and becoming part of writing that history. I was called to remark on the future as a tribal leader.

It seems so daunting.

There are decisions by the feds that diminish the resource and our powers. That diminish the science. The future of the seven generations. The glaciers are melting. It all seems to fall on deaf ears.

We’re trying to protect our treaties at risk, and Billy is asking, who is in charge?

With the Creator’s wisdom and guideance, when we convene meetings and ceremonies, we bring the Creator in to everything we do. I know that’s why Indian people are still here. Even though the most powerful country of the world sought to destroy us.

It’s hard to be in the trenches… but we all know the fight is worth the fight and we all know those who dedicate to the litigation and battle and the spirit of Boldt, the individuals who waved the facts and drew a sense of right and wrong and we know nothing more than what the Creator granted to us. People ask us what we want – we just want to live as the Creator intended for us.

Bob Perciasepe, Environmental Protection Agency, Deputy Administrator

Bob Perciasepe, Environmental Protection Agency, Deputy Administrator

Bob Perciasepe, Environmental Protection Agency, Deputy Administrator, discusses the value of the tribal relationship to the EPA and working together.

I can’t tell you how profound it is to hear about the struggles, which I’ve heard about, but then to hear about them in person today about the Boldt decision.

But if Boldt reminds us where we’ve come from, then there are new urgencies – treaty rights at risk.

How can we avoid this risk – what actions can we take to avoid going down the wrong path? Today our struggle to fulfill our responsibilities and obligations to tribes in the region is evermost in our mind. Threats to tribal fishing are real and it’s much more about the environmental destruction and habitat and it’s the decline of the salmon from all these forces that are play.

The Boldt tribes have that co-management responsibility – but the tribes have forcefully and careful relayed to all of us that co-management authority isn’t enough.  

But I have to tell you – for the fed government, there are many agencies involved with this and it would be unfair if I didn’t tell you there are conflicts within. Different agncies have different legal authorities. These are things you shouldn’t worry about … but we’ve gotten a lot of good advice on how to be better partners with our federal trustees.

We’re working very hard …. we’re working on a process to help solve the policies if they’re in the way of making progress and this means consulting with tribes.

The Elwha dams – it’s been several presidents that have gone by that have been trying to work on this and some have been more ambitious than others to make it a reality. It is a reality and it would not have happened if not for the tribes important careful pushing of the governor. And Norm Dicks. And the colorful voices in DC.

The coho, chinook and pinks are all doing something they haven’t done in a long time – not banging their heads up against a dam. (The dams coming down) seems like a simple feat but it’s a symbol of what we can do when we come together.

Right here in Washington we’re working with the Lummi and Nooksack to evaluate climate impact and how we can protect salmon, for example, in the Nooksack watershed where water temps affect quality of habitat. We know it’s high priority for the tribes and for us too.

This spring, we’re going to propose EPA regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and we need your help to support that.

We need to confront all these problems and the treaty rights at risk. But we can’t ignore the air and water and climate issues. They all come back together and they are all connected.

Tomorrow morning, a letter will find its way from DC to the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission … to BIlly … and it will talk how the federal government wants to join in this celebration. And speak of our future together. Our future is what counts and government-to-government is what counts and that letter will be signed by Barak Obama.

The lesson is that we must go forward and carry on the Boldt Decision.