Making the cultural connection

Speaking about his role as a tribal liaison for the departments of Ecology and Transportation, NWIFC’s Darrell Phare stressed the importance of taking tribal culture into consideration.

We need to consistently consult with the cultural arm of the tribes. A lot of times the call goes out to the natural resources or the fisheries arm. This is the problem of departmentalization.

The legends and the stories that have been told to all of our tribes through our oral tradition — that’s how it’s passed on and it’s a very magical thing. The simple stories come back to you and you can relate to those things. It has to do with cultivating your intuition.

That intuition that our tribal leaders have has saved us in a lot of situations. That magic we need to rediscover and tap into.

Opening our minds to those tools that tribes have is very valuable in terms of this larger work that we do. Also, keeping in mind that whole need to carry this work forward and do things in such a way that we know when we drop out of it it’s not going to drop. It’s going to continue on and magically that’s happened.

We said goodbye to one of those warriors last week. (Tulalip elder Bernie Kai-Kai Gobin) In terms of just moving forward, we need to continue cultivating these relationships and developing this trust. There are many facets to this work that have to happen, the more deliberate we make it the more consistent and long-lasting it will be.


Deb Lekanoff, policy analyst for the Swinomish Tribe
, commended the conference participants for ensuring the next seven generations will be able to fish.

Indigenous people want something very simple — so my daughter is able to carry a wild fish off the beach that she harvested, to cut the fish in her traditional ways and pass that on to my granddaughter.

Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby has been told that he is an environmental radicalist. Our values are to err on the side of conservation. Let’s make the mistake of being too protective. Let’s make the mistake of having too many fish to harvest. Can we make the mistake of having water that is too clean to drink or air that is too clean to breathe?

We are only beginning to know the cost of repairing a broken environment.


SRSC’s Eric Beamer
shared his thoughts on traditional ecological knowledge and salmon management.

We have a unique opportunity as tribal natural resources staff. There’s a really short chain between technicians in the field to the person that’s talking to the governor.

Our policy people don’t turn over as often as the people in the agencies.

It’s important to factor in:

  • Perspective (we usually have a perspective but often it’s limited)
  • Context
  • Precaution (outside of tribal cultures, we don’t really add precautions. We want to know how close can we get before there’s an impact.)

Examples of using the wrong context:

  • Hatchery fish are “better than natural,” and will solve habitat/harvest problems.
  • Estuaries are a hazardous places and we need to get fish through them so they’re not preyed upon. (Doesn’t take into account different life history types).
  • Removing woody debris helps fish access to spawning areas, not understanding that woody debris is holding stream together.

It’s not about our knowledge, it’s about our values.

As tribal technical staff, we can be the voice of precaution.

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