Nez Perce Take Over
by Eric Barker
Army Corps will continue to own and partially fund the hatchery;
U.S. Fish and Wildlife will be in charge of fish health measures
AHSAHKA -- In a ceremony attended by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, top civilian leaders of the Army Corps of Engineers and other state, federal and tribal dignitaries, the Nez Perce Tribe officially took over fish production responsibilities at Dworshak National Fish Hatchery on Thursday.
The hatchery, constructed in 1969, has been co-managed by the tribe for the past 18 years and is a key cog in the federal and regional effort to produce salmon and steelhead to mitigate for declines caused by Dworshak Dam on the North Fork of the Clearwater River and the four dams on the lower Snake River.
Moving forward, the tribe will be responsible for spawning and rearing steelhead, spring chinook and coho at the hatchery and taking care of the facility. The Corps will continue to own and partially fund the hatchery and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will administer the facility and be in charge of fish health measures.
Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe from New Mexico, is the first Native American to serve as cabinet secretary. Standing in front of the hatchery, she envisioned what the area looked like hundreds and even thousands of years ago.
"I can imagine the ancient fishing villages and harvesting traditions that center around the cycles of the fish that traverse this river every season," she said. "It reminds me of the traditions of the Pueblo people that revolve around the planting and growing and harvesting of our crops."
She said the transfer is a testament to the Biden administration's commitment to honoring tribal treaty rights and including tribal knowledge in fish and wildlife management and conservation.
"This action is about honoring the sacrifices of our ancestors, practicing the traditions that connect us to them, understanding that despite all odds, we are still here," she said. "As the first Native American cabinet secretary in our country's history, I can't express how humbled I am to be here with all of you for this profound event."
Jaime Pinkham, a member of the Nez Perce tribe who is serving as the assistant deputy secretary for civil works for the corps, also looked backward during his remarks. He relayed a Nez Perce story, told to him by his grandfather, of the Creator calling all the animals together and notifying them change was coming in the form of humans, a new creature that would need assistance to survive.
The animals lined up to say how they would help people. Salmon was first to speak and pledged his flesh as nourishment.
"It's important to note that salmon has always been the first. The first to testify, the first to qualify, the first food that is set before us whether we're celebrating life or death," he said. "And one of the first foods that comes out in the springtime that nourishes us beyond winter."
Since that time, Pinkham said the Nez Perce have been tasked with caring for salmon and other animals.
Pinkham said the ceremony on a rare sunny day this spring was a way to honor generations of tribal members who have used their voices to do just that.
"They are not forgotten. This is their success story," he said.
Mike Connor, assistant secretary for the Army civil works and member of the Taos Pueblo of New Mexico, said he and others have been on a four-day tour of the Columbia River basin, where renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty with Canada and the Biden administration's intent to change course on salmon recovery continues. In March, Connor, Haaland and other senior members of the administration met with tribal leaders from the Pacific Northwest and later released a statement recognizing federal dams as a significant source of salmon mortality and tribal injustice, while also noting the positive attributes dams provide to citizens across the region.
Connor said the 14 federal dams in the basin and the services they provide are viewed by many as great progress. But he said there is another way to view progress.
"Restoration of the environment, and particularly today, restoration of our relationships and the honoring of those treaty rights and working in partnership and recognition that native people are part of that community and our partners in this overall effort -- that's great progress." he said. "And I think today is helping us to redefine what it is to make progress. And we certainly hope that there are more opportunities and more celebrations, such as we're having today."
Samuel N. Penney, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribe Executive Council, said the tribe, through Dworshak, Kooskia and the Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery, produces 13 million salmon and steelhead smolts each year -- 80% of the anadromous fish in the Clearwater Basin and 30% in the Snake River basin. That includes the restoration of coho and fall chinook that provide popular fisheries for tribal and nontribal anglers.
"We will continue to do our best at this hatchery," Penney said, "and the fish produced here will continue to provide harvest opportunities for Indian and non-Indian fisheries in the Clearwater, Snake and Columbia rivers."
Secretary Haaland Joins Nez Perce Tribe, Army Corps of Engineers to Commemorate Transfer at Dworshak National Fish Hatchery Press Release, US Department of Interior, 6/16/22
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