First Nations, governments agree to bring salmon back to Upper Columbia River

The three-year commitment is being described as ‘historic’

Calling it an “historic” and “unprecedented” day, leaders from three Indigenous groups and the provincial and federal governments have signed an agreement to bring salmon back to the Upper Columbia River.

Representatives from the Syilx Okanagan, Ktunaxa and Secwepemc peoples, British Columbia and Canadian governments signed a letter of agreement in Castlegar on Monday.

“Our fundamental goal is to bring the salmon back to their historic range, the headwaters of Columbia Lake,” said Kathryn Teneese, chair of the Ktunaxa Nation Council. “To be able to enjoy salmon again in our rivers and lakes for food. Thank you again for the representatives of the other governments for joining in this enterprise and committing financial support.”

The three-year commitment between the five governments will see them work together to explore ways to reintroduce salmon to the basin.

A news release said that if successful, the agreement could restore fish stocks to support Indigenous food, social and ceremonial needs and harvest opportunities for all local communities.

The various governments and councils will spend $2.25 million supporting the talks. One-third of the money also comes from the Columbia Basin Trust, whose staff were credited for bringing the disparate parties together to the agreement.

There’s a lot to study and much of the work will be technical in nature. The parties will look at everything from water levels, climate change, to the role of dam operators to provide means for fish to get over their obstructions — various methods have to be explored for their sustainability.

They’ll even study how the reintroduction of salmon could negatively impact the ecosystem.

“We want to study the impacts of reintroducing salmon to the species that are already flourishing in the river,” said Doug Donaldson, the Minister of Forests Lands, Natural Resources Operations and Rural Development for British Columbia. “Some of those species are endangered.

“It’s a massive undertaking, and it’s about time it started, but we have to look at all the different impacts on fish that are already in the system.”

Salmon, once abundant up the entire Columbia River system, have been blocked from their traditional migration routes for 80 years since the introduction of dams to the system downstream in Washington State. The loss of the salmon run devastated Indigenous communities upstream that relied on the fish as a food source and cultural touchstone.

“This was the essence of our culture and life that kept us healthy, not only physically but was the bond of our communities,” said Shuswap Indian Band Chief Barb Cote. “Today we have a duty to make sure the waters are healthy, so when the salmon return they will be able to reproduce and give us the sustenance that is crucial to our future generations.”

Observers to the signing ceremony said it truly was a special accomplishment.

“It’s huge, it’s millennial, this is very, very important,” said Kootenay author Eileen Delehanty Pearkes. “For 77 years there have been no salmon coming up above Grand Coulee Dam from the U.S. to Canada.

“Across the ecosystem, human and non-human, animal, bird, plant, you name it, everyone has suffered in the Upper Columbia from the loss of the salmon.”

“It’s absolutely an historic day,” says Jay Johnson, a negotiator and policy advisor to the Okanagan Nation Alliance. “We’ve been trying to do this in isolation for decades. And we have had success. In the Okanagan tributary, we went from 600 salmon to 500,000 salmon.

“So at a time of global crisis, climate change, and environmental degradation, we now have an international good-news story, bringing salmon back in a sustainable way for food security purposes for generations to come, and we can do that five-fold in the basin here.”

The potential for the recovery of the system is phenomenal. If they succeed in overcoming the hurdles — and the dams — Johnson says up to two-to-three million fish could be coming in and out of the system in the decades to come.

Such a sweeping environmental changes has to be carefully planned.

“That’s why we need the support of all governments to do so,” he says.

Officials said the agreement will be a complement to the current negotiations underway to renew the Columbia River Treaty.

The first meeting of the agreement’s signatories will take place in mid-August.

Just Posted

Local hiker Kara Ruff captured this double rainbow hiking Ripple Rock near Campbell River on June 15. Photo courtesy Kara Ruff.
Local hiker captures double rainbow

Double rainbow photographed from Ripple Rock trail viewpoint

BC Ferries’ newest Island Class vessel is experiencing an issue with one of its thrusters off the Algerian coast. Photo courtesy patbaywebcam.com.
BC Ferries newest vessel having mechanical issues in Mediterranean

Island 4 will be repaired in Spain before crossing Atlantic

A Photo from Sept. 2020, when First Nations and wild salmon advocates took to the streets in Campbell River to protest against open-pen fish farms in B.C.’s waters. On Dec. 17, federal fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan announced her decision to phase out 19 fish farms from Discovery Islands. Cermaq’s application to extend leases and transfer smolts was denied. (Marc Kitteringham/Campbell River Mirror)
Discovery Island fish farms not allowed to restock

Transfer of 1.5 million juvenile salmon, licence extension denied

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

The Co-op gas station at Whiskey Creek is burning after a camper van exploded while refueling just before 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Exploding camper van torches Highway 4 gas station between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni

Highway traffic blocked after Whiskey Creek gas station erupts into flames

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

Greater father involvement in the home leads to improved childhood development and increased marital satisfaction, says expert. (Black Press Media file photo)
Vancouver Island researcher finds lack of father involvement a drag on gender equality

Working women still taking on most child and household duties in Canada: UVic professor

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

Most Read