Billy Frank Jr.: Treaty Rights At Risk
Notes from: NWIFC Chairman Billy Frank Jr. on the tribal initiative, Treaty Rights at Risk.
Treaty Rights at Risk – we went to Obama and we went to the CDQ, the ones who work with federal agencies, then went to our delegations – Senators Murray and Cantwell, former Representative Dicks and other congressional folks. We’re talking to all of them. We’re talking to Dennis McLaren at EPA and Will Stelle at NOAA.
You’re the workers, you’re the one who cares about our country. We went and ceded all this land, from the top of the mountains to the Columbia River, in 1855, to the US Government through the treaty that was reaffirmed by Judge Boldt in 1974.
They forgot about us. They forgot about our natural resources. Our habitat is gone. But before that 1855 signing at the Nisqually River, there was something going on in this country. The British were trying to take over this land. The Spanish were out there with their ships, wanting to survey all this country. The US was trying to keep them away. It was our land.
The resources were so plentiful and we didn’t want other countries to access all these resources. But now a lot of these resources are gone. In my 82 years on the Nisqually River, I see them trapping what’s left of the beaver, what’s left of all our animals. They’re still killing our animals, our habitat. We’re here to try and stay on course with you, all of us together, to bring that habitat back. Bring the salmon back, bring all the animals back, to protect them and make a home for them.
We need each other to do that. We need you to tell the story of the animals and the habitat. We need you and your science, how you can put that together for all of us, for our tribes. Because we’re facing a downhill spiral. Everything that we’re doing, all of us together, is not enough. So we have to take it another step.
Now we’re up there talking to Congress, the President, the Senate, the agencies. They haven’t done anything yet. We’re talking about the treaties we’ve signed and no one’s done anything about it. We’ve gotten their attention but we’re not seeing anything on the ground. They have to make a change. The state of Washington has to make a change.
The dams here have been taken out. The Skokomish are working on their river. The Nisqually, the Skagit… everyone is working. But it’s not enough. They’re moving so fast, they’re overrunning us. But we need each other to march together, to work together on what we need to do.
Puget Sound, our beautiful Puget Sound. Senator Warren Magnuson, he said, “Don’t ever spoil that beautiful water.” Well, it’s all gone now. It’s poisoned. So why would we think that the salmon are going to come back to the Elwha, Nisqually? Why do we think they are going to come down the Skokomish, the Skagit, all of our rivers, when Puget Sound is poisoned. We need your help, all our science people, to put together a way to save it.
We got to be together, all of us. And I’ll tell you, it’s not going to be long when there won’t be any habitat left. The US is moving against us right now. The state of Washington with a new governor – he’s like the old governor. We met with him. We’re disappointed. He’s like the old government.
At Nisqually, we had an old leader across the river. A US general. I said I was going to go talk to him and tell him the Nisqually Indians are mad at this general, driving his tanks through our river, killing the salmon.
He said, Billy, from now we’re not going to cut down those trees, we’re going to build bridges, we’re going to work together. He promised everything he’s going to do and he’s done it. But there is no one like the general. The president of the US – he’s only here for a few years. EPA, they can’t do anything about it. The treaty rights are at risk! There’s nobody.
Our 20 tribes are the leaders. We need everyone of you doing what you’re doing. We’re talking about the animals, the eagles, the bears, the birds, talking about everything that walks in the woods. All the elk along the range. They’re part of the food chain that is leaving us. It has to be here. We have to be part of the food chain. The buffalo are gone. The salmon are gone. Puget Sound is gone. Our salmon in the Nisqually River, they migrate out of the river they can’t get to the Tacoma, they get to the Sound, they die before they get to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. We have to do something about it.
Follow from Mike Grayum, NWIFC Executive Director:
Tribal leadershiop has gotten the attention of everyone, from the president to Congress to the regional leadership out here in the state and federal agencies. When they are talking, treaty rights is at the top of their list. They’re talking a good talk but it’s not happening on the ground in the watersheds. That’s where you all come in.
The element of Treaty Rights at Risk that we feel is so important is the tribal federal habitat forums. These are set up to be forums where individual tribes can highlight problem habitat areas and then give it to the federal government to show them what they have to fix. By doing that in each watershed, we have a way to demonstrate and test them if they’re going to do anything real in the watershed. if we’re not explicit in what we need them to do, they’re not going to do anything.
We held the first forum at Swinomish Tribe last fall. The tribe presented a very long list. We’ve been working with the tribe for a long time and it’s been difficult to get that point across to the feds but we got some response including a receiving a letter from NOAA explaining their perspective on what they consider riparian buffers. There are things happening that are positive but it’s a constant kind of thing.
The point I want to leave you with is that we need to get this effort from Washington D.C. to the watershed and on the ground. I think Jamestown has called for a forum to discuss a levy along the Dungeness River that needs to be moved to prevent more flooding. We need to think of the priority things that need to happen and get them in front of federal agencies.
After the Swinomish Forum, we developed a list of every request, the agency it involves, how it’s linked to Treaty Rights At Risk and salmon recovery and how the agency responded. We called it The Report Card. As we’re pushing it front of them, we’re getting more and more positive response.
The work you’re doing in the watershed is what’s going to make the difference. But we have to stop the bleeding. If we don’t stop the current loss of habitat, we’ll never get the money to restore it. The work that’s being done right now is fantastic but if we don’t get ahead of the curve, we’ll never catch up.