Legislation - Policy

US acknowledges Northwest dams have devastated the region’s Native tribes

FILE – Water spills over the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, which runs along the Washington and Oregon state line, on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. The U.S. government on Tuesday, June 18, 2024, acknowledged for the first time the harms that the construction and operation of dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest have caused Native American tribes, issuing a report that details how the unprecedented structures devastated salmon runs, inundated villages and burial grounds, and continue to severely curtail the tribes’ ability to exercise their treaty fishing rights. (AP Photo/Jessie Wardarski, File)

SEATTLE (AP) — The U.S. government on Tuesday acknowledged, for the first time, the harmful role it has played over the past century in building and operating dams in the Pacific Northwest — dams that devastated Native American tribes by inundating their villages and decimating salmon runs while bringing electricity, irrigation and jobs to nearby communities.

In a new report, the Biden administration said those cultural, spiritual and economic detriments continue to pain the tribes, which consider salmon part of their cultural and spiritual identity, as well as a crucial food source.

The government downplayed or accepted the well-known risk to the fish in its drive for industrial development, converting the wealth of the tribes into the wealth of non-Native people, according to the report.

“The government afforded little, if any, consideration to the devastation the dams would bring to Tribal communities, including to their cultures, sacred sites, economies, and homes,” the report said.

It added: “Despite decades of efforts and an enormous amount of funding attempting to mitigate these impacts, salmon stocks remain threatened or endangered and continued operation of the dams perpetuates the myriad adverse effects.”

The Interior Department’s report comes amid a $1 billion effort announced earlier this year to restore the region’s salmon runs before more become extinct — and to better partner with the tribes on the actions necessary to make that happen.

“…those cultural, spiritual and economic detriments continue to pain the tribes, which consider salmon part of their cultural and spiritual identity, as well as a crucial food source.”

That includes increasing the production and storage of renewable energy to replace hydropower generation that would be lost if four dams on the lower Snake River are ever breached. Tribes, conservationists and even federal scientists say that would be the best hope for recovering the salmon, providing the fish with access to hundreds of miles of pristine habitat and spawning grounds in Idaho.

“President Biden recognizes that to confront injustice, we must be honest about history – even when doing so is difficult,” said a statement from White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American cabinet secretary. “In the Pacific Northwest, an open and candid conversation about the history and legacy of the federal government’s management of the Columbia River is long overdue.”

Northwest Republicans in Congress and some business and utility groups oppose breaching the dams, saying it would jeopardize […]

Full article: apnews.com

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