Coast Salish People Gather to Define Impacts of Climate Change on Tribal Culture and Sovereignty

TULALIP – Imagine a Northwest without salmon. Unthinkable as that thought is, the Coast Salish people of the Salish Sea encompassing British Columbia, Canada and western Washington Tribes know from their own observation and scientific modeling that climate change could lead to such a disaster.

The Coast Salish leaders and their executive staff gathered for the past two days at the Tulalip Tribes with the common goal of sharing and strengthening their science, policy and legal experts on climate change and addressing environmental impacts on tribal natural resources, traditional rights and sustainability of the Northwest way of life.

Carbon dioxide levels could double by 2050 meaning many salmon species would move to the poles, leading to extinction in the Northwest and most of Canada.

“We thought salmon would be here forever. This is our crisis. Salmon are the cornerstone of our Coast Salish way,” said Melvin Sheldon Jr., Tulalip tribal chairman.

Having a voice in international, national and local forums to protect the environment and natural resources for the sustainability of the Coast Salish peoples is a major goal of the tribal leaders participating.

Many tribes are already assessing their risks resulting from climate change as each tribe’s risks are different. Contingency plans have to be made and the impacts to natural resources assessed.

“We made a promise – the food would take care of us and we would take care of the food,” said David Close, researcher and a Cayuse tribal member.

Close urged those gathered to continue to push for science that addresses species that are important to tribes, such as lamprey and candlefish. “The models we have created are based on commercially exploited species and there just isn’t data for many species that are important to tribes,” said Close.

Additionally, how and where salmon restoration work will occur needs to be coordinated with the impacts of climate change to be effective.

The Coast Salish Gathering provides a platform across government and national boundaries to bring tribal traditional knowledge, policy, science and legal happenings to their resources, protect them and help plan for seven generations.

The Coast Salish Gathering will create scientific, legal and policy approaches to move forward in the various forums working on climate change policy and legislation within the Salish Sea ecosystem.

“By understanding changes in the waters, we can design management policies that can cope with such changes to minimize the potential ecological and social economic impacts of climate change,” said Close.


For more information, contact: Deb Lekanof, Swinomish Tribe, (360) 391-5296