“As the salmon disappear, so do our cultures and treaty rights. We are at a crossroads and we are running out of time."

These words of the late tribal leader Billy Frank Jr. convey the urgency that drives the treaty Indian tribes in western Washington to confront the habitat loss that threatens our cultures, economies and ways of life.

Despite massive cuts in harvest, strategic use of hatcheries and continued financial investment in salmon habitat restoration over the past 40 years, salmon continue to decline along with their habitat.

gw∂dzadad (pronounced gwa-zah-did) is a tribal approach to identifying and protecting the lands, waters and ecological processes critical to our rights, resources and homelands.

As translated from Lushootseed, gw∂dzadad means, “Teaching of our Ancestors.” It acknowledges that our beliefs and teachings are learned within our homelands, which can never be separated from tribal culture and heritage. It asserts that we have traditional ways of protecting the lands and waters that sustain us.

gw∂dzadad is a unified tribal habitat strategy designed to organize and focus work around common landscape- based objectives for protecting tribal treaty rights and resources. It is based on preserving and restoring the processes and functions of riverine, marine, and terrestrial ecosystems. 

The work will require coordination and accountability across agencies, including regulatory and enforcement authorities. It also will require transparent accounting of habitat conditions, resource allocations and how we are managing habitat for salmon and other treaty-protected resources. It includes a data management platform and mapping system. The platform allows us to quantify current conditions and to draw lines of protection around the physical attributes that support function and connectivity in the landscape. A science-based quantification system will measure the difference between “what is” and “what is necessary” to highlight the work that needs to be accomplished and to make the connection between habitat loss and the declining productivity of fish, shellfish, plants and wildlife.

This effort is based on what is needed for optimal ecosystem health, not just what we think is possible to achieve, given current conditions. gw∂dzadad is not a call for a return to the past, but a vision for a recovered, resilient future. This future is one in which the landscape and resources are abundant, healthy and support sustainable tribal harvest. We will be successful if these landscape objectives are embraced by all of us throughout the region. Sharing a long-term, multi-generational view will help us realize a vision of economic and cultural wealth and prosperity.

We seek to build resiliency in our natural resources against a backdrop of climate change and population growth. We must begin today to address the habitat loss and damage that these changes bring.

Our place-based ways of life are the foundation of the gw∂dzadad strategy. Since time immemorial, the tribes  have lived together with this place and managed our ancestral homelands in accordance with tribal values and teachings. Rights to access certain harvesting and gathering sites are part of our responsibility to steward these resources for present and future generations.

When tribes reserved our rights to fish, hunt and gather in treaties with the federal government in the mid-1850s, we understood these rights to be bound to our ongoing duties to sustain the resources. U.S. v. Washington (the Boldt decision) and related cases affirmed the tribes’ roles as co-managers of the treaty-protected resources. These cases also affirmed that both parties to the treaties and their descendants have obligations not to degrade the treaty resource.

gw∂dzadad is designed to be flexible to account for variable landscape and management objectives. Individual tribes focus on local priorities to reach the full productivity potential of their watersheds.

The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC) will work to facilitate communication; provide analysis on crosscutting issues; provide technical and policy expertise; and coordinate map development, data management and analysis. The NWIFC is a support services organization for the 20 treaty tribes in western Washington. It acts as a central coordinating body for scientific, policy and management issues, and enables the tribes to speak with a unified voice on matters of mutual concern.

gw∂dzadad builds from two tribal initiatives implemented in the past decade. The State of Our Watersheds is a comprehensive documentation of the ongoing and increasing loss of habitat for salmon and other treaty- protected resources. The regularly updated reports confirm that we continue to lose habitat faster that it can be restored. The Treaty Rights at Risk Initiative calls for the federal government to meet its obligation to ensure salmon recovery and treaty rights through better coordination of agencies and programs.