As the Mars Rovers scout the so-called angry red planet in search of ancient signs of life-sustaining water, it is good to be reminded of the critical link between life and this precious substance. We earthlings might even wonder if we’re getting a little glimpse of one of our own possible futures.

Is it even remotely possible that our lush blue and green planet could one day be like Mars, where oceans consist of dust and rock in place of deep waters swarming with diverse and magnificent forms of animal and plant life? Will explorers from some other world send rovers here one day seeking signs of primeval life on a planet that was once blessed with living and growing things?

Such a fate may seem too remote to ponder, but the fact is we’re already seeing signs that make such a scenario somewhat plausible.

Tribes are natural stewards, and the lessons passed along to us by our ancestors carry the wisdom of a thousand generations. None of these is more important than the need to be caretakers of this fragile planet and do all we can to sustain ample clean, free-flowing water to keep our salmon alive and well.

We know it is important to see things in the big picture, and that vision ahead must consist of more than the next paycheck or corporate financial report. When you do see things in the big picture, you see that the trail being followed by society is riddled with obstacles and that the kind of change that could lead to massive challenges to life in the future are already underway.

Earth becoming another Mars may be tens of thousands if not millions of years away. It might never happen at all. But what is one to conclude when scientists predict that the warming trend we are currently experiencing will melt the glacier on Mt. Rainier within 25 years? That glacier has fed my people by releasing cool, clear water into the Nisqually River for thousands of years.

What is one to think when we hear that the population of the Puget Sound region is expected to top 10 million people in the next decade?

What is one to conclude when we see the state lean so heavily toward the easing of environmental regulation in an effort to accommodate the so-called growth to come? Bill after bill is being introduced in the state legislature to expand easy exploitation of the environment, and erode resources that, at least in part, actually belong to the tribes rather than the state.

One of the most fundamental of these resources is water—the substance of life. Our tribal ancestors have always taught us to respect the purity and sanctity of it. Keep it clean and keep it flowing. Keep the salmon swimming.

We only wish the state could understand the value of such lessons. Far too few people seem to realize that when state government officials allow the diversion of excessive amounts of water from our rivers to cities and rural areas, not only are they violating the principles of our treaties, they’re betraying the trust of their own constituents. Your future depends on water, whoever you are. But the state has been busily dipping into our protected waters for many years, and the rivers are now all over-allocated.

The U.S. is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on Mars to prove what we have always known. Water is life. Let’s protect it so there will be future generations here on the planet we all call home.

Billy Frank Jr. is the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

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For more information, contact: Steve Robinson or Tony Meyer (360) 438-1180