Tribes ready for a new relationship

OLYMPIA – Indians in the Pacific Northwest feel a new era of respect and collaboration is here, and we’re ready to get to work with the new administration.

We were especially encouraged to hear President Obama’s pledge to honor “treaty obligations that are owed to the first Americans,” when he introduced Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar as the new Secretary of the Interior.

But what really made us feel good was when President Obama said: “We need more than just a government-to-government relationship; we need a nation-to-nation relationship.”

Let me tell you, we’re ready for that relationship.

Leaders of the 24 treaty Indian tribes in the Pacific Northwest recently sent some recommendations to the administration, pointing the way to restoring the relationship between tribes and the federal government and healing our communities and natural resources.

One of the things we recommend is an Executive Order to reaffirm and strengthen the administration’s relationship with tribes. This would help reinforce our sovereign governmental authority, treaty rights, and natural resources co-management responsibilities. We’re also recommending that the order include a commitment by the federal government to consult the tribes regarding any policy, legislation, or litigation affecting our treaty rights.

Next, we look to rebuilding the tribes’ ability to manage natural resources. During the past 50 years we’ve established ourselves as leaders in natural resources management with a long record of success. At the same time we’ve seen our base fisheries management funding melt away. When adjusted for inflation, our base funding is actually less than we received 30 years ago. At the same time, our management responsibilities have increased greatly.

We also want President Obama to protect and restore tribal water rights and put water quality standards into place to protect the health of Indian people and the salmon we rely on.

Our sovereignty, treaty rights, strong leadership, traditional knowledge and presence in every watershed make us unique partners in addressing natural resources management issues. We’ve always lived in these watersheds, and we always will.

The solutions we develop happen on the ground in our local watersheds. We work with our neighbors because that’s how big jobs get done. We are guided in our decisions by remembering the needs of those who will come seven generations from now.

When the Squaxin Island Tribe fights to protect water quality in Oakland Bay, they aren’t just doing it for themselves, they’re doing it for the people who live along Oakland Bay and the people employed by the multi-million dollar shellfish industry there. It’s just like the more than 40 million salmon that we produce every year at our tribal hatcheries – salmon that are caught by everyone.

The treaty tribes of the Pacific Northwest have the knowledge and legal standing to do great things for salmon and for our neighbors. We hope that the new leadership guiding the United States will honor those who signed the treaties with faith and trust more than 150 years ago.

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


For more information, contact: Tony Meyer or Emmett O’Connell, NWIFC, (360) 438-1180.