Lands and Waters

To Be Native in the Northwest

Lands and Waters

Native peoples have depended on lands and waters for survival in this region for thousands of years. These resources have shaped our cultures and inform the traditions we still practice today. It’s why some Coast Salish tribes—tribes and First Nations of the Pacific, from British Columbia to Oregon—call themselves “People of the Salmon,” and why Columbia River tribes consider natural resources sacred. Our tribal sovereignty and treaty rights allow us to protect these sacred elements.

In case you were wondering... 

So, you're saying all Natives are environmentalists?

Actually, it’s more nuanced than that. For Northwest Natives, it’s impossible to separate resources from humans. Resources are the very core of the culture, spirit, and bloodlines of Native peoples, and to this day, many cultures take time to acknowledge and honor their importance. All of which is to say that standing up for trees isn’t about the tree, per se. It’s about our culture and people, which are intimately bound with the trees, water, air, and everything in the natural world. When lands are disrespected, waters become polluted. When waters are polluted, fish die. When fish die, traditions vanish. When traditions vanish, thousands of years of history becomes just that—history, rather than life today.

What does it mean when tribes say salmon are sacred?

Fish are a part of everyday life for Native peoples, just like family, community, and culture. They’ve provided nourishment for thousands of years, and today many Native cultures take time to acknowledge and honor their importance. Of course, salmon are a keystones species, It’s no overstatement to say that the protection of fish represents the protection of the Northwest's entire ecosystem. Which makes us wonder: why isn’t everyone worshipping fish?

Who do I thank for all the peace and quiet in the Northwest?

What’s that sound you don’t hear? Coal trains and oil tankers running throughout the state. Tribes and Native peoples have taken a stand against numerous projects that would allow dirty fuel to be transported here. (We’ll also accept high-fives for the lack of coal dust in the air and oil fires sparked by derailed tanker cars.). Washington tribes have been leaders on a variety of important environmental issues in the Northwest. Our sovereign nation status and treaty rights have helped ensure the protection of the place that sustains the quality and way of life for all those who’ve called this place home since time immemorial, and those who have grown to call it home today.

Chairman Brian Cladoosby discusses how the Swinomish Tribe is planning to endure the challenges of climate change.

“We have always made our treaty rights and protection of the Ancient Ones our first priority, and we always will.”
Tim Ballew, former chairman of the Lummi Nation
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