Via Washington State Catholic Conference
The Columbia River treaty needs to be modernized, religious and indigenous leaders in the Northwest and British Columbia say.

‘Modernize the Columbia River Treaty,’ Religious Leaders Urge U.S. and Canada


Religious leaders are adding their voices to the indigenous call for modernization of the Columbia River Treaty, which is up for renegotiation.

The 1964 agreement, signed by the U.S. and Canada to enable mutual energy production and flood control, contains provisions for alteration should the need arise, and many now say that the time has come.

RELATED: Water Power: 15 Tribes Have a Say in Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty

Last December tribal leaders expressed satisfaction with a draft recommendation on a starting point for negotiations that was sent to the U.S. Senate. But now, they and religious leaders say, it must be put into action. With 10 years’ written notice needed for changes to take effect, the earliest anything will change would be 2024, they point out—provided the work is completed this year.

RELATED: Columbia River Treaty Recommendation Near Finalization

On September 23, religious and indigenous leaders issued an open letter U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to move the treaty up the priority list. Signed by 14 religious leaders and seven indigenous leaders representing nearly all tribes and First Nations in the Columbia Basin, the letter outlined a Declaration on Ethics and modernizing the Columbia River Treaty as a foundation for international negotiations.

“Rarely does the convergence of political responsibility, indigenous rights and ecosystem benefit converge in such a dramatic and urgent way,” said Bishop Mark MacDonald, the Anglican Church of Canada’s first National Indigenous Anglican Bishop, in a statement issued by the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission (CRITFC). “A modernized treaty for the Columbia River is an opportunity for all the peoples of the Columbia—and the great system of life which is the River ecosystem—to walk through to a new day of justice and well-being.”

The letter consists of a declaration that "speaks very clearly of how important and critical it is for there to be justice to correct the many years of injustice to the Native people of the Columbia Basin, including the First Nations of Canada,” said Matt Wynne, Chairman of the Upper Columbia United Tribes, in the CRITFC statement. “Religious and indigenous leaders coming together to sign and support this declaration underscores that the future of the Columbia River is not just a political, but a moral issue. Native Americans suffered the greatest losses and the most damage as a result of not being included in the first negotiations leading up to the 1964 Treaty. It helps keep my spirit strong knowing that our struggle for justice and stewardship of the river carries so much faith-based support."

The CRITFC highlighted climate change as one glaring reason to “right historic wrongs and promote water stewardship.”

Indigenous leaders pointed out that the treaty initially was signed with virtually no Native input, despite Northwest tribes’ reliance on the salmon whose runs were affected by the construction of dams. Removal of dams along the Elwha River resulted in marked improvements almost immediately afterward.

RELATED: Un-Build It, and They Will Come: With Dams Gone, Chinook Return to Upper Elwha [Video]

“There is no doubt that a modernized Treaty restoring the Columbia River to health and returning salmon to ancestral spawning waters would transform discussions of environment, Indigenous Rights, and the future of sustainable life around the world," MacDonald said. "The churches, who have always rhetorically aspired to walk with Indigenous Peoples, have a chance, in this opportunity, to walk with Indigenous Peoples in a movement towards just and sustainable life for all.”

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