Yakama Nation leaders share Columbia River concerns with White House official

YAKIMA — Yakama Nation leaders expressed concerns for the health of the Columbia River system Monday in a roundtable discussion with White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory.

Yakama Nation Tribal Council Chairman Delano Saluskin said polluted water and rising temperatures are impacting the river and its salmon population.

Saluskin said the environmental council’s mission is important to the health of Yakama Nation members and to the health of natural resources. The council advises the office of President Joe Biden and develops policies on climate change and the environment.

Representatives from the Yakama Nation Tribal Council, Yakama Nation Department of Natural Resources and Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission also joined the discussion in Toppenish. The meeting was closed to the public after the opening remarks.

“Without water, there isn’t really life,” Saluskin said. “The salmon represent our way of life as Indian people.”

Saluskin said the salmon need cold and clean water.

“We’ve lost a good number of salmon because of the water temperatures,” he said.

Mallory said ensuring a better future for the Columbia River fish stock relates to a number of Biden’s priorities, including strengthening a nation-to-nation relationship with tribes, pursuing conservation work and tackling climate change in communities of color. But the goal of Monday’s meeting was discussion, she said.

“Given the special and unique relationship that the tribes have had in this area, I think hearing in particular from the tribes is really important,” she said.

She said the rising temperatures impact the water system, and that impact on natural resources is the council’s focus.

Saluskin said wildfires are another example of the impact of climate change on the Yakama Nation. The fires and smoke are devastating to the animals, air and economy, he said.

“We depend on the forest for a number of things, both natural resource-related and for jobs, too,” Saluskin said.

He said members of the Yakama Nation appreciate the chance to voice their concerns.

“It’s very difficult for us to have a voice on those things that, as we have heard it said in the past, those elements that can’t speak for themselves,” he said. “That’s what our elders left for us to take care of.”

Source: Wenatchee World