Federal Government Acknowledges Harm to Tribes from Dams

24th of Jun 2024

By Leonardo Aleksander Ryan

The Columbia River Basin is easily one of the most integral parts of the Pacific Northwest because of the cultural and historical significance it holds. In a recent press release, the Nez Perce Tribe heralded a new federal analysis of Columbia River dams’ impacts on Tribes of the area as reinforcing the obligations of the United States to honor its Treaty and trust obligations and to take immediate action to prevent salmon extinction. The Idaho Conservation League also highlighted the federal report in a press release.

The Tribal Circumstances Analysis documents the severe effects of federal and private dams, and provides crucial information and recommendations on how the U.S. will uphold its responsibilities to the Tribes of the area. Immediately upon its release, the analysis received coverage in the Seattle Times and Associated Press.

The Columbia River Basin holds abundant natural and cultural resources. However, in seventy years, dams have resulted in significant ecological damage, making life difficult for the Tribes within the basin. In particular, salmon within the basin are facing endangerment and extinction. The salmon are crucial to the ecosystem and are a major food source for those living in the basin. 

The Columbia Basin Tribes have pushed for the U.S. to assess the damages to Tribal lands. The Tribal Circumstances Analysis is the first piece of U.S. federal documentation reporting on the United States’ role in perpetuating the harm against the Tribes of the Columbia River Basin. Dams have resulted in displacement of Tribal members, food insecurity for those in the area, and degraded the physical and spiritual health of Tribal members affected. 

 “The Tribal Circumstances Analysis is a stark reminder that the federal dams were built on the backs of our Tribal Nations and our people, and continue to decimate our salmon populations and our culture, sovereignty, and way of life,” Shannon Wheeler, Chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee stated. “We know we must act urgently to prevent extinction, and this report reaffirms the need for the United States and us to move forward together as Treaty partners. We look forward to continuing to work with the United States to take bold and immediate actions to ensure a future where our rivers run free, our salmon return in abundance, and our people thrive,” Wheeler concluded. 

Advocates for the West is a longtime partner of the Nez Perce Tribe. In addition, we’re fighting in the courts to expose the true costs of Columbia River Basin dams through our legal challenges of the Bonneville Power Administration‘s spending decisions. As the environment continues to face new threats from climate change, it is imperative that the federal government takes immediate action to address its role in perpetuating environmental inequity against the Columbia Basin Tribes. 

Leonardo Aleksander Ryan is an Advocates for the West summer intern and Andrus Scholar at Boise State University.