The following commentary summarizes a letter to Gov. Kate Brown from the leaders of Oregon’s nine federally recognized Indian tribes. The letter was delivered Sept. 21.
Dear Gov. Brown,
We the nine sovereign tribes of Oregon thank you for your leadership in recognizing that our great state needs a water vision with at least a 100-year view. We are all dedicated to improving this beautiful place that we now call Oregon.
We have met as the tribes of Oregon to share and discuss our beliefs, concerns and needs for an Oregon water vision. Each of us is a distinct and unique sovereign, but we have all reached agreement regarding these issues.
Water is sacred. Water is life. Water is the heartbeat of our culture. Our understanding of these truths is based upon a legacy of survival and reliance on our Oregon oceans, rivers and lakes. Whether we are planning for one year or 100 years, any water vision must, at its core, restore and protect cold, clean water.
As modern Oregonians we have not done this well. It is time for a step forward.
Our tribes and their fisheries lived together before Oregon existed. Our ancestors understood that they had to live in a balanced relationship with oceans, rivers, creeks, lakes, springs, marshes, and the flora and fauna that depend upon them. There was, and is, no other way to survive. Many modern Oregonians, however, act as if there are no consequences or natural limitations of our water consumption, including groundwater.
Our people have seen the changes to our waters and our lands caused by mismanagement. There is a very real threat of extinction for steelhead, salmon, lamprey, suckers and other species in our oceans, streams, rivers and lakes. We have known of these problems for a long time.
The extinction of these vital fisheries would equate to the genocide of our people and the end of our irreplaceable lifeways — because these resources form essential parts of who we are. The extinction of native fisheries is completely unacceptable to our nations. Whether intentional or not, we know our state is treading a dangerous path in several watersheds.
We have seen many planning processes come and go. If a plan fails to take on these issues, it will fail to create acceptable solutions. The truth is that the state and the tribes in Oregon know the main barriers to healthy oceans, rivers, and waters. We all have known for some time. What is missing is the will to change the way we do business. Our water and those who depend on it have paid the price.
As Oregon’s “water vision” initiative moves forward, and to ensure that our voices will be clearly heard in all that process might entail, the tribes request the following:
1. By executive order, establish a “Tribe-Agency Water Vision Task Force” to include representation from Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes and the nine state agencies identified in Oregon’s Water Re- sources Strategy. The goal of this group would be to fully coordinate the vision and goals of a holistic water vision.
2. Collaborate with each of our tribes to develop specific recommendations for the water plan. Each of our sovereign tribes may have unique, specific interests pertinent to water resources and/or water infrastructure within their ancestral areas.
All of Oregon’s tribes are eager and willing to engage. The inclusion of Oregon’s tribal voice in its water vision will ensure its comprehensive commitment to our collective human and ecosystem resiliency needs. Oregon’s tribes hope your office can instruct all affected state agencies to reciprocate in kind.
The nine sovereign tribes of Oregon