Recently I attended the Columbia River Basin 2014 Conference on the Columbia River Treaty which was held in Spokane, Washington.
The theme, The Columbia River Basin, Learning from our Past to Shape our Future, inspired delegates to share memories of what happened when this Treaty was developed and enacted over 50 years ago and what needs to be done now to ensure a positive future for the people of the basin and the river itself.
The conference co-sponsored by the Columbia Basin Trust and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council brought together 300 delegates including passionate voices from both Canadian First Nations and U.S. Tribes.
The conversation over the three days included many of the issues that were never part of the original discussion when the treaty was first enacted. In 1964 when the treaty was finally signed, the only purposes agreed on were flood control and power generation.
There wasn’t appropriate consideration to the substantial loss of some people’s homes, the destruction of the eco system, an environment that was forever altered, the agricultural land lost and the many opportunities that were taken away from the people of the Basin.
There were some positives as the permanent flood control ensured there has never been another flood in the Basin and the downstream benefits are a financial benefit to the Government of BC.
However, for many people who were significantly affected, the entire process will not ever be seen as a positive one.
There were a number of themes throughout the three days including that we should learn from the mistakes of our past governments, pay attention to the effects of climate change and embrace energy conservation, or as one Native Elder said “we should learn to just turn out the lights”.
One of the most overwhelming messages from the conference was the support of the return of salmon to the Upper Columbia. The salmon were not kept from the river by the treaty but due to the building of the Grand Coulee dam back in the 1930’s.
The US Federal government at the time asked our federal government if it would be an issue that the salmon would no longer be able to get to the upper Columbia. Our Federal government’s response was that the disappearance of the salmon was not a problem.
We all now agree that to this day it has been a problem. In fact most folks agreed, including all four Kootenay MLA’s, that everything should be done to return the salmon to the Columbia.
There wasn’t anyone in the room that wasn’t touched as we watched Gord DeRosa from Trail playing guitar while his seven year old granddaughter, Nevah DeRosa Whyte, sang a song about the Columbia River.
Nevah’s message to us was “me and my nono made this video in honour of keeping the river clean and returning the salmon to the Columbia River.”
A sentiment we can all share. To watch this moving song please visit http://vimeo.com/97559672