November is Native American Heritage Month—a time to learn about and celebrate the rich stories, cultures, and contributions of Indigenous Peoples, as well as honoring their rights and sovereignty. Indigenous Peoples are not only the original stewards of nature, but are leading the way today as current stewards. Their extensive knowledge, experience, and practices are vital to present and future conservation efforts.
Before colonization by Europeans, many bands and Tribes of Native Americans resided, migrated, and hunted in what is now Idaho. Through conflict, treaties with the United States government, and executive orders, these Tribes were forcibly moved to reservations. In Idaho, five of these reservations exist, representing only a fraction of the vast traditional unceded lands of the Newe (Shoshone-Bannock Tribe), Numu (Shoshone-Paiute Tribe), Nimiipuu (Nez Perce Tribe), Schitsu’umsh (Coeur d’Alene Tribe), Ktunaxa (Kootenai Tribe), as well as the Kalispel Tribe, which has ancestral lands in North Idaho. The culture and history of each Tribe is as varied as the lands they inhabit, and collectively they have an important, growing impact on Idaho’s economic, social, environmental, and cultural health.
Although Native American Heritage Month is recognized in November, ICL honors Native-led conservation efforts year-round. In honor of Native American Heritage Month, below are 4 ways to support Tribes in Idaho.
1. Acknowledge the land you live, work, and recreate on
For 50 years, ICL has worked to protect and restore the air, water, lands and wildlife of what we now call Idaho. But some have loved these lands for hundreds of generations.
Indigenous land acknowledgments are a way of honoring and respecting the land of Indigenous Peoples and communities—past and present. Join us in acknowledging the contributions and leadership that Tribes have made on the lands that we call home, and honor the sovereignty and resiliency of those who are the original stewards of the land. The cultural significance of this land, its waters, and wildlife to Indigenous peoples cannot be overstated. In honor of this, we encourage you to research and acknowledge the lands you live, work, and recreate on: https://native-land.ca/.
If you are interested in learning more about giving Indigenous land acknowledgements, check out this resource: https://nativegov.org/news/a-guide-to-indigenous-land-acknowledgment/.
2. Speak up against Tribal injustice—take action for wild salmon!
Since time immemorial, Tribes in the Pacific Northwest have relied on salmon. Salmon are a foundational part of Tribal economies, cultures, religions, and diets. A century ago, Tribes reserved for themselves the right to these fish. The collapse of wild salmon populations threatens these rights, but Tribes have long been staunch advocates for full restoration of the abundant salmon they were promised.
If it weren’t for decades of tireless work by the Tribes, Idaho’s salmon and steelhead would already be gone. You can dive deeper into learning about how the work of Tribes has kept salmon from extinction in our recent blog. All who care about Northwest rivers and fish owe Tribal Nations massive thanks for upholding their ancient covenant with salmon. Now it’s time for us to uphold our nation’s covenant with Tribes. Stand in solidarity with Tribes—take action for wild salmon and steelhead below, and urge your representatives to pledge their support for salmon abundance!
3. Speak up for the Kootenai River and its fisheries!
Enormous mountain removal coal mines in British Columbia are polluting the Kootenai River downstream in Montana and Idaho. Selenium and other toxic pollution from these mines endanger fish like the Kootenai River white sturgeon by stunting growth and diminishing reproduction. These fish are some of the largest in North America and have lived in the Kootenai River since the time of the dinosaurs. The Kootenai Tribe of Idaho is undertaking extraordinary efforts to revive this unique population of sturgeon, as well as the burbot fishery—but selenium pollution is hurting their efforts.
Unless effective wastewater treatment is installed, this pollution will continue to undermine rights to clean water and negatively impact our fisheries and the work of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho. Under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909, which determined that neither Canada nor the U.S. can pollute the waters of the other, the International Joint Commission (IJC) was created as an independent body to resolve transboundary water quality disputes. The Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, the Confederated Kootenai and Salish Tribes along with the entire Ktunaxa Nation Council are calling on the U.S. and Canada to immediately activate the IJC to address pollution in the Kootenai Watershed.
Stand in solidarity with Tribes and take action today by contacting Senator Jim Risch, and ask for an IJC reference for the Kootenai River!
4. Support Native-led organizations and efforts
As we continue to honor Native American Heritage Month, it is important for us to support organizations that value equitable and effective philanthropy in Native communities. We’d like to introduce you to two Native-led organizations that are doing outstanding work protecting lands, water, fish and wildlife, and connecting people to nature.
River Newe focuses on mentorship, education, and Indigenous advocacy with trips on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. The organization’s goal is to “increase representation and create spaces of equity through learning experiences on homelands with Shoshone-Bannocks, Indigenous, and minoritized communities on and off river.” You can learn more about their work on their website, and support River Newe here.
Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment works to protect Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) Treaty areas, educate Tribal members and youth on current environmental issues, develop future environmental leaders, and promote Tribal activism. You can learn more and support Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment here.
ICL is immensely grateful for the Native-led conservation efforts taking place today, and is proud to partner with Tribes to support their calls for action and to share their vital work with the larger public. We honor and welcome partnership and opportunities for learning and value the extensive knowledge, experience, and practice that are so vital in the future of conservation of both natural and cultural resources.