For Immediate Release: Thursday, April 13, 2023
Kaeleen McGuire, Communications Director, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
Lilly Wilson, Youth Engagement Assistant, Youth Salmon Protectors
Maanit Goel, Director, Washington Youth Ocean and Rivers Conservation Alliance
Northwest Tribal youth and youth advocates head to U.S. Capitol to call on Biden Administration, Congress to restore wild salmon and steelhead
BOISE, ID – Northwest youth from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) and the Youth Salmon Protectors (YSP) are headed to Washington D.C. next week to pressure Congress to urgently work to restore salmon runs in the Columbia Basin.
Wild Snake River salmon and steelhead are critically endangered. They face multiple threats throughout their life journeys, none more significant than the impacts of hydroelectric dams built on the Snake and Columbia Rivers, which kill fish directly and indirectly by warming waters, slowing migration, increasing stress, and fostering invasive predators.
During their week-long visit to the U.S. Capitol, the group will meet with regional elected officials to discuss the dire state of wild salmon and steelhead in the region, as well as growing calls to breach the four lower Snake River dams and replace their services to save these fish that so many rely on.
For many Tribes across the region, salmon are a core part of culture, identity, and sovereignty.
“Not only are salmon a critical food source, they’re also part of our spiritual and cultural identity,” said a member of CTUIR Youth Leadership Council. “In our language, we are ‘Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum (salmon people).’ ‘Wy-kan-ish (salmon)’ are important for our sacred life renewal ceremonies, our daily food, and for our economy. The salmon that swim from the ‘Naxiyam Wana (Snake River)’ and ‘Nchi’-Wana (Columbia River)’ into the Pacific Ocean are family to us.”
Across the region, support is growing to breach the dams and replace the energy and transportation services they provide. This would restore these keystone species and uphold commitments made by the United States to Indigenous Tribes through treaties and other agreements. Bold action is needed immediately to ensure a future of wild salmon in the region.
“We’ve been asked to wait for decades, but the salmon are dying,” said Keyen Singer, a member of the CTUIR Youth Leadership Council. “We need action, and we demand it now.”
At a White House Conservation in Action Summit held just last month, President Biden stated his support for “healthy and abundant salmon runs” in the Columbia River basin, with the support of Tribal leaders, Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington, and Idaho’s Rep. Mike Simpson. President Biden is standing by his Administration’s commitments to restore salmon in the Pacific Northwest, which will feed orcas, Indigenous Tribes, and the region’s enormous recreation economy.
“Salmon and steelhead are integral to the Pacific Northwest way of life. As a keystone species, hundreds of other species rely directly on them, creating a system that is central to Indigenous and local cultures as well as our economy,” said Lilly Wilson, a member of YSP and a Youth Engagement Assistant with Idaho Conservation League. “The four dams that sit on the lower Snake River could be removed and fully replaced with new infrastructure that works better for the region, while saving wild fish and restoring our native ecosystem.”
YSP, which was created in 2021, has grown to a coalition of over 2,000 people across the Northwest region advocating for salmon, steelhead, orcas, and Tribal justice. These advocates regularly take time out of their school and extracurricular activities to urge elected officials to take immediate and resolute action to remove these dams, replace their services with sustainable alternatives, and restore healthy salmon populations to the region.
“I am excited to be able to connect young people with those who are elected to represent them,” continued Wilson. “It is vital to our democracy that youth are represented and our values are addressed. The functions of our country will soon be left to people in my generation, so we deserve a place in the conversation. Young people care about salmon and so should our elected leaders, which is why we are taking the time to meet with representatives and work with them to develop an understanding of the importance of salmon and how this issue can be resolved.”
The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation’s (CTUIR) Youth Leadership Council is dedicated to using their voices to advocate on behalf of culturally and ecologically significant issues.
Youth Salmon Protectors is a coalition of young people across the Pacific Northwest dedicated to breaching the four lower Snake River dams to save wild salmon, steelhead and orca, honoring Tribal treaties, and restoring the lower Snake River.