Gifts from the Creator
In the summer of 1855, American Indians living along the Columbia River (Yakamas, Wascos, Umatillas, and residents of the Warm Springs Reservation) ceded millions of acres of tribal land to the United States in exchange for secure titles to fixed reservations, and an assurance that members of the treaty tribes could continue fishing at all of their “usual and accustomed stations” whether or not they were located on reservation land. “This agreement,” the Umatilla Indians have noted, “was our contract with America.”
Over the past 150 years, the ecology of the Indian fishing grounds has changed dramatically. Massive hydroelectric dams have transformed the Columbia into a series of giant reservoirs that interrupt salmon migration patterns from the Pacific to the Rocky Mountains. Fish hatcheries and “ladders” designed to help salmon bypass some dams, and special protective laws have saved some species from extinction. But more work is needed. Today, Columbia River tribes work together to protect and restore salmon habitats and to preserve community traditions that honor and celebrate their ties to this vital food source.