What treaty tribes are saying about clean water

Cross posted at Northwest Treaty Tribes

Treaty tribes spoke out loudly against Washington state’s proposed new water quality standards. In summary, the standards aren’t nearly high enough. You can read all the public comments on the standards here.

Jamestown S’Klallam Chairman Ron Allen pointed out that standards earlier proposed by the federal Environmental Protection Agency are much better:

The Department of Ecology’s draft rule proposes other human health criteria that do not incorporate best available science and fails to account for other sources of toxic chemicals. Therefore, we recommend adoption of the criteria proposed by the EPA. The Department of Ecology’s proposal will allow the criteria for several highly toxic chemicals including PCBs, arsenic, and dioxin to remain at status quo or to get substantially worse.

Leaders from several tribes pointed out that the state standards are not nearly enough to protect tribes and their unique relationship with fish.

Sauk-Suiattle Chair Norma Joseph:

Ethnocentric fish consumption and cancer prevention rates, which are based primarily upon consumption by those who only consume the flesh or fillets of fish, may be highly inadequate to protect people such as those of the Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe and other tribes and tribal elders who consume every part of the fish. Salmon is the mainstay dietary source of food for the Sauk-­Suiattle people. There are songs, stories, ceremonies and dances that commemorate its place in our lifestyle. The salmon is consumed in various ways: canned; smoked; dried; boiled; cooked over open flame with alder; fried steaks; baked with simple seasonings. We eat every part of the salmon and many other species including the fish heads; the backbone; the tips; the head­; eyeballs; soft bones; cheeks; tails and certain internal parts or organs. The fish head and backbones are seen by our elders as an especially feasting part of the salmon. Even the salmon eggs were dried and cooked over open fire and were seen as the parts reserved for the special guests at the table.

Lummi Nation Natural Resources executive director Merle Jefferson Sr.:

Contamination of finfish and shellfish habitat, just like reduced instream flows due to out-of-stream diversions, fish-passage barriers, elimination of functioning riparian areas, and other factors have put our treaty rights and our Schelangen (way of life) at risk.


It is morally and legally wrong for the state to allow large private companies to profit at the expense of the environment and the citizens of the state.

Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon Jr.:

For Tulalip, as with many other tribes across the country, rates of diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases have become epidemic among our people. In an effort to combat these alarming health trends, we have established several tribal programs aimed at encouraging individual tribal members to return to a healthier diet, including a diet richer in traditional foods. For Tulalip people, that means eating a lot of fish and shellfish. We want to be able to eat fish at levels that are more consistent with our traditional diet and what public health experts recommend. As you know, fish have been an integral part of our traditional diet since time immemorial.

At the center of the debate is the fact that even at their best, the water quality standards represent a compromise for tribes.

Quileute Chairman Charles Woodruff:

Tribes entered this discussion many years ago with their concerns that the existing fish consumption rate of 6.5 grams per day grossly under-represents tribal fish consumption. The harvest and consumption of fish and shellfish remains at the heart of tribal communities, and is a cultural, nutritional, and economic necessity as well as a treaty right. The proposed FCR of 175 g/day is low compared to fish consumption rates at many tribes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.