Monday, July 25, 2011

Northwest Journey to Reconnect With American Indian Ways -

PORT GAMBLE S’KLALLAM RESERVATION, Wash. — The canoe journeys are a new tradition for a very old people, but they already have one rigid rule that everyone knows not to break.

That thing you are paddling is called a canoe. Do not call it something else.

“If you call it a boat,” said Mariah Francis, 16, of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, “you’re either supposed to jump in the water or you’ll get thrown in.”

And as paddlers are reminded each year, the water here is cold.

For the 23rd summer in a row, a growing number of American Indians from tribes scattered across coastal regions of Washington State and British Columbia have climbed into traditionally designed cedar canoes and paddled as many as 40 miles a day, sometimes more, over two or three weeks, camping at a series of reservations until they converge at the home of a host tribe. There, several thousand people welcome them for a week of traditional dancing, singing and celebration.

They come from remote outposts like La Push, on the Pacific Ocean, and from wealthier tribes whose casinos rise above Interstate 5 north of Seattle, all in a deliberate effort to recapture cultural, linguistic and intertribal connections they said they had nearly lost as Indian ways of life were overwhelmed, first by European settlers and more recently by substance abuse and suicide.

“The first time we landed, the feeling was just unexplainable,” said Charlie Trevathan, a tribal member here in Port Gamble whose family first joined the journey in 2000. “I cannot put it into words. Ever since then, we’ve gone back every year.”

Now his extended family, like many, has became a “canoe family,” with its own cedar craft, family-themed red sweatshirts and flag. Mr. Trevathan, a commercial fisherman, makes a point every summer of putting the canoe journey before work, a deliberate reminder to himself that priorities once were very different among Northwest natives.

“There’s a shrimp opener soon and the price is supposed to be way up,” Mr. Trevathan said, referring to a brief coming fishing season. “My wife says, ‘Are you going shrimping?’ I said, ‘My commitment is to the canoe.’ The money would be good but it’s tribal journeys time.”

While some paddlers begin at reservations on the ocean, all eventually touch some portion of what the federal government in 2009 renamed the Salish Sea, the body of water that includes the Strait of Georgia in Canada, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound. The sea is the ancestral home of the Coast Salish people, who were not bound by the international border now at the 49th parallel. Before settlers arrived and built roads, the sea was how most people traveled and traded, wearing hats made from cedar and relying on paddles and canoes carved by hand.

“It was the highway, the network that connected people throughout the region,” said Sasha Harmon, an associate professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington. “It was complicated after non-Indian families settled here, but it never went away. People had a really strong sense of the water connecting to them as a major force.”

Dr. Harmon said that as many Indian tribes across the country have worked to preserve their cultures in recent decades, the canoe journeys have been notable for restoring and strengthening “this intertribal communication, and that was a really important part of Northwest culture.”

When paddlers arrive at their destination each afternoon, they are greeted by members of the local tribe who paddle out to meet them. Tribes have revived rituals, what they now call “protocol,” to signal that they are visiting in peace.

“There’s a certain way they have to do it in order to show that they’re here in respect, not for war or destruction,” said Aurelia Washington, the coordinator of the event for this year’s host, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community. “They’re saying, ‘We come here to spend this week with you in celebration.’ ”

Starting Monday, more than 100 canoes will spend the next week at the reservation, celebrating around three new pavilions designed to resemble giant traditional cedar hats. The tribes will sing and dance directly across the Swinomish Channel from the little town of La Conner, a quaint Northwest port where retirees arrive in very different kinds of boats to dine on freshly caught fish and drink locally made beer and wine. The cultural divisions in the region are apparent in the street that crosses the channel: at one end it is called Pioneer Parkway, on the other Reservation Road.

But perhaps the most striking thing about the 2011 Paddle to Swinomish is that it is not a new beginning or a special anniversary. Instead, it reflects what so many of its participants say they had ached for before it existed: constancy and reconnection. Often the main paddlers are teenagers and young men and women, with their parents and elders taking turns as well, transferring every few hours from support boats. The entire event is intended to be free of alcohol and drugs.

“That is something that our elders have been praying for,” Ms. Washington said, “that our children would have a path forward without drugs and alcohol because we have battled so much.”

Among the paddlers who traveled the farthest this year was Cleve Jackson, the 16-year-old son of Shakey Jackson, the chief of the Quinault Tribe on the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula. Shakey Jackson was among several tribal members who worked to revive the canoe tradition years ago, studying seagoing canoes in museum exhibits and even those on display in a Seattle restaurant, because none were left in their village.

Now in his 40s, Mr. Jackson lets his son do most of the paddling.

“I’m trying to wean myself from the boat,” Mr. Jackson said shortly after Cleve, who plays tight end and linebacker for Taholah High School, led his crew to shore.

No one suggested that the chief should go for a swim.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Seeing Trends, Coalition Works to Help a River Adapt -

NISQUALLY NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, Wash. — For 10,000 years the Nisqually Indians have relied on chinook salmon for their very existence, but soon those roles are expected to reverse.

Based on current warming trends, climate scientists anticipate that in the next 100 years the Nisqually River will become shallower and much warmer. Annual snowpack will decline on average by half. The glacier that feeds the river, already shrunken considerably, will continue to recede.

Play the scene forward and picture a natural system run amok as retreating ice loosens rock that will clog the river, worsening flooding in winter, and a decline in snow and ice drastically diminishes the summer runoff that helps keep the river under a salmon-friendly 60 degrees.

To prepare for these and other potentially devastating changes, an unusual coalition of tribal government leaders, private partners and federal and local agencies are working to help the watershed and its inhabitants adapt. They are reserving land farther in from wetlands so that when the sea rises, the marsh will have room to move as well; they are promoting hundreds of rain gardens to absorb artificially warmed runoff from paved spaces and keep it away from the river; and they are installing logjams intended to cause the river to hollow out its own bottom and create cooler pools for fish.

Jeanette Dorner, the director of the salmon recovery program for the Nisqually Tribe Natural Resources Department, grew up wading along a creek that feeds the river, hunting freshwater mussels. Even though protecting the rivershed requires herculean feats of coordination among various authorities and has cost roughly $35 million over the last decade, she said, “it is urgent we do not just walk away.”

Many scientists and policy analysts believe the best course of action is to do what conservationists have long tried to do — return ecosystems to their strongest natural health and then stay out of the way. This approach is known as resiliency.

But as humans come to be adversely affected by the stepped-up pace of ecological change, they also increasingly look to help Mother Nature out in more active ways.

In North Carolina, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has teamed up with The Nature Conservancy to buy parcels just behind Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge to allow the swamp to roll inland as the sea rises from glacial melt and to help black bears and red foxes migrate to inland refuges. In Montana the Wildlife Conservation Society is working with land trusts and others to secure corridors just outside Glacier National Park for wide-ranging cold-sensitive species like wolverines.

Such projects are on the rise, in part, because an executive order signed in 2009 by President Obama has led to a mandate that federal agencies integrate adaptation to climate change into all of their planning. But they often remain, like Nisqually, complex collaborations spurred more by imminent local ecological catastrophes.

Warm Water Fish

The Nisqually begins as a fast chute off Mount Rainier, rushes through shattered rock carved from the glacier above and then plunges through thick pine forests for 78 miles until it broadens into a rich estuary connecting with Puget Sound.

It remains a relatively healthy watershed because in 1989 — long before “global” and “warming” were inextricably linked — the Washington State Legislature, in the face of local protests and a court battle over Indian fishing rights, created the Nisqually River Council, the first watershed-wide protection council west of the Mississippi.

The council provided a framework for parties along the river to discuss their needs and goals. Financing came through many sources: via lawsuits brought to protect native endangered species like the chinook and the spotted owl, state and federal grants, the Park Service in Mount Rainier, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nisqually Tribe, which has prospered since the legalization of gaming on Indian lands.

For its first 20 years the council concentrated on undoing manmade damage, pursuing efforts like persuading the operator of the hydroelectric dam on the river to add salmon gates. Last year, as the council was updating its management plan, it began looking at the river “through the lens of climate change,” said David Troutt, its chairman. Suddenly restoration was not going to be enough.

Amy K. Snover, a director of the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington, said that computer modeling showed that as early as 2020 there would be “significant” increases in rain in the Nisqually Basin in November and December. Sixty years beyond that there would 50 percent less snowpack at the end of winter, according to the average-climate projection. Warmer air and less snowmelt would mean a much warmer river and depleted soil moisture in summer, which would stress forest vegetation.

Ducks Unlimited, a conservation group founded by hunters, predicts that the entire low-lying wetlands at the river’s mouth, a prime fish nursery, will be inundated by the sea in the next 50 years, meaning that the species the council was working to save would be imperiled all over again.