Conserving this Nation’s fish and other aquatic resources cannot be successful without the partnership of Tribes; they manage or influence some of the most important aquatic habitats both on and off reservations. In addition, the Federal government and the Service have distinct and unique obligations toward Tribes based on trust responsibility, treaty provisions, and statutory mandates.
Supporting Tribal Life on the Columbia River
Pacific salmon have always been an integral part of Indian life in the Columbia River Basin. The Columbia River Treaty Tribes understood that their very existence depended on the Columbia River Basin’s natural resources, and that most important were the salmon that returned to the rivers and streams.
Prior to the arrival of white settlers, Chinook salmon returned to the Columbia River Gorge tributary streams in very large numbers. One of these tributaries in Washington, the Little White Salmon River, was selected as a site for a new hatchery given the abundant supply of salmon that returned to that river. William Ravenal, in his 1898 report to the U.S. Fish Commissioner, stated that “During the season, the salmon appeared in such large numbers below the rack that the Indians often speared two and three at one cast of the spear.”
And so, the Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery began in 1898 producing the quinnat, or Chinook salmon, so revered by Yakama people. Located within the ceded area of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama USFWSIndian Nation, the hatchery produced Chinook salmon to reinforce the Tribe’s right under an 1855 treaty to fish at “usual and accustomed” places. Today, in conjunction with Willard National Fish Hatchery located five miles upstream of the senior Little White Salmon facility, the Little White Salmon/Willard National Fish Hatchery Complex maintains a strong partnership with the Yakama Nation to produce fish for tribal harvest, and to support salmon restoration efforts by tribes within the Columbia River Basin.
Perhaps most notable of these restoration efforts are those by the Yakama Nation to reintroduce Mid-Columbia River coho salmon. Willard National Fish Hatchery raises these coho salmon. It’s done in partnership with the Yakama Nation in a cost-share agreement with the goal of reintroducing extirpated coho salmon to the Wenatchee River Basin in north-central Washington. By agreement, the Yakama Nation provides 60 percent of the costs to operate the Willard National Fish Hatchery; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service contributes the remaining 40 percent via Mitchell Act funds administered by NOAA-Fisheries.
The Yakama Nation has benefitted from large surpluses of upriver bright fall Chinook returning upstream. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Yakama Nation agreed to spawn additional fish, to provide four and half million additional eggs to the Yakama Nation Klickitat Hatchery. Managed as a natural spawning area, tribal hatchery facilities on the Klickitat River lack the infrastructure necessary to adequately collect adult fall Chinook.
Salmon produced at the Little White Salmon/Willard National Fish Hatchery Complex are critical for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to meet its tribal trust responsibility and to reaffirm treaty-granted tribal fishing rights. The Columbia River treaty tribes have fought hard to preserve their right to fish in usual and accustomed areas. Drano Lake and the Little White Salmon River are one of those areas. The close partnership with the Yakama Nation helps maintain an integral part of tribal life – salmon harvest.
Margaret Saluskin of the Yakama Nation eloquently captured the essential nature of salmon to Native Americans: “Salmon was presented to me and my family through our religion as our brother. The same with the deer. And our sisters are the roots and berries. And you would treat them as such. Their life to you is just as important as another person would be.” (Speros Doulos).