The casino..? The tribe.
Millennials are quick to hop on the twitter/facebook/instagram bandwagon of social justice topics. This reality is important in two main ways 1) social media can be a powerful tool for spurring large scale social activism, yet 2) as a result of this, local issues not in popular media can easily get swept under the rug at a time when these issues need just as much local support.
Recently I attended an event at the UW Intellectual House, hosted by the Jackson School of International Studies. A group of bachelor students presented their quarter long research project, which aimed to educate non-tribal millennials on the Tulalip Tribe and the larger topic of Native American treaty rights. They found that 81 percent of millennials in Puget Sound first associate the word “Tulalip” with the casino, and an additional 18 percent were unfamiliar altogether with the Tulalip Tribe. I myself was guilty of being part of the 81 percent.
What struck me the most about that evening was when a tribe leader stood up and made a commanding speech. She described the visceral relationship the Tulalip Tribe has with the environment; a stewardship of resources that is deeply ingrained in to their daily life. To the Tulalip, salmon is not just food, it is celebration, it is family, and it is tradition. Since she was a child, on a specific date each year her family would catch a salmon in celebration of harvest. 2016 was the first year her family did not catch a salmon that day.
Today the tribe counts about 4,000 members, and are one of dozens of tribes along the Puget Sound coasts. The Treaty of Point Elliot of 1855 was the first legal distinction made between the rights and ownership of a handful of Puget Sound tribes. Forced to give up large swaths of land, the Tulalip Tribe told treaty negotiators they wanted the reservation to be at Tulalip Bay because it had plenty of timber, creeks and fish. It was full of healthy salmon populations. Today, in the Snoqualmie and Skokomish rivers, which converge to form the Snohomish River just south of the Tulalip reservation, wild spawning chinook are down 53 percent compared to 1990 numbers. More than just food is at stake for the Tulalip Tribe; cultural heritage, education, and identity are at risk.
In 1974, during the Pacific Northwest fish wars, a landmark court decision called the Boldt Decision asserted the rights of Washington tribes to co-manage fish with the state and continue traditional harvesting. The Boldt Decision not only protected fishing rights but mandated the tribes get their fair share of 50 percent of the harvestable fish. Today that fair share is threatened. As the Standing Rock Sioux continue to fight the battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, similar battles of different complexion and scale are being fought across the country.
Fortunately, Washington State government and a large number of private organizations put treaty rights and salmon population health as a top priority. For every estimated $1 million spent on watershed restoration, $2.2–$2.5 million is generated in total economic activity. The efforts and research are being to manage this issue in an attempt to restore and improve the quality of life for all. Millennials are poised to boost these efforts as we join the work force with strong environmental and social justice principles. Urban, agricultural, and industrial pollution and development are the greatest threats to further deterioration of salmon habitat and disregard of treaty rights. And before we read the next social media post on our phones, we should take an extra effort to read the local paper or join a local event that we might not otherwise consider, because the outcome of doing so can enlighten us in ways we had not imagined.
1: State of Salmon in Washington project: http://stateofsalmon.wa.gov/
2: WA Government Involvement: http://www.rco.wa.gov/salmon_recovery/index.shtml
3: Jackson School Project Link : https://sway.com/wluV0qRyoGiK3J80
4: Billy Frank Jr and the Fish Wars: https://www.sos.wa.gov/legacy/stories/billy-frank-jr/
5: Salmon Cycle Info: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/sea/pugetsound/species/salmon_cyc.html