Tribes protest against Skagit River dam project at Seattle City Light on Indigenous Peoples Day

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Members of several tribes called on Seattle rulers to install a fish passage over the city’s hydroelectric dams on the Skagit River.

SEATTLE – On Indigenous Peoples Day, Native Americans and their supporters staged a peaceful protest outside Seattle City Hall to call on city leaders to better support tribal rights on the Skagit River.

The city’s utility, Seattle City Light, has been producing hydroelectricity on the Skagit for almost 100 years. The project is localized and has impacts on the ancestral lands of Indian tribe of the High Skagit, the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe and the Swinomish Tribe.

“We are here to defend the Salmon Nation, our parents who live underwater because our town has three dams that prevent the salmon people from returning home to their ancestral lands,” said Jack Fiander, organizer of the demonstration for the Sauks. -Tribe Suiattle.

Seattle Dams, unlike most hydroelectric facilities in the area, do not include a way for fish to bypass structures, better known as fish passage. Scientists from the three tribes and all the regulators of the natural resources of the Northwest to say lack of fish passage is killing salmon as dams block hundreds of kilometers of urgently needed habitat. Three species of Skagit salmonids are sliding toward extinction and are on the endangered species list: chinook salmon, rainbow trout and bull trout.

But in KING 5 Investigators’ “Skagit: River of Light and Loss” series, journalists have show that for decades City Light has denied that their dams have an impact on salmon. City Light filed public documents containing hundreds of references to the existence of natural fish barriers under the Gorge Dam, such as boulders and craggy canyons. These barriers, according to the utility, prevent salmon from swimming to their dams.

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Protesters showed their thoughts on the Seattle City Light’s denial of impact with signs at the protest such as “Seattle lied, the salmon is dead” and “Seattle, fix your damn dams.”

“I think it’s absolutely despicable. I think this is just one more of the millions of examples where money, power and light come before people, ”said Carol Mangan Kindt of Tacoma, who attended the protest.

The Skagit Valley Treaty tribes said the dams put their treaty rights at risk. In return for the cession of all their land in 1855, the government promised that the Indians would continue to fish as they had done since time immemorial. But with the salmon on the verge of extinction, state records show tribal members rarely fish as they did before.

“For too long, Indians have been pushed into the mud, the dirt, the streets. Put aside as if we were nothing, or meant nothing to anyone. And I love that Sauk-Suiattle got into a huge fight. A huge fight against an enormity of epic proportions… with the other tribes of the Skagit River, ”said Robert Howard, General Manager of Sauk-Suiattle and member of the White Mountain Apache Tribe.

Seattle City Light is currently in the process of renewing the approval of its dams by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Under a new license, tribes, environmental nonprofits, the Skagit County government, and every federal and state natural resource agency have asked the utility to install a fish passage system.

City Light has reached an agreement to study the possibility of adding to the infrastructure. Chief Executive Officer and CEO Debra Smith said the utility is “following the science” and the results of the studies will notify the city if fish passage will be “required” under a new permit.

Neither the mayor’s office nor the Seattle city council returned an email requesting comment on the protest. Seattle City Light responded with a statement stressing the importance of ongoing studies.

“Seattle City Light is currently working with tribes and federal and state resource agencies on whether and how to provide a fish passage to Project Skagit. Tribes, agencies and City Light will review the results of a fish passage study and several other ongoing studies of the project at the estuary to decide what salmon protection and recovery measures to include in the next license. Julie Moore, City Lightweight communications director wrote.

Members of several tribes participated in the demonstration to show their solidarity with the Native Americans of the Skagit Basin. They included the Yakama Nation, the Lummi Nation, the Puyallup Tribe, the Standing Rock Sioux, the Chinook Nation of Oregon, and the San Carlos Apaches of Arizona. They asked the city to build a system to allow salmon to pass the dams even though that is not a requirement under a new permit.

“Salmon don’t have cell phones. They can’t call a legislator. They can’t call on anyone for help. It depends on us. We have to be their voice, ”said legendary activist Ramona bennett from the Puyallup tribe.

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