First Stewards Have Much to TeachJul 1st, 2012 • Category: Being Frank
All of the pollution that has been – and continues to be – pumped into our air is returning to haunt us at a speed no one ever thought possible. Everywhere there are signs that our environment is out of balance.
Oysters in Willapa Bay – one of the largest shellfish producing areas in the United States – have been unable to successfully reproduce for the last eight years. Scientists say ocean acidification is the problem. It’s killing baby oysters by preventing their shells from developing.
The chemistry of the ocean is changing because it is absorbing too much carbon dioxide, much of it coming from the gas we burn in our cars. It’s not just oysters that are being affected. All types of shellfish are at risk, including the tiny shrimp called krill that salmon eat. That means the entire ocean food web is in danger, and we are too, because we are all part of that web.
Most of the carbon dioxide we produce stays in the air, driving massive climate changes that bear down on us more every day.
Our glaciers are disappearing fast, and along with them the supply of cool water that salmon depend on. Meanwhile, sea levels are rising as the polar ice sheets melt.
All of these topics and more are on the agenda for the first annual First Stewards symposium, to be held July 17-20 in Washington, D.C. It’s a national event unlike any other that will examine the impact of our changing environment on native coastal cultures from across the country, including U.S. Pacific islander communities.
The Hoh, Makah and Quileute tribes and the Quinault Indian Nation created the symposium because indigenous coastal people are among the first affected by our changing environment. Hundreds of native leaders and climate scientists will join policy-makers and non-government organizations for the groundbreaking discussion at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
Indian people have been adapting to a changing environment for centuries. We had to adapt or die, and we have gained much traditional knowledge along the way. The symposium can help communities across the nation by sharing the ways native people have adapted. Our knowledge can be woven with good science to meet the serious environmental challenges facing all of us.
We have always lived here and we always will. Because we know our natural systems better than anyone else, we are the first to know when things change. Our traditional knowledge combines the heart and the mind and comes from our place-based way of life. It has been gathered over the centuries through our everyday lives and shared through our songs, stories and ceremonies.
Just as our cultures are place-based, so are our treaty rights. When fishing is poor in our home waters we can’t just pick up and move to another part of the state where fishing might be better. We must stay where we are and make things better in that place. And that’s what we do.
We all need to deal with these environmental changes because they are only going to become more challenging in the future. We must face these challenges together, because in the end, we are all in the same canoe.
Billy Frank Jr. is the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
For more information, contact: Tony Meyer or Emmett O’Connell, NWIFC, (360) 438-1181
Billy Frank, Jr. of the Nisqually Indian Tribe is the long-time Chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. In this capacity, he "speaks for the salmon" on behalf of the 20 Treaty Indian Tribes in western Washington.
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