Native nations demand demolition of 3 Columbia River dams

THE DALLES, Ore. - Two Washington tribes made a historic move Monday, demanding drastic measures to save Northwest salmon and preserve Native American culture.

At Celilo Park, the Yakama Nation, along with Lummi Nation, called for the removal of three lower Columbia River dams.

Yakama Nation claimed the three dams - Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day - were built "without the Yakama Nation's free, prior, and informed consent as required by the Treaty of 1855." Along with violating treaty rights, the nation said it has decimated fishing and cultural sites.

Lummi Nation, supporting Yakama Nation's call, said removing the dams will heal the river, salmon runs and the endangered southern resident orca.

However, Bonneville Power Administration said the dams provide enough electricity to power more than two million homes in the Northwest each year. They are also part of a key route for transporting commercial goods down the river for export.

Yakama Nation's call is a bold vision of a free-flowing river where hydroelectric power is king, but the river was once a place where salmon was king before dams dominated the landscape.

Many Native Americans at Celilo Park Monday remember what the river looked like in the 1950s and before. They say the vast, quiet river used to be a rush of waterfalls known as Celilo Falls. Native Americans would fish from the cliffs and say the salmon were so plentiful, you could walk across the river on their backs.

“We have a choice and it's one or the other,” Yakama Nation Council Chairman JoDe Goudy declared. “Dams or salmon.”

“I would really like to see the removal because all I've seen is progress ruin the landscape of the river,” said Karen Jim Whitford, who grew up near Celilo Falls. “I've seen progress take too much.”

The Yakama Nation claims the dams were created under the original justification of the discovery doctrine, where Christian Europeans acquired legal property rights to Native lands.

When the dams were built, the government settled with the indigenous people of Celilo Falls for roughly $30 million for taking away their cultural site. But now, they say the nations never consented to the construction and with decimated salmon runs, they are demanding the state take them down.