Environmental conference focuses on tribal and non-tribal perspectives

For the better part of two decades IRU has worked hand-in-hand with the Nez Perce Tribe on an array of issues. The tribe is an integral partner in our quest to restore wild salmon and steelhead, and our work with the tribe to stop megaloads on U.S. Highway 12 in North Idaho resulted in a recent settlement that blocks further shipments.

These are only a few examples of ways that IRU and other conservation groups have worked together—and to greater effect—with native American tribes to protect natural resources and cultural values.

In mid-March, Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment – a grassroots Nez Perce advocacy group, hosted a two-day conference in Lewiston on Tribal Treaty Rights and the Environment. The goal of the conference was to share information about working together on environmental issues. 

The conference included panel discussions on a wide-range of issues that included Lower Snake River dams, the recent designation of Bears Ears National Monument, the Dakota Access Pipeline, megaloads, and the Columbia River Treaty.

“It was incredibly informative and inspiring,” said IRU Executive Director Kevin Lewis, who participated in several conference panels. “I walked away with a better understanding of treaty law and the struggles individual tribes are facing.”

Attending the conference were tribal members from throughout the West, conservation organizations, citizen activists, and public interest attorneys who have been involved in many of the above issues.

Below read a report on the conference from the Lewiston Tribune.

Tribal, nontribal activists gather for environmental conference

By ERIC BARKER of the Tribune
Mar 18, 2017

Julian Matthews believes that when diverse groups of people unite over a common cause, their voices can be amplified and their power magnified.

The Pullman man - also a Nez Perce tribal member and board member of Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment - pointed to the fight against megaloads on U.S. Highway 12 and the more recent battle to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline as examples. In each case, tribal members worked side by side with nontribal conservationists to stop powerful corporate interests, and the treaties between tribes and the U.S. government proved to be powerful tools.

But Matthews said that doesn't mean they always understand each other, including the significance of tribal treaty rights. In an effort to increase understanding and to inspire more environmental activism by native and non-native people, his group organized a two-day conference, "Treaty Rights in a Changing Environment," at the Red Lion Hotel in Lewiston. The conference started Friday and continues today."We wanted to work on building networks and relationships with other people and groups so they understand where we are coming from and we understand where they are coming from," he said.

Michael Preston of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe near the Shasta Dam and Redding, Calif., said the environment is a common cause in which all people have a vested interest.

"We all live in the same ecosystem," he said. "It's very important to take care of that ecosystem."

Mary Jane Miles, chairwoman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee, said different tribes working with each other and tribes joining forces with conservation groups brings more firepower to environmental causes.

"In unity we have power, and our voices are heard and heard well, and we are respected in a way that we will not budge," she said.

Conference attendees spoke about efforts to breach the four lower Snake River dams during an afternoon session. Traditional conservation groups and the Nez Perce Tribe for years have coordinated legal strategies and efforts aimed advancing dam breaching and forcing federal agencies to live up to their obligations to protect threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead under the Endangered Species Act.

Sam Mace of the Save our Wild Salmon Coalition said meeting face to face at the conference will help in future efforts.

"I think it's really great to bring nontribal conservationists together with tribal members to do some cross education," she said. "I think it's a very powerful alliance."

The conference continues today at 9 a.m. with a panel discussion on the fight by the Standing Rock Sioux to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The banner photo on this page is courtesy Earthjustice.