In the spirit of Summer Solstice, NWNL offers below its interview with Ray Gardner, Chief of the Chinook Nation, honoring the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia River and Mother Earth. We met Ray on the 2007 NWNL Columbia River Expedition in a Chinook cove off this salmon-filled river’s estuary.
Three weeks ago NWNL completed its Upper and Middle Mississippi River Basin Expedition from Lake Itasca MN to its St Louis confluence with the Missouri River. In 1993 I documented the highest floodwaters on the Mississippi – and now, 20 years later, I’ve witnessed its 5th highest floodwaters. For eons, floods have come and gone in nature’s plan: part of a healthy pulse that flushes riverbeds and nourishes the plains. But today we see floods as a threat to cities and crops.
In our June 2013 interview with Patrick McGinnis (former US Army Corps of Engineers, now Senior Advisor on Water Resources for The Horinko Group), we discussed the problems that stem from federalized flood control and federalized flood insurance, without which farmers and other folks would abandon the floodplains. Many agencies and organizations are working together now to address these complex issues, given the absence of a national water policy.
But while waiting for solutions to evolve, let’s each of us – and our children – follow Ray Gardener’s suggestion to protect our rivers by removing our trash. Join in American Rivers 2013 National Rivers Cleanup – wherever you live.
We all live in a watershed – what’s yours?
Alison Jones, NWNL Director and Photographer
SELECTIONS: NWNL Interview with Ray Gardner, Chair of the Chinook Nation
NWNL: Thank you, Ray, for bringing us to this protected Columbia River cove, so imbued with the spirit of the Chinook Nation. Could you describe the historic ties Chinook Nation has had with the Columbia River.
RAY GARDNER: The best way to start with that is from our story of creation. We were created on the Columbia River. The Creator and Mother Earth gave us the honor to be a people that lived on this river. This river was a means of transportation. It was a means of communicating with other tribes up and down the river in our canoes. It provided us with the salmon that Coyote taught us how to fish.
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NWNL: What practices have Native Americans traditionally followed to keep our rivers healthy?
RAY GARDNER: It’s really hard to put into words not only how important this river system was, but still is. We have always known that if the people here do not protect Mother Earth, she can’t exist. So, it’s very important to keep all elements of Mother Nature pure and safe. It’s very important to the Chinook people to preserve this river, as we were only allowed to be here by the Creator. With that came the honor of being the people to protect this part of the river. And to protect that, we had to be careful to not pollute the river. The cleanliness of the river and the purity of the river are very important because, obviously, for salmon to survive, they have to have a good water system. Even when our canoes are taken in and out of the water, they are cleansed.
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NWNL: How do Native Americans honor healthy rivers and salmon populations today?
RAY GARDNER: It’s very deeply ingrained all of the native people. Our concerns are with educating the public and with getting better practices out there. That we can help with. One of the things our people plan is river-area cleanups. Many of our people will come down to this cove, to this beach, to pick up whatever debris has been left behind. When you take that and magnify it by the length of the Columbia River, you start to get a grasp on the problem. For the tribal people, it warms our hearts to know that there are also other people out there trying to help us do what we know needs to be done.
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NWNL: How do you think we build a healthy and sustainable relationship between Mother Earth, people, industry and government?
RAY GARDNER: Change will never happen because people sit back and say nothing. People have to be willing to stand up and say this isn’t right; this is why it’s not right; and you need to change it…. In a democracy, if enough of the people want something done, it’s the government’s job to make that change. But government will not make a change unless people tell them it needs to be made.