The Nez Perce connection to Northeastern Oregon is strong, deep and timeless. The beauty and boundless resources of this part of the tribe’s aboriginal homeland are just a few of the reasons the tribe is so committed to cultural and natural resource conservation in the area today.
Tribal members have engaged in fishing, hunting, gathering and pasturing in this region since time immemorial and this area continues to play a major role in our culture and economy. For example, the Joseph Creek drainage is of particular religious and cultural significance because it contains archaeological sites, important hunting, fishing and gathering grounds, traditional cultural properties and ceremonial centers.
As a result, the tribe applauds and supports Sen. Ron Wyden’s efforts to provide protections to these types of vital waterways through the River Democracy Act. The tribe was pleased to be able to make recommendations for the act, including numerous designations within the Joseph Canyon watershed because of its cultural and ecological significance for tribal members.
The act will also provide protection to valuable headwater streams that are critical for mitigating the effects of climate change, similar to the tribe’s management efforts on the Precious Lands in Oregon where many of the rivers nominated by the tribe are located. Additionally, Wild and Scenic designations will assist with preserving critical habitat for important wild populations of summer steelhead, and conserving essential travel corridors used by culturally significant wildlife species.
In a broader context, the legislation balances national and local interests through co-development of river management plans by state, local and tribal entities working cooperatively with federal agencies. The legislation also has language addressing wildfire management issues within Wild and Scenic river corridors.
Wyden has demonstrated great vision in crafting a bill that includes recommendations from local residents in addressing obstacles facing many of the waterways that make Northeastern Oregon unique. Without such leadership, these ecological treasures are in danger of withering away.
Samuel N. Penney
chairman, Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee