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Fishing-Demise of Fishing in Sinixt Territory
Hydroelectric Dams: "Green Energy"
When the hydroelectric dams were built, it changed the landscape and its people forever. Tradition means nothing is added and nothing is taken away, that way it stays the same. The completion of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River in 1933 was said to have marked the end of a way life for Sinixt people and salmon alike. It is important to note, however, that prior to the construction of dams, the salmon fishery was already being impacted by commercial fishing at the mouth of the Columbia (Astoria).
Termed as "green energy" by some, hydroelectric dams literally cut-off major arteries of water which supported food, trade, and transportation systems for the Sinixt People. Like the salmon, Sinixt people could no longer access their northern/southern territory via the Columbia River. The loss of the salmon spirit brought on ‘The Ceremony of Tears’, which was how the people prayed and mourned for the loss of such a sacred spirit. The Sinixt, like many other Interior Plateau Tribes, had to rebuild their way of life and somehow try to replace the missing link.
'The Legacy of White Grizzly Bear: Learning to Be Indian' discusses a great deal about the detrimental costs and irreparable damage to Sinixt people and their culture as a result of the Grand Coulee Dam. Lawney wrote, "One day, the salmon runs at Kettle Falls ceased. After the concrete was poured into the steel framework to form the base of the dam, the great salmon runs ended. Free passage up the Columbia was bred into their being. It brought to a close a great tradition that had existed for centuries.”
Lawney went on to say, "From that day on, life was very difficult for the Colville and Lakes Indians. There was always a shortage of food. The bands dispersed, and the People tried to survive in the mountains, either as families or sometimes alone as individuals. The great days of the Sin-Aikst [Sinixt] were over. Age-old traditions very dear to the People became nothing but memories.....From that day on, the tribes descended into an unimaginable poverty.....Because of food shortages, the People were dependent on commodities, or food provided by the US government."
The Columbia River Treaty
The signing of the Columbia River Treaty by the Canadian and American governments in 1964 resulted in the flooding of valleys used traditionally by Sinixt people for thousands of years. Under the laws of the Archaeological Sites Protection Act, the B.C. government and the B.C. Hydro and Power Authority were forced to fund further archaeological digs within the Arrow Lakes district of the Columbia River Valley. It wasn’t until 1966, after construction of the dam began, that a one month archaeological dig occurred at the Deer Park Site.
With most cultural sites now under water, record of Sinixt occupation has nearly vanished from the landscape. After declaring Sinixt people officially “extinct” in 1956, the Canadian government was quick to begin Columbia River Treaty negotiations with the United States in 1957. Many Sinixt people believe that it was more than simply convenience that they were declared extinct just before negotiations began. The Sinixt Nation was not consulted prior to the signing of the Columbia River Treaty, nor were they ever compensated for the extensive destruction of their cultural and historical sites or their traditional ways.
This year, 2014, the Columbia River Treaty is up for re-negotiation and the Canadian government continues to exclude Sinixt members from negotiations.