skip to Main Content

A multi-year ethics consultation on the Columbia River Treaty facilitated by the Ethics & Treaty Project.

Lower Columbia River & Estuary

River of Time:  From Canoes to Freighters to 2160 and the 7th Generation

7th conference in a multi-year ethics consultation on the Columbia River Treaty and River Governance using the Columbia River Pastoral Letter


Tribal Host: Cowlitz Indian Tribe, Ridgefield, WA

Academic Host: Washington State University – Collective for Social and Environmental Justice, Native American Affairs

This is the first Treaty conference after the US elections and an important opportunity for indigenous sovereigns in the Columbia River Basin to send a message to the State Department and the Biden Transition Team on the need to modernize the Columbia River Treaty based on the ethical principles of justice and stewardship.

The four panels of this two-day conference are based on the four sections of the Columbia River Pastoral Letter.

DECEMBER 9. Wednesday morning.

09:00 WELCOME.   (30 minutes)

  • Drum Group/Song: Jeremiah Wallace, Cowlitz Indian Tribe
  • Academic welcome:   Chancellor Mel Netzhammer, WSU-Vancouver
  • Tribal welcome:  Chairman Philip Harju, Cowlitz Indian Tribe
  • Invocation:  Tanna Engdahl, Spiritual Leader, Cowlitz Indian Tribe
  • Ethics conference series overview:  John Osborn MD, Ethics & Treaty Project

09:30 Panel 1.  Rivers of our Moment.   (60 minutes)

Water is life. The Columbia River watershed, an area the size of France, is one of the most remarkable river systems on earth. What are the foundational ethical relationships and responsibilities between humans and water — within an Indigenous worldview and within the Judeo-Christian tradition?

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 10:30  Break: 15 minutes

10:45 Panel 2.  Rivers through our Memory.  (1 hour 45 minutes)

The Columbia River is a river of life. From time immemorial it provided the world’s greatest salmon runs that are at the center of indigenous peoples’ lives. In just two centuries the forces of Manifest Destiny – including the dam-building era and pervasive systemic racism – have devastated this living system.  The dam-building era transformed the river into a stair-stepping series of slack-water pools: river as lucrative machine plugged into an electric grid. Upstream dams and reservoirs enabled floodplain real estate development in the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan and other areas.  Many benefited and continue to do so, but not everyone.  The dams came with wrenching costs for some, including for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and salmon.

Significantly, the rapidly spreading COVID-19 pandemic is the backdrop to this 7th river ethics conference. Epidemics change history. Tribes, including the Cowlitz, have suffered through epidemics and pandemics. With ancestral lands on the lower Columbia River and Estuary, the Cowlitz were exposed early to Euro-Americans explorers as vectors of infectious diseases. These harms and systemic racism continue through the governance of the Columbia River. This panel will focus on the history of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, the lower Columbia River, and Estuary.

  • Mike Iyall, Tribal Historian, Cowlitz Indian TribeCowlitz Peoples since Time Immemorial
  • Christine Dupres,  Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, Tribal Council Member, Cowlitz Indian TribeSystemic racism throughout contact & governance of the Columbia River. 
  • Nathan Reynolds, Director, Cultural Resources Department, Cowlitz Indian Tribe The tribe’s good stewardship of its place on earth.
  • Moderator:  Taylor Aalvik, Director, Natural Resources Department, Cowlitz Indian Tribe

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –12:30  Adjourn

DECEMBER 10. Thursday morning.


  • Drum Group/Song: Jeremiah Wallace, Cowlitz Indian Tribe 
  • Invocation:  Tanna Engdahl, Spiritual Leader, Cowlitz Indian Tribe
  • Welcome, background from day #1.  The Rev. W. Thomas Soeldner, Ethics & Treaty Project

09:10  Panel 3. Rivers through our Vision.  (1 hour, 45 minutes) 

What do we imagine our watershed to be in the future? What we hope for and how we can move toward fulfilling that hope. What is the future we envision for the watershed? In this 7th ethics conference with special attention to the estuary—what is our vision for the spiritual, community, and ecological realities, and how we hope to get there?

  • John Marsh, Policy Analyst, Cowlitz Indian Tribe & Jim Heffernan, Policy Analyst, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. The Columbia River Treaty and the need for a Flood Risk Review, for tribes to be at the treaty negotiating table, and for adding Ecosystem-based Function as a primary purpose of the Columbia River Treaty.
  • Sandra Luke, Chair for the Lands & Resources Sector, Ktunaxa Nation
  • Youth Voices:  Cowlitz Tribal Future
  • Moderator:  Meagan Lobnitz, Co-Director, Collective for Social and Environmental Justice, WSU-Vancouver

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 10:55   15 minute break

11:10   Panel 4.  Rivers as our Responsibility  (60 minutes)

The Columbia River Pastoral Letter speaks to “The Common Good,” and asks how we can nurture and conserve the watershed for the common good, which includes communities, water, land, air, wildlife, respect and dignity for indigenous traditions/spirituality/culture, economic and environmental justice, etc.

This panel takes on the challenge to integrate the past and future, with ethics and our collective responsibility to the River as Life. 

  • Taylor Aalvik, Director, Natural Resources Department, Cowlitz Indian TribeCurrent issues for the Cowlitz Peoples including Lewis River salmon passage and recovery of eulachon (smelt)
  • Celia Delaney, Mental Health Counselor, Cowlitz Tribe & Human ServicesCOVID layered on top of so much more. Healing waters and mental health
  • Pauline Terbasket, Executive Director, Okanagan Nation Alliancethe story of restoring salmon to the Okanagan
  • Moderator:  The Rev. Martin Wells

12:10   NEXUS TO A THOUSAND TOMORROWS   (20 minutes) Tanna Engdahl, spiritual leader, Cowlitz Indian Tribe

  • Energies of the Ancient Canoes
  • Energies of the Body Electric
  • Journey to the 7th Generation
  • Closing Prayer

12:30  Adjourn

Back To Top