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


December 9-10, 2020

7th annual conference on ethics and the past and future of the Columbia River

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


Tribal host:  Cowlitz Indian Tribe

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

Sign up for free here: Registration


“Tribes in the United States and First Nations in Canada suffered profound damage and loss from Columbia and Snake River dams.  Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty is a critical opportunity for Canada and the United States to join together in acknowledging damage done, right historic wrongs, and commit to stewardship of this great river in the face of climate change.”   

John Sirois, One River, Ethics Matter conference, Gonzaga University, May 2014

At the end of the conference participants will be able to describe:

  • Cowlitz Tribal history of survival and renewal.
    • From time immemorial to European immigrant explorers, epidemics & pandemics, and recovery.
    • The Tribe and the Estuary (the Columbia River below Bonneville Dam): how upstream dam management harms the downstream river.
    • Cowlitz Tribal work to restore rivers of the Estuary and smelt or “Eulachon” from extinction’s brink.
  • Climate change, youth, and inter-generational theft.
    • Climate change impacts on river health and salmon survival.
    • Youth and the risk of a stolen future and intergenerational theft.
    • Empowering youth to protect their interests in a living river.
  • Flood Risk Analysis needed for Portland-Vancouver.
    • Unheeded lessons from the Vanport Flood.
    • Need for a long overdue Flood-risk Review for the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area, moving structures and people out of harm’s way and off the river’s footprint.
    • Importance for the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and Estuary.
  • Systemic racism remedies
    • U.S. federal agencies dishonoring and damaging tribes and the Columbia River, exclusion of tribes from the U.S. Treaty negotiating team.
    • The ethical principle of justice as applied to recognizing indigenous sovereigns as co-managers of the international Columbia River watershed.


For additional information: 

Click on maps to enlarge

Columbia River, tribes (US), indigenous sovereigns (Canada). There has never been a basin-wide accounting nor remedy for the wrenching impacts of the dam-building era on the Columbia River and people of the river. (map courtesy of Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission)

This seventh annual “One River, Ethics Matter” conference will be held during the COVID-19 pandemic by videoconference. On December 9, 10 we will focus on the lower Columbia River / Estuary and the Cowlitz Indian Tribe.

In 2020 climate change impacts are escalating with massive wildfires, smoke, and severe weather. 2020 also brought us COVID-19, the latest in a series of epidemics and pandemics that have killed so many and changed the course of history. “If you’re not at the table, then you’re on the menu”: still in 2020 tribes remain excluded from major decisions about the future of the Columbia River.

Columbia River Pastoral Letter

Combining the Columbia River Pastoral Letter and medical-ethics consultation tools, our first six “One River, Ethics Matter” conferences have looked upstream in the Columbia-Snake River system at harms from the Basin’s dam-building era and Columbia River Treaty.  With the help of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, this 7th river ethics conference will look downstream to the Columbia River Estuary – generally the river below Bonneville Dam to the Pacific Ocean.

This seventh river ethics conference will explore remedial options through respectful dialogue regarding the Columbia River Treaty:  (1) adding a third Treaty purpose co-equal to existing Treaty purposes of hydropower and flood control, and (2) new approaches to ethics-based international river governance.   

In 2020 the U.S.-Canadian historic friendship is strained as never before. The COVID-19 pandemic has closed the border. In Canada, Indigenous Sovereigns are part of the negotiating team. By contrast, in the U.S. where systemic racism has prompted the largest marches and protests in American history, tribes remain excluded from the U.S. negotiating team. 

From time immemorial indigenous people lived along these rivers and depended on the annual return of salmon.  While acknowledging benefits of the Columbia’s dam-building era, we will also explore the significant environmental, cultural, and social costs of converting the world’s richest salmon river into a machine of dams and stair-stepping reservoirs.

We will also look to Portland and the desire for floodplain development – despite the unheeded lessons of the Vanport flood of 1948. We will continue to explore the injustice of protecting floodplain development for the Portland-Vancouver metropolitan area while so many others pay the price of destroyed river valleys, communities, and fish and wildlife habitats throughout the Columbia River Basin.

Finally, we will use the ethical foundations provided by indigenous cultural leaders and western religious leaders, and lessons from the Cowlitz Tribe of Indians, to advance justice and stewardship for the Columbia River.

Planning Committee

John Marsh, JD, Natural Resources Dept Policy Analyst, Cowlitz Indian Tribe * Taylor Aalvik, Natural Resources Dept Director, Cowlitz Indian Tribe * Melanie Mariano, Youth Program Manager, Cowlitz Indian Tribe * Tiffini Johnson, Natural Resources Dept Program Assistant, Cowlitz Indian Tribe * Steve Fountain, PhD, WSU-Vancouver, Campus Director of Native American Affairs and Co-Director for Social and Environmental Justice; Meagan Lobnitz, WSU-Vancouver, Co-Director for Social and Environmental Justice * The Rev. W. Thomas Soeldner & John Osborn, MD, Ethics & Treaty Project

Advisory Committee

Nathalie Allard, Ktunaxa Nation Council * Laurie Arnold, PhD, Gonzaga U * LeeAnne Beres, Ex. Dir., Earth Ministry * Sophia Cinnamon * Barbara Cosens, JD, U of Idaho * Tanna Engdahl, Spiritual Leader, Cowlitz Indian Tribe * Scott Hauser, Ex. Dir., Upper Snake River Tribes Foundation * Jim Heffernan, JD, Policy Analyst-Columbia River Treaty, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission * Brian Henning, PhD, Gonzaga U * Mike Iyall, Elder & Tribal Council Member, Cowlitz Indian Tribe * Bishop Rick Jaech, SW Washington Synod, ELCA * Kendra Kaiser, PhD, Boise State University * Steve Kolmes, PhD, U of Portland * DR Michel, Ex. Dir., Upper Columbia United Tribes * Richard Paisley, JD, U of British Columbia * Bishop Gretchen Rehberg, PhD, Episcopal Diocese of Spokane * Bob Reinhardt, PhD, Boise State University * Nathan Reynolds, Director, Cultural Resources, Cowlitz Indian Tribe * Bishop Greg Rickel, Episcopal Diocese of Olympia * The Rev. John Rosenberg (retired) * Graeme Lee Rowlands, Columbia River Treaty Coordinator, Save our Wild Salmon * Valerie Senatore, PhD, Provost, Community Colleges of Spokane * John Sirois, Committee Coordinator, Upper Columbia United Tribes * Bishop William Skylstad, (retired) Catholic Diocese of Spokane * Dan Spencer, PhD, U of Montana * Duff Sutherland, PhD, Selkirk College * Pauline Terbasket, Ex. Dir., Okanagan National Alliance * Michael Treleaven, PhD, Gonzaga U * Bishop Martin Wells, JD, (retired) E Washington-Idaho Synod, ELCA

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