Gorge Caretaker Role: Salmon marketing specialist, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC)
"CRITFC is a technical and advisory arm of the four treaty tribes with treaty fishing rights along the Columbia River: the Yakama, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Nez Perce. I'm a member of the Cayuse-Umatilla. CRITFC does advisory and technical work for the treaty tribes. We’ve got a watershed department, we’ve got fish management, we’ve got fish sciences, we’ve got our own enforcement arm in Hood River and we’ve also got a group that takes care of in lieu and treaty access sites here. We’ve also got our own genetics lab here in southeastern Idaho. I've worked for the organization for 14 years in different capacities."The Eagle Creek fire had a few different impacts on our members along the Columbia River. Right next door to where we're speaking here in Cascade Locks, we have a fishing site where members live during the season; some of them stay year-round. So when the mandatory evacuations started, some of them had to leave. As far as the agency goes, we have projects at Bonneville Dam that were shut down for a while. And another thing that really hurt us is that up there underneath the Bridges of the Gods is one of our real big direct-to-the-public sales where people sell out there in the open; with I-84 being shut down it really hurt their sales. And annually the peak of the salmon run is the second week of September, right when the fire was going really bad. So that timing couldn’t have been any worse.
"But our work went on in the Gorge as best we could do it. When I went back to my home in Milwaukie (Oregon) my daughter said, 'Dad, you smell like a campfire.' A big campfire.
"Our people have been in the Gorge since time immemorial so to our people it has a special meaning. The salmon is sacred to our people. Myself, I actually started as a commercial fisher; I started salmon fishing back home in tributaries and I’d never fished on the Columbia, but I came to the Gorge a little bit in my young adult life and it’s since just grown on me. You know, when I used to travel or whatever, I’d be traveling late at night but once I got to the Gorge I was like, 'Oh wow, I’m awake.' So it means a lot to our people, and then working for CRITFC is just added on to that for me. Working for my people and learning some of the stories from the elders and stuff like that has been great.
"A big concern we have is global warming impacts on the river. You know, the high water temperatures. I used to work at Bonneville Dam and the Army Corps has restrictions on when you can close the gates and stuff like that and I would’ve never, ever thought that the water temperature would get above 70 degrees but it sure the heck does. And it’s started sooner and sooner during the year.
"Despite the transportation issues and the smoke, our people still fished during the fire whenever and wherever they could. So I think that that shows a resiliency right there. Like I said, the salmon are sacred to our people, but we also know that the salmon is for all people. So different people, from sport fishermen to grandpa bringing his child up that’s learned how to fish, if we can keep having salmon come back I think that would be just more to add on to our work, to keep going."
Caretakers of the Gorge is a collaboration between Friends of the Columbia Gorge and Swanson Studio, a Portland-based commercial photo studio.
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