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Conservation Voices: The Skagit: A River that Connects Us All

By Tom Wooten, Samish Indian Nation Chairman.

Tom Wooten playing a handheld drum

Tom Wooten. Photo courtesy of the Samish Indian Nation

The Skagit River of Northwest Washington State has always been about connections. The river connects the mountains of the North Cascades to the Salish Sea. Since time immemorial it has connected Indigenous Peoples to trade routes and carried salmon to both the saltwater and freshwater environments in the largest upstream migration of nutrients in the natural world.

Salmon are a cultural keystone species for Coast Salish People like the Samish Indian Nation. Salmon connect us to our cultural identity and link us to our relatives in the Southern Resident Killer Whale populations of the San Juan Archipelago. Without salmon, you will not have the Southern Resident Killer Whales. As my mentor Ken Hansen once said, “As the whales go! So do we as native peoples.”

Climate Change, pollution, development have all played a role in creating the plight that salmon, orca,

Two orcas breaching

Photo Credit: NOAA

and native communities now face. The prospect of a large mining operation proposed by Imperial Metals Corporation in the very headwaters of the Skagit River poses an existential threat to one of the region’s largest remaining salmon runs. Salmon recovery does not happen in Washington unless the stocks of the Skagit River can recover and grow. An industrial scale open pit mining operation presents a long-term, unmitigable risk to onsite and downstream cultural, environmental, and economic resources to the entire region.

The Samish Indian Nation stands in opposition of any mining operation in the headwaters of the Skagit River and has passed a resolution through Tribal Council stating this, which has been shared with legislators on both sides of the border. As Samish, it goes back to our mission to create a lasting impact that honors the work of our past generations and creates a sustainable future for the next seven generations to come. We support Washington Wild’s leadership in coordinating a growing international coalition of more than 280 tribes, first nations, elected officials, local businesses and other stakeholders from both British Columbia and Washington State to prevent this mine from happening.

Salmon are the heart of the food source for both native peoples that came before us and our brothers and sisters, the orcas. We live in a world where everything is connected, and water is at this center. If this circle is broken on the Skagit River, there will be nothing but memories.

Tom Wooten is Chairman of the Samish Indian Nation, a local tribe whose culture closely aligns with the Salish Sea headquartered on Fidalgo Island, near Anacortes.