Northwest tribes say Trump’s proposed budget would hurt salmon recovery

Native American leaders expressed outrage Thursday at President Donald Trump’s proposed budget that cuts nearly 25 percent of the nation’s tribal programs.

Tribes from across the country said they were shocked that almost none of their priorities will stay at funding levels of the past few years. Some were eliminated completely — such as climate change and housing initiatives.

At a news conference called by the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, Mel Sheldon of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington called it the “single largest attack we’ve experienced in Indian Country in recent history.”

Members of Oregon and Washington tribes rely heavily on federal dollars for building up salmon runs, environmental restoration and anti-poverty measures. Tribal leaders said that the work will be slowed, if not stopped, if Congress doesn’t add back the money.

“There are long-term strategies to restore our lands and restore salmon that will take us awhile,” said Fawn Sharp, member of the Quinault Indian Nation and president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. “Our guiding principle is future generations — seven generations out.”

In 2014, the Obama administration established a fund for the tribes nationwide to adapt to and combat climate change. Sharp said tribes continue to make it clear to the White House and Congress that climate change is their No. 1 priority.

Under Trump’s budget, that fund falls from nearly $10 million to $0.

“We refuse to pretend that climate change doesn’t exist,” said Charles Hudson, intergovernmental affairs director for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “There’s abundant evidence of climate change impacts already in our forests, in our water temperature, which affects salmon.”

Trump’s budget slashes salmon recovery, which has drawn bipartisan condemnation from six states.

The Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund — a project established in 1999 as part of an agreement with Canada to restore fish runs — also was eliminated. Tribal leaders and legislators say losing that money would hurt efforts in California, Nevada, Idaho, Alaska, Washington and Oregon.

“Salmon are not only critical to Washington state and Native American culture, they also help drive our economy, supporting thousands of jobs along the coast and around the state,” said U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “The president’s budget proposal, which zeroes out the vital Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, is an insult to Washington state and a potential setback to the long-term goal of recovering salmon populations.”

Hudson said that the budget plan might backfire anyway. He pointed to court orders from the 1960s and ’70s that affirm constitutional treaties ensuring Northwest tribes will be able to fish the Columbia River as they did for millennia. If the tribes aren’t working to bring salmon back to their historical spawning grounds as they have for the past 40 years, then it will fall to the federal government.

Other natural resource programs lost partial funding, which Native American leaders said hurts non-Native people as well. Tribes contribute to environmental mitigation work on public lands shared with everyone, either because those places are part of their historical lands or because they affect the tribes’ abilities to hunt and fish.

Oregon and Washington tribes also face possible cuts to education and health services tailored specifically for tribal populations.

Native Americans are consistently among the poorest people in the U.S., have inadequate housing and rampant health and dental problems. Trump’s budget would cut human services for tribes by $23 million.

Carina Miller, a council member of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs in Oregon, said she’s worried that the Indian Child Welfare Act — which reformed the state and federal government’s practice of taking children away from their families and putting them with white families and in nontribal schools — would also suffer.

“Many of the policies that were designed to ‘kill the Indian and save the man’ are still alive today,” Miller said.

Many tribes across the country maintain schools on their reservations, which incorporate Native American history, religion, language and culture into their curriculums. Those education programs would take a $64 million hit.

“This budget presents a stunningly cruel and shortsighted vision for Indian Country,” said U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. “It would devastate the Indian Health Service; jeopardize essential wildfire prevention operations; and undermine tribal sovereignty, self-determination and public safety. This is a broken-promises budget that would cost lives if enacted. Congress needs to put a stake through this budget’s heart and bury it so deep that it never again sees the light of day.”

Oregon’s Republican U.S. representative, Greg Walden, didn’t return a request for comment. His district includes much of the tribal lands in Oregon.

Lummi Nation in Washington Chairman Timothy Ballew said that defunding tribal interests isn’t compatible with Trump’s aims.

“The treaty tribes across America have been leading and contributing to American greatness,” Ballew said.