FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Joy Abrahamson, Executive Director
The siwɫkʷ prutəktər “water caretakers” & sic cwix “new river” in ńsəĺxčiń (Okanogan Salish) programs are Aboriginal Outfitters’ attempt at connecting local youth to land stewardship and reminding the community that Water is Life.
[Omak, WA- December 5, 2021]
Aboriginal Outfitters launches a regional Water Protector program (siwɫkʷ prutəktər translating directly to water caretakers in the ńsəĺxčiń Okanagan Salish language) and the New River (sic cwix) campaign, focused on raising awareness of the interconnectedness and importance of our waterways, and cleaning them up in the process.
The new non-profit organization in Okanogan County focuses on land stewardship, the restoration of intergenerational relationships, and the renewal of culture on the Colville Reservation & Greater Okanogan Area.
"I just want to bring attention to the rivers—particularly the Columbia, Okanogan, and Similkameen. The rivers have a strong spirit and have a powerful way of healing you. When the water is polluted and dirty the way it is now, it's as if we're not taking care of its spirit or our responsibilities of being water protectors. It's sad that the runoff is taking place right now and to see the waters so high. We usually see this runoff in spring," said Joy Abrahamson, Aboriginal Outfitters' Executive Director.
"It's scary, but it's bringing attention to what we've been ignoring. Climate change is affecting our area, and I don't really see anyone doing anything about it. There's a dam called the Enloe Dam on the Similkameen River. A lot of people don't even know where it's at or that it hasn't even generated power since the 1950s. It's a big issue because it's just sitting there blocking the river with no purpose, and so many people are turning a blind eye to that. It's making a big impact for me and future generations. By letting it sit there, you're forcing the younger generations to deal with the decisions that have created the problems we have today. I feel that there are so many decisions made about the rivers that benefit people with no regard to what that means to the future or Mother Earth."
When involved in conversations about the dam and the health of the rivers in the area, a consistent theme is that the dam shouldn't be removed because it's holding back toxic sediment from the irresponsible mining operations in Oroville nearly a century ago. However, with the recent river surge, there has surely been an increase in sediment and debris breaching the dam. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports, as of December 3, 2021, the Similkameen River is 443% above normal discharge, and the Okanogan River is 357% above normal. Reports also indicate that 2021 saw temperatures 17.28 degrees Fahrenheit higher than last year and about 15 degrees higher than the median temperature.
In the early 1900s, the federal government dramatically altered the ecosystem as part of its push to encourage white settlers to move West. Government-backed initiatives handed out plots of land to farmers, built dams, and re-routed rivers to deliver irrigation water to them. Unfortunately, these initiatives drained many of the wetlands to make way for new fields and pastures, depriving the lakes and rivers of their natural filtering system.
It is important for us to recognize that the Enloe Dam may be practically obsolete, but it still holds its value as a symbol. We understand that descendants of homesteaders feel a sense of entitlement to the county's natural resources based on their pioneer history, and the Enloe dam serves as a symbol of that entitlement. However, protecting our ego will not protect the earth.
"Our responsibility is the water and the river because water is life. It's deep, and it hurts us and the land. For me, it's really personal," said Emily Olguin-Abrahamson, a Board Director for AO. "Water has always played a leading role in rituals and sacred practices, "Since Time Immemorial". As Indigenous peoples, First Nations recognize the sacredness of protecting water from pollution, drought, and waste. Water is the giver of life, and without water, life will perish. Water has been used to communicate the sacred value of life, the spiritual dimension of purification, protection, and healing."
Aboriginal Outfitters seeks to see protecting natural resources become a bigger priority in Okanogan County. With cultural education, clean-up activities, youth outreach, and other programs, they plan to do just that. They have also launched a petition to see the Enloe Dam removed on change.org with hopes that by bringing attention of community support, they can start to contribute a different narrative to the table.
"I respect the river because it has a lot of our food. We are fish people and it makes it hard when the river is dirty and poisoned," said Mathew Pakootas, a local Indian Relay Racer and 2021 Warrior Race champion. "The fish, the ducks, the bottom feeders, and everything in between, they are all going to get poisoned, and soon enough, it'll be full of floating fish."
In 2021, temperatures along area rivers and tributaries reached levels that are deadly to salmon and steelhead. Cool water from Canada is blocked by the Enloe dam from effectively providing a source of cool water to the Okanogan river, to which the Similkameen contributes 70% of the flow.
Aboriginal Outfitters strongly believes that everything on earth matters. From the water to the air, soil, plants, animals, industries, lifestyles, economies, and mindsets, it all comes together to form something bigger than ourselves. Our goal is to support the advancement of human conditions and assist society accordingly. To do this, we must first look to the earth and protect it from further degradation. Our water protector program seeks to elevate the voices of those who seek to restore our local rivers and wish to see a more resilient local water system.
Learn more about our petition to remove the Enloe dam at change.org/sic-cwix_new-river. Learn more about the water protector program at: aboriginaloutfitters.org/siwɫkʷ-prutəktər.
If you would like more information about this topic, please call Joy Abrahamson at 833-636-5263, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or go online to aboriginaloutfitters.org.