Dear Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Councilmembers:
I am writing to share my feelings with you and ask questions regarding the three hydroelectric dams owned and operated by the city of Seattle on our sacred Skagit River. The Skagit River (if you don’t already know) is named after my people, who have lived, fished, hunted and practiced our traditional way of life here in the central Washington river valley since time immemorial.
Although I am young, I have been very blessed to learn from my father, a tribal elder, about the rich history of our people but also, woefully, about the harm Seattle has put on our people. I carry knowledge of what the city has done here and an understanding of what has been imposed on the Upper Skagit people and our salmon. I want you to know this brings me great pain and sorrow every day.
A century ago, Seattle officials came to our sacred river without our people’s permission and began building the first of these three dams. This action by the city immediately brought unprecedented devastation and destruction to the then-pristine Skagit. It harmed my people, the salmon and our very culture. Conversely, the building of these dams brought extraordinary wealth, growth and long-lasting prosperity to the city of Seattle. The destruction of the Skagit sent cheap power through miles of transmission lines south to the city, spurring economic growth and the building of infrastructure, which was the foundation of Seattle becoming one of the greatest cities in the American West.
Today, your staff can continue to claim that the Skagit dams have little or no impact to the tribe and salmon. This is the type of attitude we have come to expect from other environmentally harmful industries, like the Dakota Pipeline proponent; coincidently, this city adamantly opposed that project. I applauded the city of Seattle and some of its councilmembers for supporting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the attack on their culture and precious natural resources.
The facts of what is happening on the Skagit that have been continually ignored in Seattle are irrefutable by most — except by those employed in the interest of money-making machines of destruction.
The building of these dams disturbed the resting places of our ancestors, destroyed or damaged important cultural sites and desecrated the Upper Skagit sacred village of Dawáylib and renamed it Newhalem. The dams diminished our salmon runs by cutting off salmon passage and by excluding miles and miles of former habitat, and have actually impacted the entire Skagit watershed. One hundred years later, the dams continue to kill fish each and every day, as the dams operate constantly. If these examples aren’t enough to convince you the city has marred the very life of my people, I don’t expect you to understand the hurt I experience knowing the life-giving Skagit has been purposely dewatered by the city of Seattle, and why?
I am asking you, the leaders of this city that has inflicted a century of continual harm on my people and all the creatures relying on a heathy and productive Skagit, to do the right thing and help us. This city has a long history of supporting the rights of the Native American tribes of Washington, and now is the time to walk the talk and protect our rights — which your city is violating. What would the city’s namesake have to say if he were here today and knew what the city has done in the past and continues to do to my people?
Although much irreparable harm has already been done, I am convinced it’s not too late to save the Skagit. The recent Elwha dam removal proves that there is a chance if you take action now.
Take action by removing these mechanisms of destruction and allowing salmon back into their historical spawning areas. I also request that no representative of Seattle ever refer to the dammed river as your “battery” ever again.
Over the course of their lifetimes, the Seattle dams have brought your city wealth and prosperity by taking so much from Skagit, while disproportionately and shamefully returning so little.
I very much hope you take this request seriously and consider all options for saving the sacred Skagit River. I ask this for my people. I ask this for the salmon. I ask this for the orca. I ask this for the Skagit.
Hout-Suli-A Janelle Schulyer
Read more in the Mar. 25-31, 2020 issue.