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Native Leaders Call for Dam Removal Following Death of Baby Orca Whale

Following the death of a baby orca whale in the San Juan Islands, and the heartbreaking coverage of its mother, carrying the baby’s body through the water for well over a week, a native leader in our region makes an impassioned plea to remove the four Snake River dams, restoring the river and increasing the salmon that nourish these whale pods. Read the full essay as printed in the Seattle Times below:

The orca mother mourns, and we mourn with her

By Lucinda George Simpson

I am the matriarch of my family. I have raised four grandchildren. My mother was a full-blooded Nez Perce. I am the granddaughter of the chief of the Nooksack Tribe. My roots span from the mountains of Idaho to the Salish Sea. My blood lines trace the journeys of wild salmon and orca whales.

And that is why I mourn, like so many mothers watching and reading the news of the death of the baby orca calf. I mourn as I watch the orca mother Tahlequah carry the body of her baby through the water, day after day. A mother can feel that heartache.

We know why the orca whales are endangered and dying. It is because their food source — salmon — is disappearing. The salmon runs are shrinking in large part because of dams that have destroyed the river habitat they need to spawn and reproduce and thrive.

Orcas are matriarchal. The females lead the way. It is time for the women, the mothers, of our region to speak up. So much is broken. We must speak up to heal our land, our rivers, the environment on which we all depend. One specific action we must insist on is the removal of the four dams on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington. They are a major cause of salmon decline. The limited benefits these four dams provide can be replaced. Salmon and orcas cannot be replaced. The Snake River was once the biggest contributor of salmon in the Columbia River basin. If we remove these four harmful dams, abundant salmon runs can once again enrich the Pacific Ocean and the Salish Sea — nourishing the orcas and the entire web of life — including us.
Our families are connected. My family and yours. The orca mother mourns, and we mourn with her. Honor her by turning your sorrow into action. Gov. Jay Inslee, please hear us, the mothers, the matriarchs. It is time to remove those four dams, restore the river and bring the salmon back. It is time for courage and real solutions. We are watching. We are heartbroken. Together, we can heal.

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