Chuush iwa waq’ishwit: Water is Life

Chuush iwa waq’ishwit. Water is life.

Our rivers function not only hydrologically but also in a cultural context. They have been dramatically altered since the first white people ventured here. With their arrival, forests were logged. Early newcomers tried to eradicate beavers. They introduced nonnative fish and other species. Rivers were dammed and water diverted. The people who already called this place home were displaced, often brutally. The colonization of people, and the monetization of land and water, go hand in hand. We must dismantle both if future generations are to inherit a just society and livable planet.

I am Carina. I belong to this land and its rivers. My ancestors lived along the Columbia River and its tributaries, practicing subsistence fishing and hunting. My grandparents ranched on today’s Warm Springs Reservation. My family instilled in me the importance of using traditional knowledge to benefit all, and to think of the next seven generations. We have an obligation to the children of the future to leave enough resources for them, and to commit to continuously addressing the systemic inequity woven into our society.

We must not wait to act. Low snowpack, fire, irrigation runoff, and water shortage issues have impacted the people of Warm Springs for years. At a time when we are being admonished to wash our hands to prevent contracting Covid-19, imagine not even having drinking water available in your home. It is disheartening that in 2020, we still have Indigenous people living without clean water on their own homelands.

We owe it to our ancestors to be the best versions of ourselves we can be. That means collaborating with one and all, regardless of personal beliefs, history, or friction. It means acknowledging the deeply racist policies of our state and nation, and recognizing that clean water is only the surface of a long history of genocidal policies. We must commit to long term unpacking and know that these issues will be continuous, open ended, and difficult.

I am Gail. Like all white people, I am a newcomer to this land. We in the dominant society have the luxury of erasing the history of others. The backstories of much of what we love are rooted in injustice. John Muir, for example, was complicit in the removal of Native Americans from today’s Yosemite National Park.

We are all linked to history. It defines and pervades every aspect of our present. We are called upon today to examine our role in the inequities that are interwoven into our lives. How do we, who have taken so much, and taken it for granted, engage in the hard work of addressing the systemic inequities we’ve all inherited? Do our actions inadvertently reinforce the status quo?

Can we hear when we are told that water is sacred? Are we able to adopt an ethic of reciprocity, one in which we share the water with all peoples and all beings? Can we change our thinking and adjust our actions so that all can live?

—Carina Miller
An enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and previously served on the Tribal Council.

—Gail Snyder
Founder/executive director of Coalition for the Deschutes.



This guest column appeared in the Bend Source Weekly’s very first “Water Issue.” In addition to the guest column, the issue included a 4-page guide to the Coalition for the Deschutes with eight vignettes from different “Stewards of the River.” Click Source Guide to Coalition for the Deschutes to read the vignettes and more.


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