Saturday, April 14, 2007

Excluded from the decision-making process

After setting up the stage with my power line photos, it is now time to see the source of all this power, The Grand Coulee Dam.

This dam is one of the reasons that the Pacific Northwest has thrived economically. I don't know anything about engineering and I am impressed.

Here's how Woody Guthrie it in one of his songs commissioned by the Bonneville Power Administration:

Uncle Sam took up the challenge in the year of thirty three. For the farmer and the factory and all of you and me. He said, "Roll along Columbia, you can roll down to the sea. But river, while you're rambling, you can do some work for me. Now from Washington and Oregon you can hear the factories hum. Making chrome and making manganese and white aluminum.

While I look at this dam, it immensity, how much water it is able to control, how ominous and everpresent it is as we eat our dinner, I also think about the not so acknowledged story, another perspective. The History Link cites that:
"Virtually no studies were done on the impact on fisheries," lead author Ortolano commented in an interview with the Portland Oregonian. "Communities of people were excluded from the decision process." The impact on the fish, and on the Native Americans who had built a way of life around them, was "nothing short of catastrophic."

The dam blocked the access of wild ocean-going salmon and steelhead to hundreds of miles of spawning grounds on the upper Columbia River. It devastated the culture and economy of tribes dependent on the fish. "One day we were fishermen, the next day there were no fish," commented Michael Marchand, a member of the council of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (Oregonian, 2000). The Colville Tribes received some compensation from the federal government in 1995, in the form of a lump sum payment of $53 million and an agreement for annual payments of at least $15 million. None of the Colvilles interviewed by the researchers thought the payments equalized the loss.
The Colville Reservation is just on the other side of the dam and as I looked at the powerlines leaving the dam, very few were going in the direction of the reservation. I cannot comment about the current socioeconomic conditions of the tribe, but I can comment about one phrase in this citation that I hear over and over again:
"Communities of people were excluded from the decision process."
I witnessed this first hand the other day as I sat in a meeting with members of our local school district and youth serving agencies. An agency serving Native youth was excluded from a decision that was made, a decision that will affect their youth. Only those of color spoke against the school district's decision, even though I would not be surprised if others agreed. I made a brief statement in support of the agency.
I also thought about this when it was proving difficult to engage a group of Native youth. Why were they so quiet? Slowly as the day progressed, they opened up more. I realized that I too may not be as energetic and as open as I am if my opinions never seemed to matter.
Please think about the decisions that you make. Please take the people that you are impacting into account and ask for their opinions.
Postscript: Don't just ask people. INCLUDE those affected in the process.


Anonymous said...

Speaking of NW water...did you know that there is a plume of nuclear waste from the Hanford Nuclear site threatening the Columbia River near Richland? I'm always surprised at how few people seem to be worried about this one...


Anonymous said...

Oh yeah and I downloaded the Google Desktop to my laptop and it automatically included a link to your website, complete with a timer that tells me you last updated 16 hours ago! (I had your site saved as a link in my Foxfire/Explorer Links toolbar before I downloaded the Google Desktop so I guess it just picked it up from that.) :) Cool huh? Now I know right away when you've posted last...


margaret said...

I can't even deal with Hanford right now. At least I can make sure that I am including others in the decisions that I need to make. That's an achievable goal.