The Columbia once supported one of the world’s largest salmon runs, providing a foundation of food and culture for Indigenous peoples since time immemorial. At one time, annual salmon and steelhead runs numbered between 10 and 16 million fish. In recent decades, it has numbered between 1 and 2 million. In 2018, the total return was a mere 665,000. Warmer ocean waters due to climate change and extensive damming of the river have taken a severe toll on salmon.
However, these returns have all been south of the Canada-US border. In the 1940s, the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington completely blocked the passage of ocean-going salmon from the upper reaches of the river, cutting off the Ktunaxa, Secwepemc and Syilx Okanagan Nations from this integral part of their culture.
Then, in 1964, The Columbia River Treaty (CRT) was signed between Canada and the United States. Under the agreement, the Mica, Keenleyside and Duncan dams were constructed in BC on the river without consultation with Indigenous Nations. In 1976, Sierra Club BC’s Terry Simmons intervened in hearings on the Revelstoke Dam, raising concerns about its potential for extensive environmental damage. Unfortunately, this additional dam was built in 1982.