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Looking back: third Columbia River Field Course in summer 2023

A group of people stand in front of a photo of a dam, wearing red plastic hard hats
Field course participants at the Rocky Reach Dam. Photo credit: Morna McEachern.

April 8, 2024

Last summer, Morna McEachern, Western Association of Canadian Studies, and Stan De Mello, School of Social Work, led a field course deep diving into the Columbia River Treaty modernization effort and meeting with communities and individuals impacted. This is the third field course to focus on the Columbia River Treaty, previously running in 2015 and 2018.

The Columbia River Treaty modernization effort is a complex event being negotiated by Canada and the United States. Originally focused on hydroelectric power generation and flood control, the current focus adds ecosystems as a priority. Indigenous peoples from both sides of the 49th parallel have the scientific, cultural, and spiritual knowledge about the river that has nourished their communities since time immemorial. However, negotiating teams from both Canada and the United States are resistant to learning from that knowledge and including it in the way the treaty is modernized. The field course was focused around Indigenous knowledge.

Chad Eneas (apprentice knowledge keeper) and an elder from the Okanagan Nation Alliance joke with Stan De Mello after the Calling the Salmon Home ceremony. Photo credit: Morna McEachern.

Over the course of 12 days, a dozen participants traveled together along the river learning about these complex issues. Among myriad experiences, participants met with Indigenous scholars and activists, local government representatives in BC, went to museums, toured dams (including the first dam on the Columbia, the Mica Dam, and the last one, the Bonneville Dam), met virtually with Canada’s Chief Negotiator, Sylvain Fabfi, at En’owkin Centre where he engaged with elders and leaders of the Okanagan Nation Alliance, met with old friends and Indigenous scholars from the Pacific and Norway (whose communities have very similar relationships both to water, fish and nation states) at the University of British Columbia Okanagan, attended a Calling the Salmon Home Ceremony in Revelstoke, B.C., visited an Indigenous run fish hatchery, visited the Port of Kalama, and had many deep and focused conversations.

The participants, who were students, academics, K-12 teachers—aged 18-72—continue to process their experiences, making short films, developing curriculum, and writing poetry.