Tribal Government & News

Oregon Tribes request creation of Water Vision Task Force


By Dean Rhodes

Smoke Signals editor

The nine federally recognized Tribes in Oregon have requested that Gov. Kate Brown create by executive order a Tribe-Agency Water Vision Task Force that would include representation from each Tribe and the nine state agencies identified in the state’s Water Resources Strategy.

“The goal of this group would be to fully coordinate the vision and goals of a holistic water vision,” the Tribes said in a collective letter mailed to Brown on Monday, Sept. 20.

In 2018, Brown announced the beginning of a multi-year effort to develop and implement a 100-Year Water Vision for the state to meet the needs of healthy communities, a robust economy and the environment for today and future generations.

During the fall and winter of 2019, the Governor’s Natural Resources Office and state agencies sought input regarding the Water Vision. According to the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the state met formally with seven of the nine Tribes and had “conversations” with the other two Tribes.

“Water is sacred. Water is life. Water is the heartbeat of our culture,” the Tribal letter states. “Our understanding of these truths is based upon a legacy of survival and reliance on our oceans, rivers and lakes. Whether we are planning for one year or 100 years, any water vision must, at its core, restore and protect cold, clean water. As modern Oregonians, we have not done this well. It is time for a step forward.”

The Tribes also requested that the state collaborate with each Tribe to develop specific recommendations for the water plan. “Each of our sovereign Tribes may have unique, specific interests pertinent to water resources and/or water infrastructure within their ancestral areas.”

“All of Oregon’s Tribes are eager and willing to engage,” the letter concludes. “The inclusion of Oregon’s Tribal voice in its water vision will ensure its comprehensive commitment to our collective human and ecosystem resiliency needs. Oregon’s Tribes hope your office can instruct all affected state agencies to reciprocate in kind.”

Tribal Council member Kathleen George, who also serves as the chair of the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission, said that the letter arose out of a desire to see that fisheries essential to Tribes be included in the state’s 100-year Water Vision.

“Fisheries such as lamprey and salmon have always sustained us as Tribal people and we have a responsibility to do everything that we can to make sure that they are included at every turn,” George said. “For far too long, Oregon has not recognized that these fisheries are on the brink of extinction in several basins in our ceded lands. The Tribes have seen many state plans come and go, and we know that unless we act now to change the course, our precious cultural fisheries will be lost.”

For more information about the state’s 100-Year Water Vision, visit