Lekanoff hosts lawmakers and tribal leaders to view film on salmon recovery

OLYMPIA – Last Monday, March 27, legislators and Washington tribal leaders gathered to view a documentary on salmon recovery, entitled “Our Sacred Obligation”, and to discuss the sustainability of salmon in Washington state. The event was hosted by Rep. Debra Lekanoff (D-Anacortes) and the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs at the Capitol Theater in Olympia.

“Conversations of sovereignty, culture, salmon, and governmental relationships are intertwined together,” Lekanoff said. “These matters are meaningful to all of us and allow us to engage in important conversations that fill our hearts and minds and strengthen relationships with our tribal leaders.”

Developed by Children of the Setting Sun Productions (CSSP), “Our Sacred Obligation” is a documentary film that focuses on the Elwha River, Klamath River and Snake River’s watersheds and ecosystems. The film is rich with shared voices to tell the story of the ancient bond between the Native people and salmon. Through storytelling, the voices spoke to the core issues at the heart of salmon decline: a disconnect, and therefore a disrespect for Mother Earth, fellow human beings, and us. The film shared awareness of how this disconnect has led to broken treaty promises and a devastating loss to Native Americans.

The film complimented the shared voices of tribal leaders, and legislators’ message that salmon is intertwined with tribal life, but also with the lives of all Washingtonians. These discussions made it clear that it would take all our governing bodies working together to restore and protect the salmon today and for generations to come.

The documentary screening included perspectives from Lower Elwha S’Klallam Tribe Chairwoman Frances Charles, as well as Nisqually Chairman Willie Frank, Squaxin Chairman Kris Peters, and Lummi Nation Chairman Anthony Hillaire. Additional Lummi Nation Council leaders included Lisa Wilson, Jim Washington, and former Lummi Nation Chairman Darrell Hillaire. Hillaire went on to found CSSP, a production company focused on telling stories from tribal perspectives. “Our Sacred Obligation” is the latest in a portfolio of films that feature Native and Indigenous perspectives.

“These stories bring us back to the people, and help educate our Legislature,” noted Craig Bill, Director of the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs (GOIA), who worked with Lekanoff to bring the film to policymakers in Olympia.

Lekanoff, one of three Native Americans serving in the state Legislature, has long been an advocate for salmon restoration and habitat recovery. This includes championing a Joint Salmon Recovery and Reform Committee to guide the Legislature in making informed policies and funding decisions (HB 1686), efforts to modernize the Growth Management Act (GMA) to include salmon recovery, and legislation to implement a net ecological gain standard for land development which would contribute to habitat restoration (HB 1735). While many of these larger efforts have stalled in the Washington Legislature, she successfully advocated for funding for salmon recovery programs and major investment in fish passage culverts in 2022, as well as convening discussions with the agricultural industry, which has lasting impacts on salmon and salmon habitat.

“Salmon is intertwined with our economy, culture, and the values of Washington state, but it’s interconnectivity is often not considered when developing policy,” said Lekanoff. “It’s one of my main priorities as a legislator to not only pass policies to benefit the salmon, but to also lift up the voices we need to hear as we meet the challenge of combatting climate change and protecting Washington’s natural resources for generations to come.”