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A review by Bri Keo Williams of Colleen Sander's presentation to the Water Justice Seminar

Updated: Aug 9, 2021

Colleen Sanders - Climate Adaptation Planner, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) Dept. of Natural Resources

“Water is Life: CTUIR Climate Adaptation Planning for Indigenous Food Systems”

Colleen Sander's seminar on the Umatilla River Vision touched on a lot of aspects of Native American culture that I am embarrassed to say I never considered before. Before this seminar series, the only knowledge I had of the Northwestern Native American experience boiled down to some historical presentations in high school and some general knowledge learned via word of mouth.  Of course, everything I learned in this seminar was based around accessibly to water and was given by someone who works for the tribe and is not a member of any confederate tribes of the Umatilla reservation, but it wasn’t historical, it was about the present-day struggles, realities, and perspective of the Umatilla Reservation. It is important to note that although Coleen Sanders works with/for the CTUIR (Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reserve), she is not a member and can only speak from her experience working on this water vision project, not on the culture. 

The Umatilla River Vision focuses on managing clean and sufficient water accessibility, looking generations into the future. The plan specifically centers around keeping the Umatilla River basin healthy enough to provide clean water and sustain their First Foods that sustain the continuity of the Tribe’s culture. The First Foods being salmon, deer, cous, huckleberry, and water. Water is the cornerstone of all other forms of sustenance. What I found most interesting was the aspect of First Foods. Preserving the foods that are crucial to their culture, lifestyle, and way of life is tied directly to sustainability. That alone is just so different than the typical "American" perspective.  I grew up in the Pacific Northwest in the suburbs for the most part, and I’ve gotten my food from whatever was available at the grocery store, without much of a second thought. It was only recently that I’ve become aware of the cost and value of food and water beyond currency. I feel like many Americans are brainwashed by convenience and if we don’t see all the costs that go into produce that is imported, we aren’t going to care about the costs. That’s a privilege billions of people do not share and it is not our only option. This water justice series was centered around accessibility to clean water but what became clear very quickly is just how far the impacts of clean water go. It is the basis of all sustenance and progress. Losing or even just continuing to degrade waterways has consequences in subtle and unexpected ways, that we can easily ignore. I walked away for Sander’s seminar with more awareness on how some of my most basic choices, like what to eat, are impacted and impactful.

A picture of Bri in front of a flowering cherry tree. They are standing with their hands on their hips and smiling brightly at the camera. They have dark curly hair, olive toned skin, and are wearing a denim jacket over a warm colored, patterned sweater.

Bri Keo Williams is a 3rd-year undergrad environmental science/science student at Portland State University with a focus on aquatic systems.

This seminar series was supported by grant funds thanks to PSU's Diversity Action Council.

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