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BRIDGE of the GODS Magazine

Tribal Fishing Platforms - Tradition Across Generations

Jul 16, 2020 07:05PM ● By Katie Cordrey
Kim and Terry Bringham from family fishing platform on the Columbia River

Photo credit - Uncage the Soul Productions - Portland, OR

If you’ve ever crossed the Bridge of the Gods, you’ve probably seen those wooden structures on the banks of the river as you cross the Bridge of the Gods. Or, maybe you’ve seen them hanging precariously from the sides of the old navigation locks in Cascade Locks and wondered about them. These are the platforms from which fishers from the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Yakama tribes lower their dipnets or hoop nets into the river to catch salmon returning from the ocean to spawn.

Members of these four tribes have fishing rights along a 147-mile stretch of the river that extends from Bonneville Dam to McNary Dam. During certain times of the year, these fishing rights include the right to commercial fishing along with the right right to sell the commercial catch to non-tribal customers. These commercial seasons are open only to members of the four tribes. These rights were secured in 1855, when each of the four tribes entered into a treaty with the US government, ceding millions of acres of their lands to the United States in exchange for peace and certain terms. One of these terms was that the tribes would continue to have the right to harvest fish in all the tribes’ usual and accustomed areas. This included areas both on and off their reservations.

Despite their rickety appearance, these scaffolds are quite stable and they provide access to favorable fishing sites. These sites belong to individual families and are most likely in the same place that their ancestors fished.