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Promises, Promises

August 13, 1986

Back in 1855 the governor of Washington Territory promised the Columbia River Indians in a treaty that they could fish salmon from their accustomed places along the river "as long as the sun shines, as long as the mountains stand and as long as the rivers run."

In 1933 the federal government dammed and flooded the Indians' fishing places, but promised new land on the river and to build new homes and fish-drying sheds. In 1953 the government denied its commitment to build the homes and sheds. By 1957 a new dam had flooded some of the alternative fishing sites and depleted the salmon fishery. The tribe finally got a monetary settlement of $26.8 million and the promise of six riverside fishing sites.

In 1969 the government said that the Indians could occupy the sites only during the fish harvest, not year round. By 1986 the promised 400 acres had dwindled to 40 acres, to which cling 30 to 40 Indians. Now the federal government says that the Indians must leave the river and move miles away to the Yakima Reservation. If he is forced to move, Johnny W. Johnson told The Times' Bill Curry, it will be the end of an Indian culture dating back a dozen centuries.

In foreign affairs the government insists that it must stand by its commitments to allies if the nation is to remain strong and credible. But up along the Columbia River in Washington the sun dims, the mountains crumble and the river sheds a tear.

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