Without forage fish, there is nothing for salmon to survive on. Without salmon, you will not have the southern resident killer whales.

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A member of our family died.

The Samish Indian Nation’s ties to J-Pod are deeper than our location on the Salish Sea. They are our family. One of our most well-known traditional stories is about a young Samish woman who escapes a bad marriage by transforming into an orca whale. The loss of J-50 represents another dearly departed family member. Our relatives are crying out for our help.

The unexpected deaths of J-50 and the infant calf of J-35 this summer have saddened individuals around the world, not just those of us who live around the Salish Sea. The time for us to support the livelihood of J-Pod and the southern resident killer whale population is behind us. Now, we must take bold and coordinated action to prevent the extinction of one of the most important populations in our waters.

It starts at the beginning of the marine ecosystem in the Salish Sea. Our communities must focus on doing everything possible to boost local populations of forage fish. Without forage fish, there is nothing for salmon to survive on. Without salmon, you will not have the southern resident killer whales. You also will not have native peoples. Salmon are the heart of the food source for both native peoples that came before us and our brothers and sisters, the orcas. We live in a world where everything is connected. If this circle is broken, there is nothing.

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The Samish Indian Nation is focused on being a dedicated partner to these efforts. Our tribal Department of Natural Resources is working closely with the state of Washington and other environmental organizations to do what we can to be a part of the solution in our traditional territory. We look to native practices, native plants and the traditional knowledge of our ancestors to help guide our efforts. This includes restoring coastlines to bring back forage fish and regular cleanups of debris and creosote logs in the waters around the San Juan Islands, our traditional territory.

We also support recommendations to increase hatchery-fish production, further manage the chinook harvest and decrease the number of hydropower dams.

As Samish, it goes back to our mission to create a lasting impact that honors the work of our past generations and creates a sustainable future for the next seven generations to come. It is clear that our efforts must include everything we can to preserve, protect and strengthen the lives of our brothers and sisters in J-Pod so that they will be by our side as we look to the future.

The loss of J-50 and the pain of the loss of J-35’s calf that has gripped the world is something that we must not forget. But we cannot let our sadness stop us in the pursuit of a solution that turns these losses into the future success of the southern resident killer whales that live in the Salish Sea.

I share my hope, fear and pray to our creator that we are not too late. That our grandchildren, great grandchildren and future generations will be able to take canoes on the Salish Sea and visit with our brothers and sisters in J-Pod, as our ancestors have always done. Together, I believe we can make this vision a reality. We must start now.