top of page

Buck Jones & the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission

Since time immemorial, the Tribes of Oregon and Washington have historically harvested salmon, lamprey, eels, sturgeon and other traditional foods from the rivers of their homeland. The rivers’ health is intrinsically tied to the health of Native people, which is why the Tribes in the Columbia River Basin advocated for fishing rights during the "salmon wars" since the arrival of hydroelectric dams. Many of today's elders who fought to protect their fishing rights went to federal prison for exercising their inherent treaty rights. During this time, Tribes unified across the region to challenge the legality of the dams and advocate for the restoration of salmon populations. The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation collaborated with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, and the Nez Perce Tribe, forming the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC) to amplify their voices and strengthen their ability to protect their ancestral rights. 

CRITFC manages fishery resources to protect treaty rights and provide technical services for the Yakama Nation: Confederated Tribes and Bands, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and Nez Perce Tribes. Salmon Marketing Specialist Buck Jones is Cayuse and a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. He has worked for CRITFC for over 20 years. He shared, "This is a battle together forming under that unified voice. That was the creation of CRITFC, to uphold those treaty rights which formed the supreme law of the land." Under the direction of its member Tribes, CRITFC employs lawyers, policy analysts, and fisheries enforcement officers who work tirelessly to ensure that Tribal treaty rights are protected. Reflecting on his past two decades of work with fisheries, Buck said, "The impacts upstream really hurt you downstream as well." The Commission collaborates with state and federal agencies to ensure fair harvest sharing between Tribal and non-Tribal fisheries. 

While Tribes were promised designated fishing rights as outlined in their treaties, such promises took decades to come to fruition for the benefit of Native people. Buck started his career maintaining fishing sites along the Columbia River for the exclusive use of Tribal members from the four CRITFC member Tribes. Today, there are 26 treaty fishing access sites on traditional fishing grounds, offering amenities such as camping areas, communal restrooms, fish cleaning tables, and net racks. "The government kept their word; it only took them 50 years," Buck snickered. Over his time with CRITFC, Buck has held various jobs, including a seasonal job at the Bonneville Dam, tagging Chinook salmon and other species as they swam upstream. Tribes and States tag fish for field carcass surveys and other testing. Since 2015, Buck has been the Salmon Marketing Specialist for CRITFC. His position evolved as Tribes competed for fair price per pound in the salmon markets of the late eighties and early nineties. Establishing a salmon marketing program resulted in helping Tribes acquire more wholesale buyers and resources, enabling them to thrive in the market. 

Salmon is a sacred first food for many Tribes, making a restoration mission important. "While Salmon Marketing Specialist is my title, it has also allowed me to work in food sovereignty as salmon is a first foods for us," Buck said. CRITFC works to provide their member Tribes with biological research, fisheries management, hydrology, and other science to support the protection and restoration of Columbia River Basin salmon, lamprey, and sturgeon. This mission, empowered by Wy-Kan-Ush-Mi Wa-Kish-Wit (Spirit of the Salmon), restores the river's health through every phase of the salmon's life cycle from stream to ocean and back. 

In recent years, CRITFC’s work leveraged policy to defend Tribal sovereignty. "Now we've got our own watershed department where we have our own fish management teams ... we also have our own genetics lab in Southeast Idaho ... [and] we also really upheld our sovereignty," Buck said. "We ended up getting our own policy for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Enforcement to uphold our laws, our Tribal laws." 

The mechanism of CRITFC is unique and prioritizes agricultural issues and restoration efforts from a Tribal lens. Buck emphasized that unity across Indian country elevates the shared goals of Tribes, saying, "To be at the table with IAC [Intertribal Agriculture Council] and developing partnerships with IFAI [Indigenous Food and Agriculture Initiative] and now with the creation of the Native Farm Bill Coalition is just so important … Being an advocate for Tribes, I'm at a lot of the tables trying to just be an advocate." The Tribes of the Columbia River Basin leverage their collective power to advocate for change, address complex issues, and implement solutions to protect ancestral lands and treaty rights. 

"This Farm Bill is important to our Tribes and so is advocating. In 2018, we did join the Coalition and I thought this is a really great opportunity to get CRITFC to our vision."

Looking ahead, Buck hopes the 2024 Farm Bill will include increased self-determination policy for seafood and salmon production, saying, "Those are agriculture too, you know … Tribes have their own ability to train their own inspectors on their Tribally-run facilities, and we can get the training from the USDA." As a member of the Native Farm Bill Coalition, CRITFC wants to dismantle barriers to accessing resources for Tribes and Tribal producers.

Click the button below to learn more about becoming a member of the NFBC.



bottom of page