Before building dams on the Columbia River, the U.S. guaranteed the tribes of the Pacific Northwest salmon forever. But the system it created to prevent the extinction of salmon has failed, and a way of life is ending.

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Salmon are essential to Columbia River tribal people. These fish represent not only a food source but a way of life. As a white kid growing up in the Pacific Northwest, Tony Schick heard a lot about salmon — how important they are to this region, and how much trouble they’re in now. But the history he learned was not the whole story. As an investigative reporter for Oregon Public Broadcasting and ProPublica, he’s been working to uncover and understand a more sinister version of events. And along the way, he connected with a guy named Randy Settler and his family.

Our new podcast “Salmon Wars” tells the story of salmon in the Northwest in a way you haven’t heard before — through the voices of one Yakama Nation family who have been fighting for salmon for generations. We’ll dive into hidden history. We’ll investigate who’s to blame for the salmon vanishing and what can be done before it’s too late.

“Salmon Wars” is listed as Season Two of the “Timber Wars” podcast series. You can listen to the new season in the audio player below, or follow the link to your favorite podcast app.

Episode 1: The Family

Host Tony Schick introduces us to Randy Settler and his family. The Settlers, members of the Yakama Nation, have been deeply affected by the Northwest’s salmon policies for generations. They lost their home, their primary food source, their ancestral fishing grounds. Randy and his parents went to jail for exercising their fishing rights, and they won some important victories along the way. Now, he’s passing the fight on to the younger people in the tribe.

Episode 2: The Treaties

To understand the war over salmon, we have to go back to 1855. That’s when chiefs from the Yakama Nation and other Pacific Northwest tribes signed treaties that are still used as the basis for laws and policies governing salmon fishing. Some tribal members believe the Yakama signed a treaty under duress. In some ways, this document represents the first in a multigenerational series of promises that the U.S. government made and broke. It also created a powerful legal framework the Yakama still use to advocate for fishing rights.

Episode 3: The Court Battles

Federal officials took away a way of life that had sustained Pacific Northwest tribes for centuries. So some tribal members became outlaws. In the 1960s and beyond, Native activists fought back against state and federal restrictions on their fishing rights — a period known as the “fish wars.” They held “fish-ins” and fought for their rights in court. Randy Settler’s parents won some major battles in the fish wars, but their methods were controversial even within their tribe.

Episode 4: The Salmon’s Struggle

Salmon used to be plentiful, and they’ve been a staple of tribal diets for centuries. Since the early 1900s, salmon populations in the Columbia River have steadily declined thanks to overfishing, dams, habitat loss and warming waters. Hatcheries are one way the U.S. government has tried to make up for the loss of wild salmon. But it hasn’t worked. In this episode, we examine what the decline of salmon has meant for Columbia River tribes.