Anna Mae Leonard has gone without food or water for four days, sitting from sunup to sundown across from City Hall in Cascade Locks, a tiny town east of Portland on the banks of the Columbia River. Leonard, who is a member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and lives in Cascade Locks, is on a hunger strike to call for city administrators to block Nestlé from sucking pristine water—which it wants to bottle and sell under its Arrowhead brand name—from Oxbow Springs.
"I am suffering here for only five days," Leonard wrote on August 17, prior to beginning her hunger strike. "I am suffering because this is how it will be for our precious salmon and all of life within the river—all plant life, all animal life. We will all suffer and die without water."
Leonard's opinion is that the proposed—and complicated—water rights swap between the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the municipality of Cascade Locks, which would grant the mega-corporation a decades-long contract to take water from the Columbia Gorge, violates rights the Warm Springs Tribes gained when they entered into the Treaty of 1855 with the US government.
In a July 4 conversation with the Mercury, Leonard explained that tribal members use their rights to Columbia River fisheries to gather enough fish to fill the longhouses each year, enough to feed the entire tribe. The treaty gives the tribe rights to fisheries on the Columbia River—part of the tribe's aboriginal lands—in exchange for establishing reservation boundaries.
E. Austin Greene Jr., Chairman of the Tribal Council of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, in May sent a letter to Governor Kate Brown saying he also did not support the water swap, and calling treaty rights v. Cascade Locks' rights into question.
"Water quantity and quality and hatchery operations are of paramount importance to ongoing treaty-based rights of the Tribe in the Columbia River area and to ongoing federal litigation," the letter reads. "These factors are not only reasonable to evaluate but of critical importance for ODFW's proposed water transfer, particularly in the context of climate change... and more frequent droughts and/or dry years."
The good news: Greene and Leonard might be right. The Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) is expected to make a preliminary decision in the matter around the end of the summer. The decision can then be appealed by any concerned party, according to OWRD spokesperson Racquel Rancier.
Deanna Busdieker, who is the only Cascade Locks city commissioner who's come out in opposition to Nestlé, says she spent several hours today with Leonard.
"She says she's feeling a little light-headed today and isn't really thinking straight," Busdieker says. "She sits out there in the sun all day without water or anything, so it's going as well as it can."
Busdieker says there's been a constant stream of people coming to offer support, including many tribal members. Leonard told Busdieker that on Wednesday a Warm Springs Tribal Council member stopped by the site. City Administrator Gordon Zimmerman, who supports bringing Nestlé to Cascade Locks, visited briefly with Leonard on Monday.
"He just kinda said good luck," Busdieker says.