Faces of the Snake

PUBLISHED: Canoe & Kayak Magazine digital feature

Read the full story and see all of Robin’s photos HERE.


Colville drummer / photo Robin Carleton

The Snake River – the largest tributary to the Columbia – was impounded and drawn to stillness in the early 1960s with the construction of four dams on its lower reaches. Its stagnant, warming waters form the political boundary between the states of Washington and Idaho. The Snake’s water also trickles through tangled divides between the whims of inland water managers, regional tribes, the interests of industrial agriculture, and a federal judge in Oregon.

The Lower Snake’s dams have been deemed, collectively, a mortal threat to at least 13 threatened or endangered salmon and steelhead runs and, by trophic association, the resident orca population of Puget Sound. In May 2016, U.S. District Court

Judge Michael Simon mandated that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries reevaluate its plan to revive dwindling fish populations. He advised that NOAA and the Army Corps of Engineers consider breaching the Lower Snake dams.

This fall’s ‘Free the Snake’ flotilla was a grassroots action inspired by Seattle-born practice of kayaktivism. It simply organized the boats and the voices of advocates for a free-flowing river, a healthy ecosystem, and the return of the salmon to the people and waters from which they are rapidly disappearing.


Gary Dorr, Nez Perce tribe / photo Robin Carleton

“Water is the first medicine. I am water. We are water…When we started this morning, the tribal members that were there – Spokane, Kalispel, Colville, Coeur d’Alene, Nez Perce – we started with a prayer. You’re part of that prayer now, that spiritual movement. So I’m thankful for all of you who came here today and sacrificed a little of your own water through your sweat to be a part of this. From here on out, this is a movement. It’s all a ceremony.”

– Gary Dorr, key figure in major movements against threats to clean water in North America, including the Keystone XL Pipeline the Dakota Access Pipeline.