Northwest Profiles: Calling the Salmon Home


♪ Tribal Singing ♪ Our people are river people. The Colville. Spokane. Kootenai. Coeur d’Alene and Kalispel. For centuries our ancestors paddled the Columbia River to Kettle Falls, our traditional
salmon fishing site. Salmon are sacred to us. With the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam in the 1930s the salmon migration was blocked to the upper Columbia river. The outcome was devastating for our native people. For the past 80 years, no salmon has made it past the Grand Coulee dam to the upper Columbia river. No salmon had made it back to Kettle Falls and the people of the upper Columbia River. (NATURAL SOUND
GRANDMOTHER’S RIVER SONG) (NATURAL SOUND
GRANDMOTHER’S RIVER SONG) For the past four years, the Upper Columbia Tribes have joined together to paddle traditional dugout canoes on the Columbia river to Kettle Falls, our historic fishing site. I think about my ancestors that paddled this river before me. To think of the strokes that they took, the route they took, the lands they saw. The eight-day,
100-mile canoe journey, reconnects our people to the water and our traditional ways. When I’m on that water and I look out on the land, I’m thinking, I’m so happy
to be back out on this water. It’s very spiritual. You feel more,
you see more, you do more. When you get tired, something just makes
you keep going. We put a lot of our prayers and a lot of our thoughts
into the water. Like every time we paddle, every time we put
it into the water, we try to think of important things to us. And it gives us strength to paddle a little bit
harder every time. And just hearing all the sounds that you don’t normally hear. Whether it is geese, ducks or, wildlife…beaver swimming by you really get the sense of the life that is in that river. When native people talk about water is life, that is really
what it is about. About understanding the flow of that water and how it is a part of you and what we need to do
to keep it clean, what we need to do
to protect those waters. In 2016, UCUT, the Upper Columbia United Tribes purchased 500-year-old cedar logs from the Quinault Indian Reservation in
Western Washington. Each of the tribes carved out dugout canoes for
that first journey. Alright, grab a tool, start chopping. But it went from one just giant tree and inside of it was a hidden canoe. Shaving every piece of wood off that log you know it’s soothing. Touching it, being a part of it and now I think it’s a part of me. You might think you
know who you are, you might think you understand about yourself but once you really step into these, these traditional vessels, and you paddle them, you feel a whole
different connection. Our connection to the salmon and the river is sacred. The Canoe Journey parallels our tribal efforts to return Salmon to the upper Columbia. So starting from here at Grand Coulee Dam was really symbolic. You know these dams while they provide a lot of benefit for people in the region, I think it also needs to be in balance so that you can also provide for salmon to get back up into where it needs to be. It doesn’t have to be either or. We can have power production; we can have good clean functioning ecosystems that include fish passage. There’s no reason with the technologies and the things that are happening today that this can’t happen. These issues aren’t
just tribal issues, they’re everybody’s issues. And, it’s going to
take everybody to correct the historic wrongs and to do what’s right by the river and by the salmon. At Kettle Falls, hundreds gather to welcome the paddlers on their final stretch of the canoe journey. There were songs, prayers and cheers as the dugout canoes were carried ashore. Like our ancestors before us, our tribes gathered
at the river’s edge for the traditional
salmon ceremony. We each picked up two stones and clapped them together. This is the language
of the salmon. The sound of the rocks mirrors the sound of rocks moving as salmon spawn and it tells the salmon downstream they are almost home. As we clap the stones together, we are calling the salmon home.

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