Press Release, Salmon Recovery, Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Board|

Chief Joseph DamColville Confederated Tribes held their First Salmon Ceremony at Chief Joseph Dam on May 23rd. It was a chance for tribal members non-members to welcome back the salmon and share the progress that is being made to re-introduce them above Chief Joseph Dam. UCSRB was in attendance and spoke with CCT Chairman Jarred Erickson about the ceremony and the reintroduction efforts. 

How do First Salmon Ceremonies of the past inform how the tribe thinks about contemporary issues of salmon recovery?

With all the first Salmon Ceremonies that we’ve had, there’s always the issue with how many fish are coming back, and sometimes we even wonder if we’re going to have a fish to harvest and for everyone to get a small piece of. So, it’s come it’s come a little way since then, but it hasn’t been what it should be. Our stock from our Spring Chinook fisheries have been minimal if we’re even going to have a season. We’re lucky if we get to open it after the ceremony here for our membership. But that’s why the reintroduction work is so important, so there will hopefully be a lot more fish coming back, so that we’re not worried about being able to even harvest a fish for the First Salmon Ceremony. So, it’s come a long way, but it’s still not where it needs to be as far as the number of fish coming back.

What, if anything, is different or of particular importance in 2024 with regards to the ceremony’s significance?

After signing the agreement with BPA this last year for phase two implementation of the reintroduction work, it really shows that all the work we’ve done up until now has been huge in getting us there. All the work we’ve been doing to push to get salmon above the dams and to reestablish them, I think we’ve done a really good job with that. The reason why this year is different is that we now have that agreement. Obviously, we hope that fish get reestablished without always needing all this money going into it, but it’s an uphill battle with climate change and other things going on if we’ll ever get there. I hope we do. But, this is a good step to get a lot more efficient system for everybody. So, I think what’s changed a lot since even last year; it’s having that big agreement signed.

What is your favorite part of the ceremony?

Probably watching the elder harvest the fish. I got to harvest the fish a couple years ago during COVID because we had a small ceremony. Normally, someone my age never gets to do that, but they asked me because there weren’t really any elders there at the time. So that was a good highlight that I had. But every year, my highlight’s usually watching the elder go down there and harvest the fish and bring it up. And, you get me you get to see a bunch of people so it’s good to socialize and get to see people you don’t all the time coming to the ceremony, and to see new people. It gives them a little better understanding of why we do this work and why it’s so important to us. But the elder catching the fish is my personal favorite.

How was today’s ceremony different from the ones you experienced as a child?

When we were younger, you would worry about any fish coming up the river. Since then, we’ve built the hatchery and we’ve seen a significant amount of fish return, at least significant compared to what it was, when it use to be like, “Wow, we caught one fish!” But then this year we have a good allocation of fish again, so it’s better than where it used to be. Now that we’ve gotten to the point where we’re at phase 2 of the implementation plan, I’ll be able to stay close to home and fish now. I live right above the river, so hopefully in the near future I’ll be able to go and fish down right below my house as opposed to having to drive an hour down here to Chief Joseph Dam to fish. There are tribal members that live in Chelan and on the reservation where it takes them two and a half or more hours to get here to fish, and they’ll hopefully have fish closer to them soon. I think the biggest change is seeing the transition for these agencies from being opposed to reintroduction [of salmon above the dam] to where now they’re part of the team that’s looking at implementing it.

It’s been a lot of work to get to this point. A lot of relationship building to get people to understand your concepts. There’s been some changes at the BPA, and John Harrison has been really good through some of that change. But there’re a lot of different perspectives. Now, I think people understand it a little more, but it’s been a lot of work that’s gone into it.

That’s a lot of work in a short amount of time…

Yeah, even since I’ve been on the Council there has been a 180-degree shift from some Congressional leaders and other leaders and different agencies from their stance from five years ago. I always thought it pretty much wasn’t going to happen to where we are today, it’s starting to happen. It’s been driven by our councils and other councils, Spokane and Coeur D’Alene. UCUT has been supportive as an organization. But Spokane, Coeur D’Alene, and Colville have been the main drivers of the reintroduction effort, and those other tribes are just as instrumental.

What is the significance of non-tribal members being able to take part in the First Salmon Ceremony?

I think it’s huge. I was talking with an individual who’s an elder but not a tribal elder. He’s been in this type of work for almost 40 years, and he understands it better than most would. And, also, I think just to get an understanding for non-tribal members of why it’s so important to us. Obviously, you can never fully understand unless you are a tribal member, you know what I mean? Why we have the First Salmon ceremony, or salmon chiefs, they’re just our cultures and traditions. But I think it gives them a way to better understand it, and it helps in getting support for what we’re doing right and to understand too that we’re not just doing this for us. We’re also doing this for them and fishermen, no matter if it’s commercial or recreational. We’re doing this for everyone to try and get more fish in the system because we know we have to work together. And, we’re just doing it for the fish. That’s the most important, that they and their spirit are still here and to make sure my kids and your kids can still see a salmon. It’s hard to picture the Northwest without salmon, but it’s starting to look that way with climate change and everything going on. It’s slipping into doom and gloom for a lot of these species. We keep putting all this money into it, but what production are we getting out of the system? All these species are still listed and we’re seeing more getting listed with climate change. And, 40% of the production was above Grand Coulee Dam.

This is why I struggle with even having to do a phased approach. Western knowledge still hasn’t caught up to our traditional ecological knowledge. We know through common sense that if you put more fish where they were historically, they’re going to do well. Granted, the system has changed a little bit. There’s more of a lake behind the dam where there was a free-flowing river before.

But, I think it’s just the support we’re getting, and people knowing that it’s good for everyone, that’s the biggest component to having non-tribal members here. And, understanding that a lot of them are advocates with us as well. I think there’s a good educational component to it.

We are all working towards a common goal, and I think it’s important to understand the different reasons we have for working for that goal.

Yeah, some people are recreational fishermen, and they like to catch and release, or there’re some fly fishermen who just like the thrill of catching them and that’s fine too. And, we harvest them for subsistence reasons. We like to eat salmon. I mean, I love salmon.

What are the current challenges the CCT faces in maintaining their connection to salmon as a cultural and natural resource?

We’ve never lost the connection. But we’ve seen our sister tribes in Spokane and Coeur D’Alene have their connection blocked for a hundred years. Ane now, we still have some fishing access, even if it’s limited here at Chief Joe dam. I’m sure they may have had more of a loss of connection than we have, and so regaining that is important. Carol Evans (?) the former chairwoman of Spokane Tribe said that if you bring the salmon home, the people will heal. Billy Frank may have said something similar, but it’s that that connection we have that will help heal our people. There’re a lot of traumas we’ve gone through, whether in be in boarding schools, or what have you, and the loss of salmon was a huge one for us. Our life revolved around it and it was the majority of our diet. To not have that created a lot of health issues – diabetes, many other things. And so, if you bring them back, it’s not just a spiritual connection or cultural connection that is healed. It’s health related, it’s your overall well-being.

Is there anything that you’d like to share with people who might not have attended the ceremony but are still interested in what happened here?

I would tell them all to come and attend at least once, and I think a lot will come back multiple times if they do. It’s an important event, and it’s good to see it firsthand. It’s hard to explain unless you’re in person, right? It makes you understand a little more why we are invested in the spirit of the salmon returning. That’s why we do it – to make sure they come back every year. The salmon help us, so we help them.

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