Salmon have been the symbol and livelihood of the Pacific Northwest tribes since time immemorial. The returning of salmon is important in ecosystem of the region because they feed other animals, forests and humans with their bodies. Salmon provide the Columbia River tribes food, and at the same time, fishing flourishes the trade economy. As a primary food source for thousand years, salmon continue to be an essential aspect of their nutritional health. Therefore, they call themselves “ salmon people”.
Since salmon is so important in the Columbia River tribes, people use various ways to present their gratitude to salmon and nature. For example, the Celilo Longhouse on the bank of Columbia River held great celebration for their annual First Salmon Feast. People will cook salmons on that day and sing ancient songs of thanksgiving for wy-kan-ush (the word salmon used in their sacred ceremonies). Salmon formed the base of tribal culture, and the value of salmon is inherited from generation to generation by celebrating this annual ritual.
Salmon used to be rich in the Columbia River, however, pressure of industrialization, increasing demand and contentious political policy threaten the wild salmon and fisheries of region. Fishermen have to harvest much more salmon because the global demand increases, which results in wild salmon becoming increasingly scarcer in the river. In order to save salmon——indeed to save their culture, today the tribes are trying every effort to make sure that more salmon return to river by protect the traditional water from pollution. People are fighting to protect salmon and the water in their own ways: increasing amount of people in tribes become fish biologist, ecologist and other environment scientists. They use advanced knowledge to protect the salmon, the water, and ultimately, their traditional beliefs and culture.
1. Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, “Tribal Salmon Culture”. Electronic document from http://www.critfc.org/salmon-culture/tribal-salmon-culture/, accessed to 2014/3/19
2. Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, “We are all salmon people”. Electronic document from http://www.critfc.org/salmon-culture/we-are-all-salmon-people/, accessed to 2014/3/19