Celebrating Salmon and Calling Them Home

Online festival strengthens community and understanding.

2 minute read

Online festival strengthens community and understanding

The Bringing the Salmon Home Festival, now in its second year, is all about building community as part of bringing salmon back to the upper Columbia River region. Held online in May 2022, the festival drew an impressive 1,000 people, from schoolchildren to government officials.

Festival participant Krystal Withakay (spaxwawlm), an independent Sylix artist and apprentice knowledge keeper.

Over two days, 50 presenters and hosts discussed topics including integrating Indigenous knowledge and western science to reintroduce salmon, how Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can fulfill their shared responsibilities to salmon, and traditional ways to harvest salmon and prepare them as food. (See free event recordings here.)

Krystal Withakay, a Syilx Okanagan Nation Apprentice Knowledge Keeper, was one of the presenters. “It means a lot to my heart to have a moment to share what salmon teaches me,” she told attendees.

Bringing the Salmon Home: The Columbia River Salmon Reintroduction Initiative is the Indigenous-led collaboration of the Syilx Okanagan Nation, Ktunaxa Nation, Secwépemc Nation and the governments of Canada and British Columbia, supported by Columbia Basin Trust. This continues the work of the Indigenous Nations who have been focusing efforts to return salmon stocks for Indigenous food and social and ceremonial needs, and to benefit the region’s residents and ecosystems as a whole.

“For thousands of years, the salmon have brought people together,” said elder Marty Williams, Ktunaxa Nation. “Salmon are so powerful that they have brought together three powerful, proud Nations.”

Kathryn Teneese, Chair of the Ktunaxa Nation Council.

Reintroduction of salmon into the upper Columbia region is complex work in a transboundary river system that is impacted by hydropower dams, human development and habitat disruption.

“Our success will take years, if not decades, but our collective hard work will make it so,” said Kathryn Teneese, Chair of the Ktunaxa Nation Council. “We all can play a part in bringing the salmon home.”

One festival participant noted: “The salmon remember. We just have to help them.”

In his poignant closing words for the festival, Elder Louie Stevens of the Secwépemc Nation said, “I pray that one day salmon will be able to make it up here by swimming, instead of arriving in small packages from grocery stores.”

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