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70 The River People and the Importance of Salmon Mary L. Pearson [L]ife evolved around the salmon that found water.That was a gift from Mother Nature … to continue the relationship with mother earth and grandfather spirit, and to benefit from these mighty salmon, we must come together once again.Water and especially the salmon within it, guided our spirituality and ceremonies and it gave us life. (Seyler 2000) Introduction The region now known as the Pacific Northwest has been populated by Indian tribes for thousands of years. Many of these tribes lived on and around the rivers that defined their entire culture.The people depended on the salmon in these rivers for 60 percent of their diet. Salmon was, and is, the center of their religion, their culture, their economy, and their lives.They call themselves River People and the big river, the Columbia, was called the Path of Life.1 It is this river and the people who lived and continue to live near the Path of Life and its tributaries with which we are concerned. It is the River People who have been and will be impacted by the U.S. and Canadian treaty that I will discuss.This chapter will explain who the River People are,the importance of the salmon to them,and why the tribes should be sitting at the table talking about the salmon when the United States and Canada talk about the treaty. The “River Tribes” were many. They included the three bands of the Nez Perce;2 the three bands of the Umatilla;3 the three bands of Warm Springs;4 and the fourteen bands that make up theYakama Nation.5 These tribes, known today as theYakama Nation, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, the Warm Springs Confederated Tribes, and the Nez Perce Tribe, are also called the Columbia River TreatyTribes because they have treaty-protected rights to fish on the mid-Columbia River downstream of where The Dalles Dam now sits at what used to be Celilo Falls near the Dalles, Oregon.6 Other River People include the ConfederatedTribes of the Colville Reservation made up of twelve bands;7 the Spokane Tribe of Indians,8 and the Coeur d’Alene, Kootenai, and Kalispell tribes.All of these tribes have been affected by the building of dams in violation of the 1846 treaty between the two countries—the U.S. and Canada. The River Tribes have especially been affected by the building of the Grand Coulee Dam on the edge of the Colville Reservation. Once this dam was The River People and the Importance of Salmon 71 built without fish passage(s), the upriver stocks for the Columbia, including the tributaries that supported Native life for centuries were cut off all the way to the headwaters of the river.The Spokane and other upriver tribes such as the Coeur d’ Alene, Kalispell, and Kootenai had already been cut off by the dams installed first in the City of Spokane, then at Post Falls, and later at the Nine Mile Falls Dam nine miles from Spokane near the Spokane Reservation in their ceded area.The importance of the salmon to the River People cannot be overemphasized. Brother Salmon and the First Foods Ceremony The salmon was the most important commodity to the River People at the time of the coming of the Europeans. It still is. Indian people and the salmon lived in harmony with the balance of nature.The water was free,food was plentiful,and the rhythms of the season were spent gathering food for the next year. The River People depend upon the fish in the Path of Life, also known as the River That Gives Us Life, and always gave thanks to the Creator in the First Foods Ceremonies.The River People revered the salmon and that reverence was shared by the recognition that salmon was not only central to their diet, but also to their religion. In the First Foods Ceremony, salmon holds the place of honor at the table. ElizabethWoody, aWarm Springs poet, described the First Foods Feast in the following way: Together, tribal members and Salmon weave a unique cultural fabric designed by the Divine Creator.What the mind cannot comprehend, the heart and spirit interpret.The result is a beautiful and dignified ceremonial response to the Creator in appreciation for the willingness of Nature to serve humankind (Woody et al. 2003). The ceremony may have varied from tribe to tribe,but for many...


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