The Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) people, for example, share a cautionary story about what happens when proper respect isn’t shown toward the gift of salmon.
Thanks to the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, who permitted us to reprint the story, you can read what happens at the salmon feast. Just scroll to the bottom of the page.
The story’s message – that salmon must be treated with care – came head to head with a rockslide in the Seymour River in December 2014. The slide cut off about 90% of the Coho salmon that travel the river. Without a way to swim to their spawning grounds the salmon stock unique to the Seymour River would be wiped out.
Thinking back on it, Councillor Chris Lewis of the Squamish Nation sees what happened next as the power of salmon to bring people together.
The Seymour Salmonid Society runs the hatchery on the Seymour River, constantly monitoring the health of the nearby salmon runs. When the rockslide happened the society quickly rang the alarm. It didn’t take long to realize that the work to remove the rocks would take years not months – time the salmon didn’t have.
The adult salmon couldn’t get back up to the spawning grounds, and the juvenile salmon were blocked from heading out to the ocean – 50,000 cubic meters of rubble was interrupting the Seymour salmon’s cycle of life.
The society took the lead in convening a roundtable that included the municipal, provincial and federal governments and the Squamish and Tsleil-waututh Nations. It was the first time that all these parties had ever really sat down and talked about salmon. When they did, they managed to reach an agreement in principle on the blueprint for restoration. The next step was to set about raising funds – but that still left the immediate problem of the salmon in the river.
Last summer the Seymour Salmonid Society and the Squamish Nation formed a partnership to build an aluminum fish fence. The idea was to redirect the returning salmon into a catchment area where they could be caught and then transported in water trucks above the rockslide.
It worked – in fact it worked a little too well. The partners soon realized they had a different problem on their hands – people and otters keen to take advantage of the easy catch. With actions taken to prevent further unsanctioned fishing – Chris Lewis figures this year they’re well prepared to help the salmon over the rockslide to continue their journey back to their spawning grounds.
Story reprinted courtesy of: Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre
“In the long ago, the Squamish people believed that salmon are supernatural, as reflected in an oft-told story that teaches listeners to treat the salmon with special respect because they are gifts from the Salmon People.
According to the story, the Xays (transformers), who traveled the world changing people into animals and mountains, were invited to a feast hosted by the Chief of the Salmon People. The Chief sent two young people into the water, where they were transformed into Salmon for the gathering, on the condition that every single salmon bone be returned to the water.
But, as the story goes, one of the Xays deliberately kept a bone, causing one young person to come back from the river deformed. The Chief took revenge by killing Xay and the seagulls plucked out his eyes. Brought back to life by his brother, Xay had to try out different salmon eyes as substitutes and the eyes that worked the best were from the Pink Salmon.
The story ends with the humbled Xays trying to convince the Chief to be at peace with them. The Chief agrees to send his people in cycles, the Pink Salmon only every other year, on the condition that all the bones of the first salmon caught during each harvest be returned to the water.”