Columbia River Salmon Ceremony

Teachings in Science and Spirit

Castlegar - This week marked a series of Indigenous Salmon ceremonies along the Columbia River to help pray for the return of the salmon to our regional waterways. The Syilx Okanagan Nation’s calling back of the Salmon Ceremony is age-old and honours the inextricable link their people have with the salmon.

More recently, the ceremony has become part of a broader initiative that is rooted in the ongoing food sovereignty issue for the Syilx Okanagan Nation (ONA), one that addresses the conservation, protection, restoration and enhancement of indigenous fisheries within their traditional territories.

This past year, the Kootenay Lake School District’s Aboriginal Education department partnered with the Syilx - Okanagan National Alliance on a salmon rehabilitation project.

Four SD8 schools were selected and equipped with fish eggs or fry, and fishery chiller tanks, provided by the ONA, to conduct a Fish in Schools (FinS) project. Students from W.E.Graham Community School, Mt. Sentinel Secondary, Salmo Elementary and South Nelson Elementary were charged with feeding and monitoring the salmon, cleaning the tanks and learning about waste and how to get the fish ready for migration back into natural waterways.  This unique project provided students the opportunity to learn the hands-on challenges involved in rearing a cold-water species in a warm environment.

“The environment has changed over the last 80 years, and continues to change.” states Michael Zimmer, ONA Columbia region lead of the ONA’s Salmon reintroduction initiative, “Fish passage, habitat suitability, and climate disruption don’t necessarily align with salmon spawning and we want to engage the younger, next generation of problem solvers and get them involved.”

Aboriginal Education Educator Andrea Mann shared some of the lessons her students learned in building cultural understanding as well as environmental stewardship. “Many of our fish died initially, and we could investigate the science behind this, but it was just as important to teach from the heart and acknowledge the loss.” The students held a drum circle and engaged in meaningful conversations about the teachings we can learn from the broader issue of animal loss on the planet and how we are all connected.

The Fish in Schools project culminated this week with the Salmon Ceremony at Millennium Park in Castlegar. The location on the banks of the Columbia River was chosen for its significance as a traditional place for gathering fish. The ceremony opened with a welcome and prayers by Elders, followed by drumming and song before students were invited to release the surviving sockeye salmon fry they had brought with them from their schools.

Two days prior, a similar event took place at Kettle Falls, Washington, organized by the Inchelium Language House Association and hereafter Salmon Ceremonies are being held in Revelstoke and Oliver BC as well as Oroville, WA.

“We celebrate a journey of walking together to understand a collective nation of good hearts and good minds” says Gail Higginbottom District Principal of Aboriginal Education, “This initiative positively reflects how we can continue to build relationships with our partner Nations and celebrate an inclusive approach to Aboriginal Education.”

For more information:
Gail Higginbottom, District Principal Aboriginal Education