On June 17, 2016, the five Upper Columbia United Tribes journeyed in dugout canoes to Kettle Falls, our ancient fishing spot on the Columbia River. After traveling for days, we gathered together in the land of our ancestors for the first time in over 80 years.
“Salmon is a sacred resource to our tribes. It is inherent in our beliefs that we are stewards of the river and of salmon…”
A Cultural Reawakening
UCUT provided the old-growth cedar trees for the tribes to hand-carve into canoes, a process that helped awaken our culture and connect us to our sacred traditions. The journey on the river, though often difficult, was a chance to uplift, support and encourage one another—as our ancestors did on the journeys they made.
For many tribal members, this gathering has been a life-long dream. Hundreds of people—tribal and non-tribal alike—waited to welcome the paddlers. It was a chance for our tribes to unite as one family.
A Lost Heritage
The last time the tribes gathered together at Kettle Falls was for the “Ceremony of Tears” when Grand Coulee Dam was built. The dam flooded Kettle Falls and blocked salmon runs from the Upper Columbia.
A major goal of the event was to draw attention to our efforts to restore fish passage. We have been working with Canada’s First Nations to advocate for the reintroduction of salmon above the dam.
Calling the Salmon Home
Salmon is a sacred resource to our tribes. It is inherent in our beliefs that we are stewards of the river and of salmon—considered to be one of our First Foods. The loss of salmon caused by the dam harmed our culture and our people.
The morning of June 18, we held a salmon ceremony in the tradition of our ancestors. We prepared and shared salmon with all the people at the event, cleaning the bones and returning them to the river. The sacred ritual acknowledges the gift of salmon to our people and asks for its return.
We want to bring the salmon home.
Canoe Journey and Gathering at Kettle Falls