It was truly a “First Salmon” ceremony, not only celebrating the annual return of salmon to the river but also, in this case, the first salmon to return to the Chief Joseph Hatchery, a glorious event. The ceremony took place on May 13. The day was beautiful, salmon were in the fish ladder, and a sizable crowd was on hand, from both sides of the 49th Parallel.

“It’s central to the Syilx People’s creation stories and passed down through generations,” said Pauline Terbasket, executive director for the Okanagan (Syilx) Nation Alliance, who came down from British Columbia to attend. She spoke of the cultural importance of Ntyitix (salmon).

“The Salmon Ceremony is a beautiful experience for Indigenous Peoples who have been historically alienated from these lands, waters and foods since contact and the severity of colonial impacts upon our tribes,” Terbasket said. “We are the northern members, above the 49th, of the same cultural, geographic and linguistic group as the Colville’s.”

The Colville Confederated Tribes began work on a fish hatchery adjacent to Chief Joseph Dam in 2010 and completed it in February 2013. Salmon were introduced to the hatchery the following summer. This year marks the first return of jacks, young salmon just three years old. The first truly adult salmon will return from the ocean to spawn in 2017.

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