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Portland Family Magazine
October 2003

Salmon Nation

I live with the forty-two-year absence and silence of Celilo Falls, much as an orphan lives hearing of the kindness and greatness of his or her mother, writes Elizabeth Woody in her essay "Recalling Celilo." When The Dalles Dam was built on the Columbia in 1957, Celilo Falls flooded, wiping out a way of life that had existed for thousands of years. In the spring and summer, native peoples had traveled from all over the region to fish from scaffolding built above the falls. They cleaned and smoked the salmon, which provided them enough food for an entire winter.

In addition to a permanent village at Celilo, the area was an important trading and gathering center for many tribes. Festivals were held each spring to honor the first salmon caught, and to give thanks to the Salmon King, said to live in the Pacific.

Despite the disappearance of Celilo Falls, salmon continue to play a central role in local Native American culture. To share a piece of native Northwest life with the public, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, a new partner in this year's Salmon Festival, will host Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum Village above the shores of the Sandy. (Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum means "salmon people" in the native Sahaptin language of many Columbia Basin Indian tribes.)

A cluster of teepees will serve as a backdrop for traditional activities such as storytelling and nature tours, beadwork and net tying, all of which will illustrate the special relationship between salmon and the treaty fishing tribes of the Columbia Basin. Visitors will be encouraged to join drummers and dancers who will teach centuries-old songs.

Jeremy Five Crows, with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, says that members of the Yakima, Umatilla, Nez Perce, Warm Springs, and Lakota, as well as local tribes, will be involved in the festival. The whole idea of putting the village together is to make it participatory. Visitors can sit and play the drum. There will be some tribal regalia to try on. You can learn different dance steps, Five Crows says. Native American artists will exhibit their work at Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum, and salmon and fry bread will be sold. In addition, Nez Perce appaloosa horses will be on display.

Another new partner in the festival is Ecotrust, a local group dedicated to honoring and preserving the unique environment of the Pacific Northwest. They have coined the term Salmon Nation to refer to the geographic area from Alaska to California, where salmon live, spawn and die. I think it's a very clever way of looking at watersheds, says Metro's Ron Klein. We all live in the Salmon Nation.

The mission of Salmon Nation is to promote a sense of place and stewardship among the citizens of the region. Their website welcomes you to a community of stewards, of conscious consumers, of caretakers, of citizens. (See www.salmonnation.com.) Thus far, Ecotrust and Salmon Nation have produced a flier on wild and farmed salmon distributed to thousands of Oregonians, published a compilation of essays on salmon titled Salmon Nation: People, Fish, and Our Common Home, and launched various educational programs.

At the Salmon Festival, Salmon Nation will host a Welcome Center where visitors can pick up a festival passport and learn how to become Salmon Nation citizens. They will also host an interactive watershed mapping station, where families can identify the watershed in which they live.

Farm vs. wild

In the Pacific Northwest, where people frequently eat salmon once or twice a week, consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about the levels of PCBs (poly-chlorinated biphenyls, linked with cancer) in farm-raised fish. Farmed fish eat pellets made from mackerel and anchovies, which collect PCBs from ocean waters. Some early studies have shown that farm-raised salmon do indeed have higher levels of PCBs than wild. Scientists also predict that, with salmon farming consuming 80 percent of the world's fish oil, the supply will be depleted in as few as 10 years.

There are also problems associated with the farms themselves. According to a federal study cited in The Oregonian, a large salmon farm produces as much waste as a city of 65,000 people. Salmon raised in pens experience more stress, are more likely to develop cataracts, and frequently have deformed spines.

At the Salmon Festival, wild salmon and fish from the Young's Bay hatchery at the mouth of the Columbia are served. Klein says, We encourage people to be aware of what they're eating and where the fish comes from, and to support the local fishing industry.

Recommended Reading: Salmon Nation: People, Fish and Our Common Home (OSU Press) — Salmon issues & restoration efforts.

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