I recently followed the Salmon Spirit to the upper Columbia River region, my literary homeland.
The first time I felt that spirit’s power was in 2019, when I attended a tribal ceremony marking the release of several dozen ocean Chinook into Lake Roosevelt Reservoir. With the 500+ foot Grand Coulee Dam blocking their ancient pathway, they came in a refrigerated truck operated by the Colville Confederated Tribes. Once in the water, the fish swam upstream toward the Canada-U.S. border for the first time in 80 years.
Many of us stood in the shallow water, witnessing the miracle. One fish brushed against my calf as it darted away. Some salmon eventually built nests and spawned. Some crossed the international boundary. A few more slipped through a lock for log booms at the first Canadian dam and pushed further upstream.
Against all odds, the salmon are headed home. Among those leading the charge are the Sinixt people, an Indigenous tribe declared “extinct” by the Federal government of Canada in 1956. With their rights recently restored by the Supreme Court of Canada, they, too, are coming home.
Last week, on the summer solstice, at the site of the great fishing falls (now flooded by the reservoir), tribes gathered to pray again for the Salmon Spirit.
Re-connecting fish and people to the landscape is part of a global effort to restore and regenerate the bounty of all natural systems. For further inspiration, have a listen here to the beautiful voice of Lyla June, a Diné (Navajo) musician, author and community organizer. May the fish and the people continue to swim against the odds!
We all have so much to gain.