Speckled Fish People: First Salmon Ceremony

Kettle Falls Site

Last week I shared with you about the First Root Ceremony. Today I want to share with you about the First Salmon Ceremony of the Sinixt or Arrow Lakes People of Northeast Washington State. Salmon was the main staple of the Lakes people. At the end of May or beginning of June, spring or Chinook salmon were the first fish to swim 790 miles reaching the Kettle Falls. They actually began their journey from Alaska.

The salmon would swim from the Pacific Ocean, traveling up the Columbia River to spawn. Just thirty miles south of the Canadian border was where the Lakes people would gather at the Kettle Falls. Its roaring waters tumbled down massive rock cliffs. The Lakes people would put up camp on the west side of the river and fish for weeks. The men would harvest the salmon as they tried to jump the falls (More about the Kettle Falls will be in a future blog post).

But before the big fishing expedition, the First Salmon Ceremony would have to take place. Fish would be speared or netted and packed back to the village. The women would then prepare the fish as was taught by the Tyee, or Salmon Chief. Everyone in the village would attend the ceremony and pray, thanking the Creator for his gifts.

After the feast and festivities, the bones of the salmon were returned to the river. The head was always turned upstream, the direction the salmon had traveled from the ocean to spawn. This rite would ensure future salmon for everyone as the Lakes people believed the fish had special powers.

Today the Arrow Lakes band celebrates the First Salmon Ceremony with the other eleven bands of the Colville Confederated Tribes (http://www.colvilletribes.com). In June a Sunrise gathering commences at 5:30 a.m. in Omak, WA. There are prayers and speakers to remember and honor the Creator and the salmon He continually provides for all.

2012 began the Sinixt first annual Salmon Ceremony. It was held at the edge of the Columbia River where the people used to gather and the water of the Kettle Falls would spill off tempting the salmon to jump and spawn. It was a place they gathered before Coulee Dam was built. The dam flooded the river north up to the Canadian border, creating Lake Roosevelt and halting the fishing at the Kettle Falls.

Looking at old photos of Natives netting and spearing 60 pound salmon that were too weak to clear the falls still moves me today. What part of your history and culture moves you? How did your ancestors fish and where were they from?

Haiku poem: First Root Ceremony
Salmon come to spawn
They swim three states to lay eggs
A gift to nourish

Lakes Language as taught to me by Elder Marguerite Ensminger as seen in Change of Heart and Heart of Courage by Carmen Peone.

In- tee- tee- huh Salmon
In- tea- tea- huh (blowing sound from the back of the throat)

Pekam Bobcat – The Spupaleena’s (Rabbit) younger brother in The Heart Trilogy.
Pea- cam (Rhymes with Sam)

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  1. Enjoyed that. I once lived at Bonner Ferry, Idaho on the Kootenai river where the Kootenai people live.

    1. carmenpeone says:

      Yes, great area. Thank you for sharing that with me.

    2. carmenpeone says:

      Kootenai area is amazing too!