Beware, dancing in dories for Salmon may turn you into one.   Ok, slippery humor aside, this past saturday (May 26th) we completed our 11th annual Sacred Salmon Ceremony to welcome the return of Chinook Salmon to our local waters on Salmon River. Our group was small, with about half Nez Perce and half White folks attending. All who gathered together was for the common purpose of appreciating the  return of Salmon Nation and the gift they bring to the people each year.

The event is also designed to help heal old wounds between  two cultures who share a long stained  history that began soon after the arrival of Lewis and Clark days.   This gathering is a good opportunity to get to know each other a little better on a more personal level,   in a most beautiful and appropriate setting.  History is often repeated when nothing is learned from the past atrocities, and brew of bad behavior. Often new generations of people lose contact with those things that happened before their time, so a new version of the same ill wills can surface to fit a new era again. Ignorance breeds many unwanted consequences.

Fixing ramifications from the past  will not happen without acknowledgement and a new awareness to help shape a better tomorrow.  Many events that led up the  Nez Perce War of 1877, was just a microcosm of a much bigger picture painted by the  Manifest Destiny doctrines of a dominant culture advancing across America. Land, gold, fish, and wildlife were always the treasures sought,  usually at any expense, and  often ending with much human tragedy.

Treaties were the instruments by which the dominant culture gained such footing. Though many a treaty was broken, all by that same dominant culture with a more than healthy  lust for natural resources, some treaties, or parts of them still exist today. Thus,  treaty obligations isn’t just something that happened a hundred years ago. They are still legal documents with the same weight and obligations in today’s world. We can still choose to honor them, or not. History will reveal the answer to what will happen, based on our choices today.

In our region, treaties with the Nez Perce (a Domestic Sovereign) allow them to hunt and fish in their traditional areas. It also means, in the case of salmon, that they get half the take, and white folks get the other half.  The fishery  scientist provide all the monitoring of population dynamics and fish counts, with the  shut-down of fishing when targeted catch numbers are reached. . Each Nation enforces regulations on their own members during the season.

Honoring the treaty is also a part of our Sacred Salmon Ceremony. It  includes three basic rituals and process. First is a shoreline ceremony, where Horace Axtel, a long time Nez Perce spiritual leader, guides drummers and singers with native words of ancient songs and wisdom. Three songs are sang at river’s edge, then drummers and those who wish to participate get into dory boats to do three circles in the giant eddy beyond the shore. Three is a sacred number in Nex Perce world, so as we do our three sacred circles, three different songs of long ancient significance are sang during the progression around the eddy.

The eddy is a little edgy during high-water-run-off, so doing turns with hard boats full of people, is a bit tricky. It requires serious attention to angles and momentum to slice precise turning and smooth transitions between  strong opposing current differentials (upstream/downstream eddy line).

Afterwards, we return to the shore and sit in a circle to pass the talking stick around. It goes counterclockwise (another direction held special by Nez Perce people) to  each person and gives them a chance to introduce themselves and say whatever words they wish about the event and ceremony. Afterwards, we have a potluck and sit around to visit and share good food and story telling.


It is always very interesting to hear the Nex Perce tell of their relationships  to different bands and multi-generational ties to the land   They have a deep respect and reverence for water, and all the sustenance it provides for everything. The Salmon in particular is a huge icon to their culture, with many  customs associated to the significance those fish have with their people.

Archeologist have found evidence in this very area that we hold the ceremony, that goes back 7000-8000 years, and in other places along the river 12000 – 13000 years. That is a long historic tie with the land for a nation of people to have. Even more amazing, is that only after the dominant culture arrived, did the salmon nation begin to have problems. Two different world views. Two different results to impact on our home in the universe.

Hopefully, lessons from the ancient wisdom’s of people who were less harsh on their surroundings and more sophisticated in their relationships with nature, will prevail. Kinship with all, or mastery over everything into the future?  Only time will tell us the answer to that question. Our intent with the Sacred Salmon Ceremony is to dance in-step with the Salmon and not stamp  on too many toes of other people.