among the Haida people, there was a boy who showed no respect for the salmon. Though the salmon meant life for
the people, he was not respectful of the one his people called Swimmer. His parents told him to show gratitude
and behave properly, but he did not listen. When fishing, he would step on the bodies of the salmon that were caught
and after eating he carelessly threw the bones of the fish into the bushes. Others warned him that the spirits
of the salmon were not pleased by such bad behavior, but he did not listen.
One day, his mother served him a meal of salmon. He looked at it with disgust. "This is moldy" he said,
though the meat was good. He threw it upon the ground. Then, he went down to the river to swim with the other children.
However, as he was swimming, a current caught him and pulled him away from the others. It swept him into the deepest
water and he could not swim strongly enough to escape from it. He sank into the river and drowned.
There, deep in the river, the Salmon People took him with them. They were returning back to the ocean without using
their bodies. They had left their bodies behind for the humans and the animal people to use as food. The boy went
with them, for now, he belonged to the salmon.
When they reached their home, in the ocean, they looked just like human beings. Their village there in the ocean
looked much like his own home and he could hear the sound of children playing in the stream which flowed behind
the village. Now the Salmon People began to teach the boy. He was hungry and they told him to go to the stream
and catch one their children, who were salmon swimming in the stream. However, he was told, he must be respectful
and after eating return all of the bones and everything he did not intend to eat to the water. Then, he was told,
the children would be able to come back to life. But, if he didn't return the bones, to the water, salmon child
would not come back.
He did as he was told, but one day after he had eaten, when it came time for the children to come up to the village,
from the stream, he heard one of them crying. He went to see what was wrong. The child was limping because one
of its feet was gone. Then, the boy realized he had not thrown all of the fins back into the stream. he quickly
found the one fin he had missed, and threw it in and the child was healed.
After he had spent the winter with the Salmon People, it again was spring and time for them to return to the rivers.
The boy swam with them, for he belonged to the Salmon People now. When they swam past his old village, his own
mother caught him in her net. When she pulled him from the water, even though he was in the shape of a salmon,
she saw the copper necklace he was wearing. It was the same necklace she had given her son.
She carried Salmon Boy carefully back home. She spoke to him and held him and gradually he began to shed his salmon
skin; First, his head emerged. Then, after eight days, he shed all of the skin and was a human again.
Salmon Boy taught the people all of the things he had learned. He was a healer now and helped them when they were
"I can't stay with you long," he said, "you must remember what I teach you."
He remained with the people until the time came when the old salmon who had gone upstream and not been caught by
the humans or the animal people came drifting back down toward the stream. As Salmon Boy stood by the water, he
saw a huge old salmon floating down toward him. It was so worn by its journey that he could see through its sides.
He recognized it as his own soul and he thrust his spear into it. As soon as he did so, he died.
Then the people of the village did as he told them to do. They placed his body into the river. It circled four
times and then sank, going back to his home in the ocean, back to the Salmon People.
Print and Color your own picture of Salmon Boy
Now, reread the story, and without peeking, answer these questions!
- What do the salmon do when the young boy treats them disrespectfully? Why did the salmon
make the boy one of their own?
- How is the young boy changed by his experience? What does he learn?
- How can Salmon Boy die and come back to life so many times in this story? What finally
happens to him?
- How did Native Americans fish using their traditional fishing methods? How do they fish
- Do you eat fish? How do people catch the fish that your family buys? What happens to
the populations of fish when great numbers of them are caught?