RESERVATION - The Lummi tribe celebrated its "schelangen,"
(pronounced shlay-n-gun), or way of life, as one intertwined with
salmon at the annual First Salmon Ceremony on Thursday.
500 Lummi Tribal School students, community members and guests filled
the Wex Li Em hall for dance, prayer and to eat tiny, oily pieces
of the first chinook salmon caught this year.
comes over and eats a piece," said James Wilson, 78, the elder
fisher who prepared the fish. "We take the fish bones, backbone
and all, and it has been our ceremony to put it back in the river
and say, 'You go down and next year you tell the rest of (the salmon)
to come back in abundance.'"
tribal fishers netted the ceremonial first fish Wednesday on the
Nooksack River. Tribal members also served up fish raised at the
May on Vancouver Island, the lower British Columbia mainland, Washington
and Oregon coasts, the descendant tribes of the lhaqtemish, (pronounced
sh-lay-mish) or First People, pray for enduring salmon runs with
tribes historically have sustained themselves on salmon, berries
remains an important vocation at the Lummi Reservation, although
the tribe's fishing fleet has dwindled along with salmon runs. In
the past decade, the Lummi fishing fleet has fallen from three dozen
boats to fewer than six.
is a very important time of our lives," said Smitty Hillaire,
who led prayers during the morning service. "It's when the
cycle of the salmon begins. It's time for celebration that our long
winter is over."
the building, Wilson looked on as six other men threaded fat hunks
of salmon onto cedar skewers in Thursday's morning drizzle.
Hillaire tossed cedar, alder and maple logs onto a fire pit, filling
the wet air with its smoky smell. He leaned the tall skewers against
the pit to barbecue slowly.
used to fish (for spring chinook) commercially, but because of habitat,
they aren't coming back," Hillaire said. Now he and the other
fishers catch the chinooks, also known as river kings, only for
Fisheries, formerly the National Marine Fisheries Service, listed
the Nooksack River chinook as a threatened species under the Endangered
Species Act in 1999. It allows Indian tribes to take a small catch
annually for ceremony: the Lummi, a tribe of several thousand, is
fishers also take other salmon commercially, such as sockeye from
Canada's Fraser River.
so, the annual ceremony marks determination by the tribe that fish
will continue to run and their culture as a "salmon people"
is a part of our culture we will never forget," said Elden
Hillaire, a Lummi tribal council member. "They are a part of
our lives like the air that we breathe."
Hillaire and wife, Lutie Hillaire, thanked the tribe's natural resources
department for their work preserving salmon habitat so that Lummi
children may fish in the future.
Tribal Chairman Darrell Hillaire echoed their sentiments in his
so important that our young ones here stand next to our fishermen
and know who they are and what they do," he said. "I hope
that some day, the young ones will be able to fish, too."