Tom Louie as a child with his grandfather at the Ceremony of Tears at Kettle Falls shortly before Grand Coulee dam permanently flooded the waterfalls in June 1940. Today, he performs the ceremony of return with his own future generations.

Northwest Tribes Welcome the Salmon Home


The salmon are being called home this week, in a ceremony especially significant because the treaty that helps shape their habitat is being reconsidered by U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada.

The Columbia River Treaty governs the international river, and reconfiguring the treaty would enable fish passage at Grand Coulee and other dams, helping salmon return home to the Upper Columbia, which includes Canada, the

Hosted by the Colville Confederated Tribes, Okanagan Nation Alliance, and the Inchelium Language and Culture Association, this year’s salmon ceremony will be held at Kettle Falls, Washington on Thursday June 12 and at Castlegar, British Columbia on Friday June 13, the groups said.

RELATED: Columbia River Treaty Recommendation Near Finalization

The U.S. Department of State is scheduled to announce its formal negotiating position later this year, though federal agencies have already recommended that the two nations “develop a modernized framework for the Treaty that ensures a more resilient and healthy ecosystem-based function throughout the Columbia River Basin while maintaining an acceptable level of flood risk and assuring reliable and economic hydropower benefits," the ceremony organizers said in a statement.

The federal recommendation is supported by all four Northwest states, 15 Columbia Basin tribes, environmentalists and fishermen.

“Tribal people continue to pray for their place, their river, their fishery,” the organizers said.

RELATED: Water Power: 15 Tribes Have a Say in Modernizing the Columbia River Treaty

Kettle Falls holds an important place in the history of Northwest tribes, as it was traditionally an important salmon fishing site and thus sustained life for many Indigenous Peoples, including Lakes People, Okanagans, Flatheads, Spokanes, Kalispells, Coeur d’Alenes, Sanpoils, Wenatchees, Entiats and interior Salish-speaking people, among others. The very name around the falls, "san-ate-koo," means "deep-sounding waters,” the organizers said.

Then came the Grand Coulee damn, built by the U.S. with Canadian approval, which flooded the falls and all but obliterated the salmon runs. June 1940 was the site of a Ceremony of Tears at which between 8,000 and 10,000 people mourned the falls. The ceremony was organized by the Colville Confederated Tribes and attended by representatives of the Yakama, Spokane, Nez Perce, Flathead, Blackfeet, Coeur d'Alene, Tulalip, Pend d'Oreille tribes and others.

The battle to save and restore historic fish runs has been ongoing ever since, even as dams and other barriers multiplied.

RELATED: First Nations Save First Foods: Northwest Tribes Seek to Restore Historic Fish Runs

While the Canadian government has yet to announce its formal position, British Columbia has recommended that the treaty be renewed, with any changes occurring within the current framework, the ceremony organizers said.

This video explains the issues in full.

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