As brilliant sunshine gleams off the water, a roaring alder fire roasts king salmon to perfection. An outdoor barbecue to welcome in the weekend? Yes, but not just any barbecue: every Friday, Lummi Nation fisheries commissioners supply fish for elders at the tribe’s Little Bear Creek retirement center and assisted living facility.
“We’ve got to take care of our elders,” says Gordon Wilson, who has been cooking salmon for community members over the course of three decades.
Today, they’ll cook about 300 pounds of hatchery king salmon caught in a tribal test fishery in the Nooksack River. Test fisheries are conducted to determine whether fish are returning in adequate numbers to allow harvest by tribal fishermen. Every Friday, members of the Lummi Fisheries Commission volunteer to cook salmon taken in these test fisheries.
The tradition has quickly gained popularity among elders. While attendance varies, it is common to find more than 50 elders feasting on the fish. According to Little Bear Creek staff, the numbers are growing every week.
“When they hear we’re having barbecued salmon, they come from all over the reservation – busloads of them,” said Wilson. “It’s a treat for our people.”
Community events have always featured salmon, and Wilson also cooks around 2,500 pounds of fish for the Lummi Nation’s Stommish Festival each summer.
Supplying traditional food is not just healthy, say commissioners, it is a tribal custom to deliver salmon to the tribe’s most senior members.
“This is probably the healthiest food they can eat,” said commissioner Randy Kinley. “It’s all about providing for the elders.”
Besides an opportunity to provide nutritious food, the outdoor barbecue provides a gathering place for retired tribal fishermen to share stories, companionship and memories.
“It’s good for their self esteem, too – it brings back memories of the way things used to be,” added Terry Hillaire, also a Lummi fisheries commissioner who volunteers to help cook.