Lummi Nation Celebrates First Salmon

Lummi Nation dancers perform at the tribe's first salmon ceremony

The Bellingham Herald covered the Lummi Nation’s First Salmon Ceremony:

About 600 Lummi Indian Tribe members and guests gathered Thursday, May 14, at Lummi Nation School to celebrate the arrival of the first salmon – a celebration marked by both hope and fear for the future of the fish that defines tribal identity.

“When I was a young boy, I heard my grandfather say, when he was eating a salmon, ‘This is good medicine,'” said Merle Jefferson, the tribe’s natural resources director.

The First Salmon Ceremony is a key cultural observance for the Lummi and other Coast Salish tribes. For generations, the tribes have conducted these ceremonies to honor the salmon and assure their return.

Jefferson noted that the first local salmon run, the spring chinook that return to the Nooksack River, is listed as threatened under federal law.

“Our first salmon is in trouble,” Jefferson said. “The spring chinook is in trouble. … The habitat is going to take many years to fix.”

Each year at about this time, the tribe has been conducting a limited harvest of the spring chinook for use in the traditional first salmon ceremony and feast. This year, Jefferson said, Lummi fishers netted 27 fish in just three hours, giving possible evidence that the beleaguered run may be strengthening.

Meanwhile, the late summer harvest of Fraser River sockeye that once provided a decent living for both tribal and non-tribal fishers of Whatcom County has dwindled to near nothing, partly due to environmental factors and partly because of changes in the way the fish harvest is divided between U.S. and Canadian fishers.

“I used to gross probably $40,000, $50,000 a year on sockeye,” said Richard Finkbonner, 79, a Lummi gillnetter. “I got one last year.”

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