Lummi Nation Hosts First ‘Gathering for Salmon’

LUMMI (March 29, 2002) — Lummi Nation hosted the first annual “Gathering for Salmon” — an event focused on economic recovery for Northwest fishing tribes — at their Wex Li Em community center on Feb. 19-20.

Representatives of the Swinomish Tribe, Yakama Nation, Elwha Klallam Tribe, Muckleshoot Tribe and Shox-Ox-Homel, near Hope, B.C., joined with Lummi tribal members in calling for salmon recovery and economic development in Indian Country.

“Shellfish is helping to sustain us,” said Swinomish fisheries manager Lorraine Loomis. “But the culture is hurting. The whole community is hurting from the lack of salmon.”

Long term, salmon recovery is one of the highest priorities for all Northwest tribes.

“We are the salmon people,” said Phil Hamilton of the Muckleshoot Tribe. “For generations, salmon has sustained our way of life. Now we must sustain the salmon.”

Economic recovery, though, is another pressing problem. The mere absence of fish isn’t the only problem tribal fishers face. Market conditions, including the influx of farmed salmon from countries like Peru, are making it unprofitable for tribal members to go fishing.

“Twenty years ago, you could sell coho (salmon) for $1.50 to $2 a pound,” said Mel Moon, director of natural resources for the Quileute Tribe. “Last season, it was 15 cents.”

Culturally, economically, and spiritually, native families rely on the salmon.

“One hundred percent of Lummi families rely on the salmon harvest,” said Raynette Finkbonner, the chief of staff for the Lummi Nation.

That’s true of tribal governments as well. The Lummi Nation government has seen a 50 percent decrease in its revenue due to the depressed fishing economy, and is seeking a federal disaster declaration.

On the second day of the gathering, economic development was the focus. Representatives from KeyBank and U.S. Bank were on hand to discuss alternative business opportunities for tribal fishers.

“We’re doing what we can to survive,” said Finkbonner. “We can’t rely just on the fishing industry anymore. We have to do other things so there will at least be a traditional fishing industry left.”