The Social Fabric of a Community

Louie Ungaro, a Muckleshoot tribal councilmember, recently wrote about his tribe’s spring chinook fish drive. The special ceremonial fishery occurs each year on the White River and tribal members use special implements like spears to catch the chinook.

“I believe that our community’s first resource is the people, and that it is our responsibility to protect and be good stewards to the land, ourselves, each other and our religions- all of which are a legacy left for us by our Ancestors.”

On July 21-22nd, hundreds of Muckleshoot community members gathered on the White River to participate and witness the work of our second Annual Springer Drive. The weather was beautiful, several Spring Chinook blessed us with their presence and perhaps most importantly we took the opportunity to come together as a community and practice our culture, strengthening our sovereignty.

It took several months of collaborative efforts with the Army Corps of Engineers, the Fish Commission and our tribal Fisheries department in order to make this event happen. Every year Army Corps repairs tunnels in the Mud Mountain Dam, located just upriver from our Springer Drive gatherings. Because Mud Mountain Dam was constructed in 1947, after the Flood Control Act of 1936 was passed- it is in need of closely managed maintenance. However, because we won the water rights on our traditional and accustomed river systems our voices are required to be at tables where discussions around the dam maintenance happen. Lowering water levels are of particular interest, as it provides an opportunity for us to practice a form of fisheries that have existed for thousands of years.

As a young man, I heard testimony shared by my Mother and Grandmother recalling a time not so long ago when the community would gather down on the river each year with their nets and spears to celebrate the return of the Springers. We would work together, construct campsites and spend our summer days gaffing these precious fish. My Mother remembers seeing Lawrence Starr heading towards the river behind the Shaker Church with his rifle and a spear and returning with a fresh caught salmon in one hand and a deer on his back.

In recent discussion with Sqialupcub (Hoagie King George) he shared a story with me about fishermen racing to see who could spear the first Springer. He recalls Buddy Lozier always being the first to spear one. This story stands out to me in particular because at one point during this years drive I had a hold of the net, along with Bud Moses, and when we pulled it across, scaring up the Springers in to the riffle, one of Buddy Loziers direct descendants was standing there and gaffed the first fish. It was in that moment I felt the presence of our Ancestors with us, proudly watching their descendants carrying on with the work they dedicated their lives to. This brought joyful tears to my eyes to witness this work and feel such presence.

It is the unity of these Ancestral actions that truly hold us together as a people and that was mirrored in the work of bringing us all together on the river last month. The young ones were assisting the Elders, and the Elders were assisting the young people. Folks showed up to potlatch- sharing food, stories, prayer and a good feeling in their spirit. It is this type of opportunity that brings us together in solidarity and weaves together the social fabric of our Muckleshoot people making us strong in body, mind and spirit. We have the salmon people to thank for such an opportunity, our teachers who remind us of the unity we hold with all living things.

These types of gatherings, with that much enthusiasm and support, absolutely need to happen throughout the year. I am reminded of how we are a seasonal people and when the salmon run we are in the river with them, just as when the berries are ripe we gather in the high mountain meadows and when the four legged are ready to be harvested we are on the landscape in their pursuit. By following the lead of our foods, we honor the practices of our Ancestors and simultaneously we strengthen our sovereignty by actively exercising our treaty rights. In return, we are gifted with memories of not just today but also a distant passed- and those memories heal us, reminding us of who we are and the stewardship responsibilities we carry with the land. It activates what is inside of each and every one of us, breathing life in to us.

I want to thank everyone who helped to set this up. Public works and Fisheries made sure the land was cleared and prepared for us to have a safe couple of days on the banks. For those who stayed behind to clean up, those who took part in the work, those of you who made gaff hooks and harvested the materials for people to learn, everyone who shared stories, prayers, potlucked and potlatched, you lift us all up. You are the reason this event was so beautiful. I’d also like to thank the Salmon People and our Ancestors who were with us, walking on the riverbank, blessing our actions and making sure the way for this work was open.

Thanking God and Giving God all of the praise and glory,
Louie Ungaro