The Salmon

As told by Chief J.J. Wallace Nsmugwis

A powerful chief who was very wise lived on top of a cliff. He had a wonderful canoe. The canoe could become any size that he needed, large enough to carry his whole tribe, or small enough to carry only a few. He would just dip his paddle into the water and wish where he wanted to go, pull once and his magic canoe would take him there.

Many people were jealous of the chief for he was a lot wiser than they, so he eventually lived all alone with only his family on top of a cliff. Sometimes people would even try to kill the chief and his family. But on his cliff, there was an opening into which he and his family could escape and hide until it was safe to come out. At the bottom of the Chief's cliff was a pair of great stone pillars, and on the lower pillar was the resting place of the great canoe.

Now the chief had a son who was of age to be married but he did not want just any girl to marry his son. The chief wanted a marriage that would help provide food for his tribe, for they had come to hard times and were often hungry. The Chief had heard of a wonderful fish called "Salmon" that dwelled on the other side of our world. So he announced to his tribe down below, "I want my son to marry the daughter of the Salmon Chief, who lives far across to ocean. We will travel on my canoe to where the Salmon people live."

The people knew nothing about what the Chief was talking about, however they climbed in the great canoe. The Chief headed for the open sea and put his paddle in the water. "Take us to where the Salmon People are", he said and gave the paddle one strong pull. The canoe moved as fast as lightening and went across the water to the other side of our World.

At the strange land, the beach was lined with storage boxes full of fish, all different kinds. "This must be the Salmon of which we have heard", the people said to each other.

The Chief asked to speak to the Chief of the Salmon People, so he was brought to him and invited into his bighouse. He discussed his marriage plans for his son and the Salmon Chief's daughter. The Chief told the Salmon Chief, "We do not have Salmon where we come from, and sometimes our people are very hungry. If your daughter marries my son, we would like to bring Salmon with her". The Salmon Chief looked at him and took pity and said, "I will allow your son to marry my daughter and she will bring with her the Salmon as her dowry. But before you leave you must stay for a feast, for it will be many days before the Salmon reach your homeland. During the feast we will teach you how to cook and preserve Salmon".

So a great wedding took place that lasted for four days, they feasted and tried all the different kinds of Salmon. They learned to prepare it and tell one fish from another. They ate the mild flesh of the small spotted pink, and the ridden meat of the large cohoe. They were more surprised with the size of the spring Salmon. "One spring Salmon will feed many", the people exclaimed to one another.

But the favorite was the rich red meat of the sleek, silvery blue Sockeye.

The learned all the ways to prepare Salmon, to smoke it, to dry it, to boil it, and to barbecue it. When preparing Salmon they were instructed to leave the head on the end of the backbone so that the Salon would come alive again.

"When you barbecue Salmon over a fire, there is a hole that you put the stick through", the people were told. "Be careful not to drop any bones from the Salmon through that hole or something will be missing when it comes back to life, maybe you may throw the bones of the Salmon anywhere around your river at the mouth and they will come back again in the next year, "Make sure no bones are ever dropped".

The Chief said to the planner "When our two children have babies, they shall have a dance all of their own, The Salmon Dance". The Salmon Chief showed how the dance was done and taught the song that goes with it. "Also, when the twins are born to any people, they too shall have the Salmon Dance as their own, for twins are the Children of the Salmon People".

"There is one more thing you must remember", the Salmon Chief said. "When the Salmon are coming up river, no on e should mourn. Even if someone dies during spawning time, do not cry, for the Salmon will no longer return to your river".

After four days of feasting and learning, the Chief gathered his people back into the magic canoe, the son and his new bride sat in the bow of the canoe. They then headed for home with the Salmon following close behind all the way across the ocean. When they reached home the Chief stood up and said to the Salmon, "This is where we come from and this will be your new home". The Salmon then spread out behind the canoe and celebrated by jumping and splashing everywhere. Each species was divided and given different rivers in our traditional lands to spawn. But the Salmon never forgot their home and this is where they return each life cycle while they are out in the ocean.

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