To celebrate the return of salmon to the Dungeness River and surrounding watersheds, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe hosted the first Salmon Homecoming Ceremony, Saturday, July 11, along the Dungeness River at Railroad Bridge Park.
Under the inquisitive watch of a bald eagle settled in a nearby tree, tribal members both young and old, as well as representatives from other Northwest tribes and community members and leaders including Sequim Mayor Candace Pratt and County Commissioner Jim McEntire, gathered to express appreciation and gratitude toward the anticipated salmon returning to spawn.
The traditional ceremony shared among Northwest tribes reflects the native people’s historic dependance and close relationship with nature, including the salmon, said Ron Allen, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Council chairman.
“Coastal tribes have long celebrated the return of the salmon and shown their respect for all natural resources,” Allen told those attending.
The ceremonial scent of burning sage drifted in the air while the songs and drumming of tribal members resonated along the river’s edge as the body of a salmon resting on a bed of cedar aboard a plank was released into the river so it may travel downriver.
Once reaching the ocean, it’s hoped the salmon’s spirit will tell all returning salmon of how it was treated well and deeply respected by the area’s native people.
A record number of pink salmon are expected to begin traveling up the Dungeness River mid-month. To prepare, fisheries management officials among the state and tribe are working to try to ensure successful fish passage to spawning grounds despite the extremely low river flows – the result of warmer temperatures and thus little to no mountain snowpack.
Fish are facing conditions “unseen” in the past, said Aaron Brooks, fisheries management biologist for Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.
“Humans are playing an important part this year,” Brooks said.
In the coming years, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe members plan to continue the annual tradition of holding a salmon homecoming ceremony and already hope to hold their next ceremony in the spring.