Salmon Chief honored at First Fish Ceremony


Hawks swirled overhead as the Salmon Chief was carried up from the Puyallup River on a special throne blanketed with fern fronds. Members of the Puyallup Canoe Family, along with students from Chief Leschi Middle School and Grandview Early Learning Center, sang and drummed honoring the chief on his yearly visit above the water. Four human witnesses to the ceremony stood by: elders Michael Sisson and Teresa Harvey, and youth Thomas Vanuelos and Lailah Loucks.

The Salmon Chief was honored by four members of the Puyallup Tribal Council: David Bean, Sylvia Miller, Annette Bryan and James Rideout. Many local political leaders also attended and were honored by the tribe. Among them were Tacoma mayor Victoria Woodards, Fife mayor Kim Roscoe, Tacoma Port Commissioner John McCarthy, Pierce County Councilmembers Connie Ladenberg and Pam Roach, and Tacoma City Councilmembers Catherine Ushka and Justin Camarata.

β€œI am honored to have been included in the tradition of the First Fish Ceremony,” Mayor Woodards said. β€œIt is a privilege to listen to and witness the respect the Puyallup people have for the salmon and understand that I too have a role in their protection.”

The tradition of the First Fish Ceremony was earlier read to the Tribe in Twulshootseed by Lanissa Grover, a language teacher at Grandview Early Learning Center. She also provided an English translation.

“Honoring the Salmon 2018. The first salmon is caught by the fishermen. We will sing an honor song and welcome the salmon to shore honoring the salmon chief. The salmon is filleted leaving the head, backbone and tail intact. Our witnesses are called to share the story of our people. When the salmon is returned to the water, the chief salmon will share the stories with the spiritual salmon villages as he returns to the ocean. We will share in the feast. The people will eat a peace of the salmon to share in the feast. The people will eat a piece of the salmon to share in the medicine, giving thanks to the salmon.”

The Salmon Chief then gave up his filets to an expert knife. The meat was separated out, and the head, tail and backbone laid back on the special throne. Songs were offered to the Salmon Chief by the young drummers and singers and the fishermen who caught the salmon were then honored.

Four tribal elders, longtime fishermen, were recognized and honored: Teddy W. Simchen, Les Nelson, Will M. Satiacum, and James Rideout. Each spoke about the importance of the salmon to the Puyallup people and expressed concern about the dwindling number of salmon caught every year.

“Our elders told us once the salmon were so plentiful you could walk across the river on their backs. Now, if we get 50 we consider that a lot,” said Will Satiacum.

The young people sang and drummed as the Salmon Chief was carried back down to the river and released into the water. The river he oversees is faced by many threats from the modern world. A liquid natural gas plant (LNG) threatens the estuary with pollution and possible disaster. What stories will the chief carry back with him? As the special throne floated off toward the Salish Sea, the love of the Puyallup Nation went with him, along with prayers and promises to always protect him and his people, just as he and his people have always cared for us.