Original Published on Aug 18, 2022 at 12:10

By Chadd Cawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Shuswap Band recently completed its first ceremonial salmon release of 1,500 sockeye salmon into the upper Columbia River, which was the first time that part of the river has seen any salmon in more than eight decades, since the construction of the Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams. The salmon release is a continuation of efforts to restore salmon to the upper Columbia River and comes on the fins of a successful second annual Bringing Home the Salmon Festival back in May. 

In attendance at the Shuswap Band’s first release was Shuswap Band Kúkpi7 Barbara Cote, Tkwenem7iple7s Mark Thomas and Tim Eugene, representatives from Secwépemc bands and the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council (including Shuswap Nation Tribal Council Chief Rosanne Casimir), Okanagan Nation Alliance and the Ktunaxa Nation. Several elders, youth, cultural advisors and knowledge keepers were also at the event. The decades-long dearth of salmon has had severe impacts on those who rely on the fish for survival. It has resulted in loss of language, ceremony, culture, knowledge transfer, health and economy.

With time constrictions, and mostly a desire for ceremonial privacy and to respect and honour the area where the release took place, it remained a private event.

It is the first of many anticipated salmon releases to come. Intended to call the salmon home and to allow elders an opportunity to reunite with the fish after decades of separation, the ceremony was followed by the appointment of Shuswap Band Coun. Mark Thomas as salmon chief for the band. In this role, Thomas will oversee all cultural, spiritual, ecological and diplomatic stewardship initiatives

Thomas will lead the path to ensure salmon are returned to the Columbia River, while being a strong advocate for sustainable and respectful use of all water-related resources in the Shuswap Caretaker Area. Thomas has made a lifelong commitment to the role, and he intends to dedicate his years to salmon and its habitats. Future duties will include mentoring the next salmon chief.

“Kukwstec-kuc to everyone who made this event possible, including the cultural support provided by the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council, notably Valerie Michel, the cultural support from Wayne Christian, Rod Tomma, Louis Thomas and others,” said Shuswap Band Coun. Mark Thomas in a release. He also noted the technical support provided by Jon Bisset, Adam Neil, Rhiannon Kirton, Camille Des Rosiers-Ste.Marie, Mindi Sheer and others and the attendance of Secwépemc, Okanagan and Ktunaxa elders, youth and knowledge keepers.

Thomas also game kudos to the ONA Hatchery and Herb Alex for providing the 1,500 salmon fry that were released, along with all Shuswap Band staff involved in coordination.

The Shuswap Band’s 10th annual Salmon Festival will be held in Invermere on Sept. 10. There will be opportunity to learn about salmon, enjoy local artistry and immerse oneself in Indigenous culture. At that event, the Shuswap Band will be signing the newly created Salmon Treaty, which will promote salmon reintroduction and seek to protect vital salmon habitat.

This item reprinted with permission from The Columbia Valley Pioneer, Invermere, British Columbia