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Tribes welcome and bless the first salmon of the season
TULALIP It was extra innings for the solemn half of the Tribal celebration this weekend, as the First Salmon Ceremony took a more serious and spiritual turn this year.
Members of the Tulalip Tribes gave thanks and blessings for the annual cycle that brings the mainstay of their menus and culture back to the shores of Tulalip Bay each year.
Salmon have been the main staple of the native diet for hundreds of years and the First Salmon Ceremony both honors the fish for supporting the Tribe while teaching a lesson of thanksgiving and caution to Indians and non-tribal members alike.
The ceremony was revived almost 30 years ago by elder Harriet Shelton Dover and has attracted hundreds of visitors to the longhouse on the bay over the years. Traditional songs and dances tell the story of the cooperation between the fish and members of the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skagit and Stillaguamish tribes and many other bands in the Puget Sound area.
A lot of reverence goes into the tale of the ambassador from the salmon people who live under the sea. If the first salmon is treated well, with respect, he will return to his kingdom under the sea and spread the word of how the Tulalips treated him, according to Glen Gobin, a member of the Tribal board of directors who serves as an emcee of sorts for the event. That will hopefully send schools of fish to the bay for years to come.
If we treat him well he will go back to his people, Gobin explained. Its showing respect and honoring the first king salmon.
This years event started and ended with some ethereal housecleaning, as elders purged the longhouse of wayward spirits. Part communion, part blessing and revelation, the ceremony has three distinct parts.
The Tribes welcome their friends and sing the Snohomish War Song, because theyve long vanquished their enemies. Former chairman Stan Jones Jr. offered a prayer and song, and current Tribal chairman Mel Sheldon Jr. saluted the many community members present, especially citing several of the veterans in the audience.
Part of the ceremony might be missing, but thats alright, Gobin explained.
What was taken away from us, we cant get back, he said. But we try the best we can.
Men and boys with spears dance around the two fires before the women blessed the fishermen tribal or not and a runner soon announced the arrival of a visitor.
Haik Ciaub Yo Douch
Thats Lushootseed for Big Chief King Salmon, who was paddled ashore by the tribal canoe. This was where things got serious, for the honored guest must lead the procession back to the longhouse, riding on a bough of cedar leaves. He is taken to the four corners of the longhouse, where prayers and songs are offered. Soon, the women, young and old, performed the Shawl Dance and the Happy Song was sung. The sacred fish was welcomed and then taken to lunch, literally.
This years fish was caught by tribal member Cy Fryberg, who had to wrestle with a seal for the prize, according to Gobin.
There was a bit of a tug-of-war trying to get our visitor into the boat, Gobin laughed.
In past years the salmon were so scarce the tribe once had to buy one from a grocery store for the ritual, but at the banquet for hundreds in the tribal gym, Gobin said he was proud to report that every morsel eaten this year was caught by Tulalip fishers. Before tribal members and their guest could dig in, everyone partook of a solemn ritual, taking a sip of water and a bite of fish. This is to thank the sacred guest for his sacrifice, and to promise the Tulalips will always respect and honor the salmon they depend on, Gobin explained.
A much sparser crowd helped finish the day, with the most serious moment, feeding the fire. By and large the Tribes welcome visitors to watch and photograph the ceremony, but when a portion of the fish is offered to the long-departed Tulalip ancestors, they ask for the flashbulbs to cease. Gobin explained how sometimes when he cooks a fish on a stick, a piece of flesh will fall into the fire. Thats perfectly OK, because thats how you feed your ancestors, he said.
And so to give thanks to their forebears Kenny Moses, Jr, and Carolyn Moses offered a couple heaping plates of food to the fire. The smoky longhouse was dead quiet as the embers sparked and sizzled as the bread and fish were consumed on the fiery altar. The benches were not filled with as many people as at the beginning, as visitors dropped away through the long afternoon.
Gobin made no apologies, as the ceremony follows the spirit of the time, as elders are prompted to speak and share of themselves.
The words that need to come out, come out, he explained before the blessing of the fisherman. Thats very important, because last year a Tulalip died on the home waters of the bay, he noted.
At last the fish head and bones were carried back to the canoe on the shore, again on the cedar boughs, where the First Salmon was returned to the waters of Tulalip Bay, released pointing west.
We hope he has a good message, Gobin cautioned as the tribal canoe paddled out to sea.
Tribal elder Nia Dan blessed the ceremony, in the longhouse and at the beach. Her relatives Morris and Bertha were honored along with Dover for reviving the ceremony. I really think our traditions give us our strength, she said.
At last the tribal canoe stopped in the middle of the bay and the rowers all raised their paddles in salute as the remains of Haik Caiub Yo Douch were returned to Tulalip Bay.
If you need any salmon, theyll be at the dock next week, Gobin promised.