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Tulalip Tribes gather to honor return of salmon
TULALIP "We're praying for the return of the salmon," explained Tulalip Tribes member Stan Jones.
They also were praying for a sizable catch for local fishermen, as well as for a safe fishing season, said several other Tribal members, talking about the annual Salmon Ceremony held June 14 on the Tulalip Reservation.
In 1976, Jones was among the tribal leaders who helped renew the tradition of the salmon ceremony, the origins of which date back at least a couple of hundred years.
"Every year, that first salmon is important," Jones said.
"It helps keep the culture going," said tribal member Delmer Jones of the Salmon Ceremony, for which he was one of the many in the audience. He added the ceremony is not meant as entertainment and never was.
"That's what we have the parade for," Delmer Jones said, referring to the Tulalip Parade which ended just prior to the start of the Salmon Ceremony.
"For me, the Salmon Ceremony is very spiritual," said Andrew Gobin, whose father Glen Gobin led much of the ceremony. "What we're doing is blessing the new fishing season. It's also about remembering the culture."
Taking place in the tribal longhouse near the tribal center, the ceremony lasted several hours and featured plenty of song, drumming and dancing.
Appropriately enough, what was described as a welcome song began the ceremony. One song blessed local fishermen. A Snohomish war song announced, ironically, said Glen Gobin, that the local tribes have no enemies, only friends.
"We already have taken care of our enemies," Gobin added.
As he talked about the history of the Salmon Ceremony, Gobin also talked about the history of the Tulalip Tribes, which are a conglomeration of several individual tribes. Gobin said the lives of those tribes once revolved around the annual return of the salmon. Even moving into more modern times, he noted there used to be some 100 commercial fishing operations in the nearby area. There are today only about 10.
"We're going to bring the salmon back and we'll start with our songs," Gobin said.
As the ceremony continued, a runner eventually entered the longhouse, announcing the arrival of an important visitor, that visitor being the first salmon of the season. Singing and a shawl dance marked the arrival of the visitor.
Following the arrival of the first salmon, tribal members and visitors moved to the nearby tribal center for lunch. They later returned to the longhouse, the remains of the first salmon being carried in and leading the way. Gobin said that is one mistake visitors often make, trying to reenter the longhouse before those carrying the first salmon.
"The salmon has to lead the way," Gobin said.
Once back inside the longhouse, there were more songs and more dancing. Leaders fed the flames of fires burning inside the building, Gobin said to share the first salmon with their ancestors and at the same time to honor those ancestors.
During brief remarks near the start of the ceremony, Tulalip Tribe Chairman Mel Sheldon said he was happy to see a good number of children in the audience and even taking part in the ceremony.
"This is good work that is being done today," he said.