All-in-all, I’d call the day “exemplary!”

Jun 17, 2023 | 5 comments

At The “First Salmon Ceremony 2023”

Yesterday I attended the Chinook Nation’s First Salmon Ceremony at Chinook Point, the annual event in which the first salmon to enter the river is greeted with time-honored rituals to ensure its continued return.  Several hundred people, including visitors from tribes all over the United States, participated in what some described as “the largest gathering in years.”

Cate Gable (left) and Judy Little (right)

I was honored to be invited by my friend Judy Little, whose forebears go directly back to Myrtle Jane Johnson Woodcock — the eighth child of Jane and Jimmy Johnson whose family lived just across the road from this house in the late 1800s.

Tony Johnson (left) talks about the First Salmon rituals

People began arriving at Chinook Point around ten o’clock and, as the morning progressed, Tony Johnson, Chairman of the Chinook Nation’s Tribal Council, welcomed us all, spoke about the origins of the Chinook People and kept us informed and entertained with traditional legends and stories about the First People. He pointed out, too, that although the salmon begin their upriver journey somewhat earlier in the Spring, nowadays the ceremony is timed to coordinate with the Tribe’s annual council meeting on the third Saturday of June.

Cooking Salmon at the Alder Fire

Meanwhile, we watched as great salmon were filleted and roasted near the alder fire nearby — the salmon that would be tasted by each of us with a cup of pure water after the First Salmon was greeted and, in a time-honored ceremony, “fed” salmon berries by all the young people at the gathering.

It must have been well past mid-day that we were alerted to start down the hill to the river to watch as the canoe bearing the first salmon arrived.  Each of us elders was offered a helping hand — I actually had a young man and a young woman, one on either side — as we walked down the well-worn path to the beach.  (Even so, I stumbled and went down on one knee, much to my embarrassment and the chagrin of my attentive helpers.  I could just hear my mother say, “No use being awkward if you can’t show it!”)

All Ages Participated in the Drumming and Singing

The salmon, wrapped in greenery that looked from where I stood like freshly picked ferns, was carried back up the hill, the ceremonies were completed, and then the drumming and singing began!  Tony announced that there would be no dancing this year — I wasn’t sure why.  Those around me expressed the same regret that I felt but didn’t feel it was my place to say so.

Charles and Mary Funk

All-in-all, I guess I was just plain overwhelmed.  I couldn’t believe how many people came up and greeted me — folks I know like Charles and Mary Funk and people I’ve never before met like Gary Johnson (Tony’s father and former Tribal Chairman) who said he enjoys reading my stories in the Observer each week.  OMG!

Bright Blankets Warmed The Chilly Day

It was a fabulous day — mostly because of the friendliness and warmth of the crowd.  So many people introducing each other, welcoming one another, renewing old friendships, catching up on family news.  But, I have to confess that I came away, also, with a dull burning in my core and an anger that cannot ever be successfully explained away.  Why is it that our nation has not “recognized” this Chinook Nation?  I’ve yet to hear a reasonable response to that question.




  1. Cate Gable

    It was a truly grand day of greetings and welcoming. I was honored to celebrate with Tony and all the Chinookan tribe members.

    • sydney

      It’s not often that I’ve been in such a great crowd of people and felt so welcomed and so “secure” — probably not just thr]e right word, but I know you must have felt that way, too. And how many times have you been in a big group lately where even the teenagers greeted you with smiles and introduced themselves and were really interested in what you had to say. WOW! What a great experience. Besides which, the salmon was great!

  2. Cate Gable

    Sydney: your comment about the teenagers is really true. They were kind, attentive, respectful and interested in us « elders. » I still squirm when I find myself included in that group.

  3. Carol

    Would be interesting to reflect on the connections or dichotomy of your pride in your ancestors and their role as original settlers to the area, and how settler families are to connected past colonialism and the oppression of Indigenous people and the theft of their lands.

    • sydney

      Always an interesting topic — one I’m sure will come up in our History Forum meetings which begin in September and will be open to the public. Perhaps you can join us and give your perspective? Watch the paper and my blog for information regarding the History Forum. Plans are being “fine-tuned” as we speak…


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