First Time Sockeye Salmon in the Columbia River in Over 82 Years; Councillor Mark Thomas Named Salmon Chief

Photo by Jeremy Williams, River Voices Productions

INVERMERE, BC – On May 19th, 2022, Shuswap Band successfully organized and completed their first ceremonial salmon release as a continuation of on-going Columbia River salmon reintroduction efforts. The release was attended by Shuswap Band Kukpi7 Barbara Cote, Tkwenem7iple7s Mark Thomas and Tim Eugene, representatives from Secwepemc Bands and the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council (including Shuswap Nation Tribal Council Chief Rosanne Casimir), the Okanagan Nation Alliance, and the Ktunaxa Nation. Several Elders, Youth, Cultural Advisors, and Knowledge Keepers were also in attendance. This release marks the first time the Columbia River waters have seen sockeye salmon in over 82 years, after the Grand Coulee and the Chief Joseph dams blocked the migratory routes that salmon had relied on since time immemorial.

This event marks the first-time indigenous peoples have had physical contact with salmon in over 82 years. These decades without salmon have had severe impacts to all people that relied upon this vital resource for survival. The loss of language, ceremony, culture, knowledge transfer, health, and economy are a few examples of that loss. This ceremony was intended to “Call the Salmon Home” and to allow the Elders an opportunity to reunite with salmon after decades of separation.

Shuswap Councillor Mark Thomas at Salmon Chief Ceremony

The Salmon Release was followed by a ceremony appointing Shuswap Band Councillor Mark Thomas as Salmon Chief for the Band. In this role, Mark will oversee all cultural, spiritual, ecological, and diplomatic stewardship initiatives, and lead the path to ensure that salmon are returned to the Columbia River. Mark will also advocate for sustainable and respectful use of all water-related resources in the Shuswap Caretaker Area. This role symbolizes a life-long commitment made by Mark to dedicate his years to the salmon and its habitats. Mark will mentor the next Salmon Chief as part of his duties.

This inaugural event was kept private out of respect for the area the release was held in, the desire for ceremonial privacy, and due to tight permit approval timelines. This is the first of many anticipated salmon releases in the Columbia River basin as we work tirelessly to create the reality where our future generations have access to a fundamental resource that used to be so plentiful in our waters.

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, and Louis Thomas, and others); the technical support provided by Jon Bisset, Adam Neil, Rhiannon Kirton, Camille Des Rosiers-Ste.Marie, Mindi Sheer, and others; the attendance of Secwepemc, Okanagan, and Ktunaxa Elders, Youth, and Knowledge Keepers; the ONA Hatchery and Herb Alex for providing the 1500 salmon fry that were released; all Shuswap Band staff involved in coordination; and all else who were present to see this historic event unfold.

Please join the Shuswap Band in Invermere on September 10th for the annual Salmon Festival. There will be opportunity to learn about salmon, enjoy some of the local artistry, and immerse yourself in some indigenous culture. We will also be signing the newly created Salmon Treaty, which will promote salmon reintroduction and look to protect vital salmon habitats for years to come.