Environmental History 
of the Spokane River


Fishing was a huge component of the Spokane tribes' diet; there was an annual fluctuation around fifty percent of their annual caloric intake that came that from fish. It was estimated that salmon made up 5/8 of the Indian’s total diet. Roughly 300,000 salmon were caught by the Spokane tribe and other tribes, and the Spokane Tribe were notably reliant on this salmon. The expansion and development of fishing technology, as well as the rituals and dietary specifications that people participated in while fishing Salmon shows how reliant the tribe was on this species.

There were four species of salmon--Coho, Chinook, chum or dog, and humpback-- that the tribe was dependent upon. All of these were harvested in the Columbia River and the Spokane River in large numbers. Due to the importance of salmon fishing to the Spokane Tribe, they participated in many traditional events during the time of salmon harvest to ensure a successful season of fishing. A fish shaman was responsible for attracting salmon to the area, and the salmon chief directed Thanksgiving rituals which were meant to promote a successful harvesting as well. The Salmon Chief’s role was said to be extremely integral to enticing salmon into traps by showing “kindness and respect” to the salmon populations through prayer and song with the community. The Salmon Chief would provide a spiritual blessing over the catch, decide when and where to fish, and divide the salmon among tribes to ensure that everyone would have enough for the winter months.


       This is a photograph of a large chinook salmon pulled out of the Spokane River in 1938 by a Spokane Indian tribal member

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