Environmental History 
of the Spokane River

Traditions and Rituals

The Salmon Chief looking out at the Spokane River. The Monroe Street Bridge in the background. Image courtesy of Avista Corp.

The Spokane people hold a close relationship with the Spokane River which is reflected in their cultural practices and ceremonies. As seen on the home page, legends surround the creation of the Spokane River and the Native people’s relationship with it. One of their most important rituals was the first salmon ceremony celebrated with the arrival of the salmon run. The first fish caught was ritually sliced, and small pieces of it were distributed among the people and eaten. Afterwards, the carcass was returned to the water accompanied by prayers and thanks. This ritual ensured that the salmon would return and have a plentiful run the next year. Some Salish had a “salmon chief” who organized the ritual. A sculpture of the salmon chief resides today at the bottom of Spokane Falls. Made by Colville native Virgil Marchand, the statue was installed in 2014 during the Huntington Park renovation. Commenting on his art, Marchand explained that, “It is our aspiration that the sculpture brings back the legends and experiences of our history and culture as it was once shared with us by elders and families.”

Below is a video produced by the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission of a contemporary first salmon ceremony performed by members of the Lummi Nation. This nation resides on the Northwest coast of Washington State and their ceremony differs from the Spokane people, however it indicates the importance of a community event for the people and how everybody takes part in this special time of year.

Food - Lummi Nation First Salmon Ceremony

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