Last fall I had an experience, which will be remembered as one of the most impactful weeks of my life. I have struggled up to this point to find a satisfactory summery of the Wild Salmon Caravan (WSC) 2017, because it is an event that is a week long and vibrantly full of diverse experiences. A group of people setting out on an annual journey that does so much.
Our purpose is to raise awareness around the importance of Wild Salmon, but the means are beautifully vast. Cars were filled with freshly made friends and many a sign or costume. Parades through many a downtown spread music, art and calls to action. Speeches were given with emotion and intention. Feasts were served where all were welcomed to the table regardless of monetary or social standing, nourishing our bodies with Wild Salmon provided by the community. Tents were pitched side-by-side through the grace of welcoming hosts. And everything was interwoven with the strength and beauty of ceremony and song. The sense of oneness, unity between peoples, was palpable, despite the diversity of background and national origin. We were there to support the Salmon on their voyage, and to let them know that there are many of us still with them. Many of us who see their struggle and are uniting to defend them in a society where they are under attack.
While the political struggle (fighting against policies such as fish farming and anti-spawning nets in the political arena) is important, I have chosen the interpersonal and spiritual planes as my battlefield, which is why I was so drawn to the WSC. Changing policy may help, but the damage done to the environment and culture of so-called BC cannot be healed without opening hearts and minds, without true dialogue between nations. This is why the WSC is so powerful. We are not simply marching and speaking out, we are forming a community of our own and carrying a message with us across the land. Each night, we stayed in a different host community, learning their practices and protocols, their traditional relationship to Salmon, practicing their language and songs. Such a cultural exchange and unification under cause may even be unique to the WSC.
When recollecting my experience on the caravan, I am almost overwhelmed with the amount of stories I collected and friends I made. For each of the seven days, I can pull out numerous meaningful lessons, great laughs and memorable events. Each of the moments becomes a story and each of those stories carries the spirit of the Salmon and each time they’re shared, so is the goal of the WSC. So, in honor of the Salmon, I would like to share some of those stories here.
The opening day in Musqueam, Tsleil Waututh, Skwxwừ7mesh Ủxwumixw – Squamish (Vancouver) was full of energy and excitement for the journey we were about to embark on with the Salmon. Seeing the Matriarchs from many different First Nations coming together and being honored by the community as they honored the Salmon was an inspiration. It represented a sign of unity between peoples and a commitment to healing wounds of colonialism and capitalism together. When the parade reached the banks of Trout Lake, led by the Matriarch’s, the group fell into the silence of ceremony, making offerings to our Mother, you could feel that the Salmon were with us. That evening, as my friend and I were walking home from the forest, we saw a Sockeye salmon in the pink clouds of the sunset, precise and vivid down to the striations of the fins and pupil in the eye. It was a truly mystical message to be carried with us as we began our own journey up river.
When we arrived in Stờ:lõ -Skwah (Chilliwack), I immediately noticed the freshness of air and the beauty of the mountains. After being welcomed by the Stờ:lõ, we walked to Skwah, where those of us who would be traveling the whole length of the caravan were invited to ride in their sacred canoe, along with the Matriarchs, down the river, listening to the sacred songs and beat of the heartbeat on the drums coming from the banks, we were welcomed at the shore by Chief Robert Gladstone of the Skwah. There he sang a song that went deep into my soul. When we arrived back at Stờ:lõ, I was in a state of spiritual bliss, and as I listened to speeches from elders, one phrase stuck with me above the others: “The Salmon will hear our songs.” Then, as the Salish anthem was ringing through the hall, I had a vision of being in the river with Salmon swimming beside me, and I felt them say, “We hear you. We are with you.”
Nlaka’pamux (Coquihalla Mountains, Merritt) is the community we travelled to during WSC that stays closest to my heart. We were welcomed with such great respect, and intent on building goodwill and friendship. The ceremonies were shared amongst all, followed by feasting and a bonfire that we sat beside; sharing songs from across the world late into the night. My favorite moments from that night were sitting with Jack, a member of the Nlaka’pamux Lower Nicola Indian Band (LNIB), as he told me about his day in the mountains herding cattle to be brought in for winter, along with stories about his youth, kids and pets. Having a chance to spend hours with members of the Nlaka’pamux community by the fire was a chance to learn about how they live their lives and not just hear but feel the importance of the Salmon to their culture and the ecosystem (two concepts that are inseparable in the First Nations context).
When the caravan set off the next day, we were happy to find that members of the Nlaka’pamux Lower Nicola Band were joining us and ended up staying with us through to the end in Chase. I spent much time with one of the members, Robert Lafferty in the coming days. He told me many stories from his well-traveled life. He shared with me how he harvests traditional foods, how he traveled in a Unity Ride through the mountains on horseback and how he came to know the story of the Sasquatch from Bella Coola, to name a few. We have been able to maintain this friendship, and I’m now lucky enough to spend time with him and his stories whenever he visits Vancouver.
In Secwepemc te Adams Lake, the media team was blessed to be hosted by Elder Jennifer Dick and her sons Stuart and Corey in their home for two nights. In that time, I bonded with Stuart and his dogs, Snoopy and BB King. In the evening, we stood at the back of the house and he taught me about the local “four-leggeds” like Moose and Cougars, as well as the geography, and weather in the area.
Over the next two mornings sunrise ceremonies were held in honor of the Salmon, and members of the caravan were spiritually, emotionally and physically invigorated by meditation and prayer. At the site of the last ceremony in Secwepemc te Adams Lake, there were dead salmon floating at the banks of the river. It seemed to be a disheartening image, but as the ceremony progressed, live salmon began swimming by; A message from them that, “We hear you. We are with you.”
When we began to prepare for the last parade through Chase on the final day, the energy was high, despite the long journey we already had behind us. The energy was made especially strong by the amount of locals joining in with floats and flags, including many local school classes, and Stuart and Snoopy taking up the rear on their bicycle. Like many others, the Secwepemc te Adams Lake, Neskonlith, Little Shuswap is a community deeply split by politics of ongoing legacy of colonialism and the effects that legacy has on Salmon, so seeing the amount of support during the parade was truly special, and a fitting end to the caravan.
The stories I told above are a few pieces of countless memories from the journey. Other smaller moments include: holding a wild salmon for the first time and learning that they’re a lot bigger than I thought, sharing smiles and warm words with Elaine, chatting about life with Mike, receiving guidance and reassurance from Christine on my spiritual path, watching the totally fierce and hilarious salmon catwalk/fashion show in Kamloops, driving with Brian while he tried to teach me how to navigate without GPS, running up and down the parade lines with the media team (always on the hunt for another shot of the wondrous festivities)… When I think back, the memories simply flow, one after the other without end, so bountiful was the experience. I am proud and honored to carry the stories with me and share them for the rest of my life.
Before I end, I wanted to take a little space to officially thank all of our hosts. Your willingness to take us in, and not only give us ground to sleep on and foot to eat, but to also share your culture and ceremony is something I will always remember and strive to mirror. And to my new friends, thank you for being a part of the WSC and my life.