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Thousands of people, few salmon, arrive for start of Sepwépemc celebration at Tsústwecw Provincial Park

High daytime temperatures, low water levels may be delaying return of salmon
Neskonlith Knowledge Keeper Gerry Thomas explains the many uses for the birchbark baskets that he makes. The smallest ones are used by little children as they are expected to share in the workload from a very early age. Thomas will be in the Cultural Tent throughout the three week Salute to the Sockeye Festival, with his baskets and a display of heritage items from his late mother’s collection. (Barb Brouwer photo)

By Barb Brouwer

Special to the Observer

The sockeye were not in attendance but that didn’t stop some 5,000 people from celebrating the salmon and their importance to Secwépemc people at Tsústwecw Provincial Park.

A 5-Band Salute initiative in conjunction with the Salute to the Sockeye Festival took place at the site formerly known as Roderick Haig Brown Park on Sept. 30.

Elder Ethel Billy opened the Reclamation Day with a prayer in Secwepemctsin (Shuswap language), thanking the Creator for a beautiful day and everything we are given in life.

Billy, an elder with the Adams Lake Band, also reminded people to live one day at a time.

A large number of people then took part in the Grand Entrance to the Adams River, winding along a forest trail, many wearing orange shirts to recognize the legacy of the Canadian Indian residential school system.

A sacred salmon ceremony took place at water’s edge, led by Ron and Rocky Tomma and supported by Terry Denault of the Skeetchestn Band.

Little Shuswap Lake Kukpi7 (Chief) James Tomma, Federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray and Village of Chase Coun. Steve Scott addressed the crowd and each were given a new version of the iconic Hudson’s Bay Blanket.

In recognition of the blanket’s controversial role in colonialism in Canada, the company has promised it will never again profit from sales of the blanket. Instead,100 per cent of the net proceeds from the sale will go to support Indigenous cultural, artistic and educational activities.

With storyteller and educator Kenthen Thomas as MC, the stage became the scene for an afternoon of Indigenous singing, dancing and storytelling, accompanied often by Ron Tomma’s Thunder Bear Drumming Circle.

The Day of Reclamation was billed as day of reclaiming the ceremonies and songs that celebrate the return of the salmon to their spawning grounds.

It was also a day to reclaim ties within the five participating bands – Skwlåx, Adams Lake, Neskonlith, Shuswap and Splatsin – with the land and animals that have supported the Secwépemc of the area for millennia.

The Salute to the Sockeye Festival that is held every four years during a dominant run, is a collaboration between Little Shuswap Lake, the Adams River Salmon Society, the federal Department of Fisheries, BC Parks and the Pacific Salmon Foundation.

As well as displays and instruction from all the groups, there will continue to be a strong Indigenous presence as the three-week festival continues to Oct. 23.

Singing, dancing, drumming and storytelling will continue on the Secwépemc Story Stage, with two stage programs developed and overseen by Kenthen Thomas.

Read more: Three week celebration planned for dominant salmon run in Shuswap

Read more: Salute the sockeye’s journey to and from the Shuswap by volunteering for festival

A Youth Story Stage will help youngsters understand the cultural significance of the salmon to the Secwépemc from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

Local and non-local Indigenous musicians and performers will be on stage from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays through Sundays.

The large Cultural Tent is a dynamic area where visitors can connect with Secwépemc culture through a variety of displays and activities.

Artisan wares and souvenir merchandise is available as are on-site food vendors.

There are four species of salmon that spawn in the Adams River and while timing is not set in stone, chinook usually arrive yearly from September through mid-October.

Late sockeye are the second largest salmon to spawn in the river every year, with a dominant run every four years. They normally arrive from late September through early November, with their peak often in mid to later October.

This is very early in their run and high daytime temperatures and low water levels may be delaying their arrival this year.

The other two species include pink salmon, which arrive late September through late October, and coho, who make an annual appearance every year between late October through December.

The Salute to the Sockeye is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Proceeds of an entry fee cover the costs of hosting the event as well as providing funding to Shuswap community groups for stewardship activities. Admission is $10 per vehicle. Fees for commercial vehicles are available at salmon
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Bernice Jensen and her All My Relations Dance Group include, Junior Jensen, who was given a drum when he was a toddler and, at 16, sings his own songs, including the Salmon Journey Song. To the right of Junior are Sue Oliverius, Jewel Jensen, Lakeesha and Stephane Richard. The group performed on the Storyteller Stage at the Reclamation Day at Tsútswecw Provincial Park on Sept. 30. (Barb Brouwer photo)