Icons serve to focus our attention. In religious traditions they focus our attention on that which is lasting and true.
Here in the Pacific Northwest a unifying icon is our sister/brother the Salmon. The Salmon though diminished by developement and pollution remains, reminding us of our connection to the amazing ecological diversity of this place we call home.
Eighteen miles from where I live, the Grand Ronde Tribe http://www.grandronde.org/a confederation of several Native American communities of the western Willamette Valley in Oregon, have focused on welcoming the Salmon by restoring their watershed and river banks.
Over the years the watersheds for many of Oregon’s rivers and streams have been logged, taking away the natural shade that cools the water and prevents soil erosion. As a result the water temperature has risen and the river bottom sand which serves as spawning ground for native fish, have been silted over. The warmer temperatures and lack of spawning ground has resulted in a decrease of insects and fish, particularly the Coho salmon, considered sacred to the native people.
The Grand Ronde who were restored to their ancestral lands in 1988 by congressional act, have worked to restore their home as a place of hospitality for the Salmon. In recent years they’ve put in 13 new culverts and re-opened 20 miles of streams. They’ve welcomed the fish by placing hundreds of logs, where migrating fish can rest and where gravel beds are restored for spawning.
The result is that the Coho native to the streams of the Grand Ronde have begun to come home. Their return is the realization of a sacred trust for this tribal community. The Grand Ronde understand that they are one with the Salmon and to diminish the Salmon is to diminish themselves.
This winter I was invited by the tribe to participate in a Blessing of the Salmon. We gathered as neighbors of this watershed, to be reminded of who we are in relationship to all that lives.
As tribal elders danced, sang and prayed, they baked a Salmon on green Alder sticks. We were invited to eat the sweet flesh of the Salmon and ingest its wisdom and nutrients. In blessing the Salmon and asking the Salmon to bless us, a tribal elder said:
“As people of the Salmon there is no them and us, there is only us, and we are stewards for the well-being of one another. If we were to lose our brother the Salmon, we would lose ourselves. As we welcome home the Salmon, we ask the Salmon to bless us, so that we may each be restored to health, to balance, restored to our place in this circle of life.”
Amen. May it be so.