Importance of salmon to Stellat’en revealed through tradition

Language and fishing methods may reflect the salmon’s age-old role to the Stellat’en.

On Aug. 31

On Aug. 31

Language and fishing methods may reflect the salmon’s age-old role to the Stellat’en.

On Aug. 31, band councillor Tannis Reynolds presented to Salmon Fest attendees a snapshot of her recently-finished master’s degree thesis on the importance of talook — the word for salmon in the Carrier language — to the Stellat’en First Nation.

While interviewing 13 of the community’s members, she learned that “I have no eggs left in me” in the Stellat’en dialect is an expression for having no more energy — a reference to the salmon’s energy-draining journey home to original spawning beds to give birth.

She also learned that fishing with nets, now second-nature for some Stellat’en First Nation members, was a foreign practice to the community just a century ago.

“The most surprising thing I learned was how difficult it was for our people to make nets [to fish], as we were not allowed to use traditional weirs and traps to fish anymore,” Reynolds said. “So they had to learn how to make nets with twine; sometimes it didn’t work and some almost starve in those times.

“My grandmother was so good at it, but they had to learn over the recent years, not naturally and not by choice.”

Earning her Master’s of Arts degree in First Nations studies at the University of Northern British Columbia this year, Reynolds took the opportunity to study what she thinks is most important to her people, working closely with the community and recording oral history.

“It’s been important to me for a long time to ensure that the salmon return,” she said. “It’s a part of my culture that I don’t want to lose.

“I want people to know why salmon is important to us and understand why people want to protect the environment and the salmon.”

A one-hundred-page answer to people’s question in why salmon is important to the Stellat’en, the study started six years ago when in discussion with Sharolise Baker and Roselita Louis, who also organized the Salmon Fest that year.

“We were talking about how important it is as a celebration when the salmon return,” Reynolds said. “It brings family and people together.”

She feels that the community is becoming stronger with the annual festival, which is supported by the community smokehouse and community garden.

“Through this we’ve been teaching our youth how to fish and prepare traditionally,” she said.

I just hope that we’ll be regulating our own salmon resources.

“We’ll be able to ensure the return of salmon every year where they spawn in the Stellako River.”