SOMETHING FISHY Lillian Rose, who will lead field trips during the Columbia Salmon Festival, with a model of a Chinook salmon, which used to fill the Columbia River. Photo by Kate Irwin

By Kate Irwin

Pioneer Staff

The first ever Columbia Salmon Festival will soon be underway, from September 28th to October 1st, with four packed days dedicated to learning about and celebrating the history of salmon in the area.

The brainchild of Fairmont naturalist Andi Dzilums, the festival began with the idea of holding a few educational programs about the Kokanee salmon spawning run, which is currently at its height.

But as more organizations and individuals came forward, the scope of the festival began to change and grow, encompassing the traditional Chinook salmon and their historical role for First Nations bands and Native American tribes, the unveiling of a salmon monument, Columbia River Treaty discussions, and more.

We were going to start small this year with a few fun trips and a small dinner, explained Andi. However, once we started, so many people were so excited about it that things have just grown and grown.

Now we have First Nations involvement, treaty talks going on at the same time, a golf tournament, the gala dinner, the monument unveiling, arts and cultural elements, etc. Everyone has put in a lot of work.

The event kicks off on September 28th with youth trips down the Columbia River in Fairmont to view the spawning salmon, a field trip organized by the Akisqnuk First Nation and a guest speaker presentation at Fairmont Resort by Bill Green and Mark Thomas of the Canadian Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fishery Commission.

The two men will discuss the historic role of salmon in the Columbia River, the decline of the Chinook salmon and the prospects for, and challenges of, restoration.

Were very excited about the salmon festival, Mr. Green said. It will be good to build the public understanding of the fish resource as well as the way salmon used to be in the river and what weve lost and what contributed to their demise. Building public awareness is a key part of the event.

None have felt the loss of the Chinook salmon more than the Native American and Canadian First Nations bands and tribes whose traditional territories have long included sections of the Columbia River. Since the river was dammed in the early 1940s an entire culture based around the Chinook salmon has been lost.

The dams basically ended the way of life for people in the Upper Columbia, said Lillian Rose, of the Akisqnuk First Nation, who will lead two field trips during the festival. Up until the Grand Coulee dam in the 1940s, Chinook salmon made their way to the Upper Columbia. There was no consultation, discussion or accommodation of the salmon and not a lot of thought given to the impact of damming on traditional lifestyles and cultures.

First Nations elements are woven throughout the four-day festival, starting with field trips lead by Ms. Rose and culminating in a full-day celebration of the salmon on Saturday, October 1st at Chabot Beach.

The final day of the festival will begin with a spiritual salmon ceremony at Lakeshore Campground for all U.S. Tribes and First Nations dignitaries involved in Columbia River Treaty discussions on September 29th and 30th.

They will then set off in a fleet of warrior canoes to land at Chabot Beach around 11:30 a.m. where there will be a public celebration including the unveiling of a specially created monument to Chinook salmon, followed by a free salmon barbecue, speeches, dancing, games and hand drumming.

We went net fishing on the Fraser River and caught 80 salmon for the ceremony, Andi said. It is an important cultural component for First Nations groups to extend hospitality to their guests, so everyone is welcome to come and eat for no charge.

Later that evening there will be a gala dinner with David Wolfman, a chef from the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network at Fairmont Resort.

Also on offer at the festival is a charity golf tournament, on Friday, September 30th at Riverside Golf Course in Fairmont. The $100 fee includes a round of golf, cart and buffet dinner.

Youth and children are well served with field trips on the 28th and 29th and by a fun-filled day program at the Little Badger Early Learning Centre on Friday.

For more details on all of the events at the Columbia Salmon Festival and to buy tickets contact Andi Dzilums at 250-345-6049 or adzliums@fhsr.com, or Sunny LeBourdais at columbiasalmonfestival@gmail.com.

All proceeds from the event will be put towards ecological and restoration projects along the Columbia River and in the surrounding area.