By Julia Magsombol 

Local Journalism Initiative 

[email protected]

When we release a part of ourselves to someone, we tend to reconcile with our feelings; a piece of ourselves that needs healing. This is similar to the sentiments of Shuswap Band councillor Mark Thomas when he talks about their annual salmon release.

“It’s hard to put words to how I feel because it’s a feeling . . . where it is very profound,” he said. 

The second sockeye salmon release into Dutch Creek on May 26 marked an important Indigenous cornerstone as 1500 fry were introduced into the Columbia River Basin, complete with ceremonial prayer and song. Thomas, the Salmon Chief, led the release with the band’s newly appointed Youth Salmon Chief Devin Capilo.

The Shuswap Band reports this is the second time these waters have seen salmon in more than 83 years, after the Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams blocked the migratory routes that the salmon relied on since time immemorial. This had severe impacts on those who relied upon the resource for their survival, with the loss impacting language, culture, knowledge transfer, health, and the economy.

The release ceremony was intended to “call the salmon home” and allow the community an opportunity to strengthen their connection with salmon after decades of separation. 

“The first year was intended to bring the Elders forward and have their hands on salmon so they have the opportunity. They have missed out the most and suffered the longest with the losses,” Thomas explained. “Our elders are disappearing, unfortunately at a very fast pace. And so the ones that were left were important for us. They need to get in the river and have their hands on salmon for the first time in 83 years.” 

Last month’s release saw participation from Secwepemc, Ktunaxa, and Okanagan Nations in celebrating the reality where future generations can have access to a once plentiful resource. Thomas said it is important for people to hear and understand the significance of returning salmon to the river. 

“It’s the highlight of my career to be part of things like this. I never thought this would happen in my lifetime,” he noted. 

Thomas spoke about forestry practices, the value of water and mining. He also touched on water quality. As for the release, he stated the salmon showed up in good shape. 

“The temperatures were controlled. We tried our best for the temperatures to be close to our river temperatures so that it had the least impact on those fish. We want to ensure as much of their survival as possible.”

Thomas pointed out they are carrying out a responsibility that the Creator bestowed upon them. 

“This is the reconciliation we are working on right now — to bring back our salmon is a huge step towards reconciliation. We’re never going to forget; we will reconcile what happened to us in the past,” the Salmon Chief said. 

Thomas invites people to join the Shuswap Band in Invermere for the annual Salmon Festival on September 9, a day to immerse yourself in Indigenous culture.

For more information on the salmon release visit: