Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pesqelqlelten - Many Salmon Moon - The Spirit of the Shuswap Shines Again

In the Secwepemc (Shuswap) language, the word for "September" (or September/October) is Pesqelqlelten or "Many Salmon Moon".

This year, for the first time in over a decade, the Many Salmon Moon has returned to our land in all its glory.

From Oct. 2 through Oct. 24, as many as half a million visitors to British Columbia's Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park will witness one of the true wonders of the world - the Adam's River sockeye salmon run.

Since before the pyramids were built in Egypt, most likely shortly after the retreat of the last ice age, the Secwepemc people have been intimately and spiritually tied to these breathtaking events that repeat themselves in British Columbia's spectacular rivers every four years. Words and images describing the salmons' conquest of some of the world's mightiest rivers, in order to return to the exact place of their birth to mate, and then die, became well known symbols of fertility and perseverance. 

Then, sometime in the '90s, things in the oceans began to go seriously awry. The Atlantic codfish, staple of Newfoundland and economic engine of the Maritimes, began to dwindle and finally falter to the point where the cod fishery is now almost insignificant. Over these same years, a similar plight was befalling the salmon in the Pacific Ocean. A nightmare scenario for Canada's fisheries. The last big sockeye run, in 2006, was a shadow of its usual self. Not much better was expected for this year. However things have turned around. This year, well over 25 million salmon found their way back to the mouths of the Fraser River and as many as eight million salmon are expected in Adam's River this year.

We have been granted at least one more "Many Salmon Moon".

One could probably never overstate the importance of the salmon in Secwepemc culture. It might best be described by this short piece found in the Aug. 2010 edition of the Secwepemc News:

Submitted by By Hayley Bowe-Dennis

For a brief period every four years on
every major river, the sockeye make their
distribution cycle guided by Creator’s law.
They struggle, fight all the way for life and
love. They don’t just come for us, but for
bears, wolves, every walk of life without
salmon our life would be over.
When our rivers were our highways
trade was unequalled anywhere in the world
than here because of the salmon. People
gathered from everywhere for salmon.
We have survived up to this day because
of the salmon. Creator saw fit to take pity
on the humans and found a way to share
food and wealth amongst everyone equally.
The people gathered to catch, cut, dry, and
smoke salmon, for winter supply, trade,
barter, salmon oil, eggs. Salmon gave our
people health, wealth and happiness.
The Creator saw fit to distribute salmon
equally amongst all people on every major
river every four years, making cause for
travel to the river to trade, barter and/or
meet people. There was more than enough
for everyone so people would not fight, but
talk about the most important things like
love and life.
We can learn from the Creator’s Laws.
They are written on the land and in the water
and all life forms, these are our guides
for living. At this time we thank the Salmon
for sharing their life so we can live. Living
and loving in Secwepmculucw.

As far as knowledge has progressed, there is still much to learn just by observing the world around us. And, if our country has become, in some small way, "a blessing to the world", as (among others) Donald Sutherland has said, I think it can also be said that the "Many Salmon Moon" and the sharing culture that is the "Spirit of the Shuswap" is a blessing for all Canadians.

Adam's River is reached via the Trans Canada Highway. turn off about 40 km west of Salmon Arm or 60 km east of Kamloops.

For more information, please see the Adam's River Salmon Society or Salute the Sockeye.

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