Photos by Greg Laychak
The super sockeye run was celebrated at Saturday’s Spuzzum First Fish Ceremony, and visitors also came away with a taste of the history of the Fraser Canyon and the importance of the threatened salmon to the lives of those along the banks of the Fraser River.
James Hobart, chief of Spuzzum First Nation, said the age-old ceremony, a collaboration between First Nations all the way up the Canyon to Lilloett, is their way of honouring the salmon which feed the living creatures and nature of the area. It is also a crucial learning tool for local Indigenous youth.
“It also helps with us rekindling our roots and reintroducing our youth back into the way traditions used to be. So now when they come here and they see this, they see this honouring and respect. We all of a sudden see them showing the salmon a different respect on the river, helping with the fishing. They do a little bit more each year to be part of it,” he said.
“So that’s a really good thing that the families and the children, the next generations are learning about our salmon.”
Community members and guests ate freshly caught salmon and learned about local Indigenous customs at the ceremony at the Alexandra Bridge rest stop on Highway 1. The event has fed up to 350 guests in the past and aims to educate visitors about local traditions while also offering an interpretive tour of the Old Alexandra Bridge.
The fluctuations of salmon supply from year to year is a major fear for the nation, said Hobart, who are threatened by overfishing, the salmon farming industry and logging. The latter speeds up ice melt, which in turn increases the water and water temperature flowing through the river and makes it difficult for the fish to create oxygen in the river.
“We’ve got a really hard balance to please everybody, but at the end of the day our resource is very important,” said Hobart, who added the balance between industrial and community needs is a delicate one.
Supplies have been very limited, last year Hobart said he didn’t fish as there were so few coming through.
Hobart stressed the importance of awareness: most pressing is the destructive effect of the Atlantic farmed salmon in pens in the spawning channels where smolts and salmon move through to the ocean. The fish which pass through can pick up lice and viruses.
“No other country wants them in their land and yet we have them in ours, so we’re pushing the federal government to help us remove them. And the provincial government are beside us now and backing us, as partners, to do the same because they’ve witnessed the same devastation all across our coasts,” he said.
Guests were treated to an interpretive tour of the Alexandra Bridge, which the New Pathways to Gold Society together with Spuzzum, is working on restoring.
“We’re working closely with the provincial government to keep the bridge there and restore it. We were going well with the previous government, but we had to reintroduce it to the new government and they seem to be coming onboard with it,” said Terry Raymond, electoral area director for the Fraser Valley Regional District.
“The connection between (today’s ceremony) and the bridge is that a lot of the First Nations here in Spuzzum, we’ve been talking to some of the elders, can remember walking across the original bridge with their grandmother. Or their grandmother tells them about the very first bridge, and that they were a little leary about crossing it, but would walk across to get to family on the other side of the river.”
Participants were also treated to crafts, entertainment and drumming throughout the day.
-With files from Greg Laychak