The traditional First Salmon ceremony held by Kwantlen First Nation took place on Friday. It was a very meaningful and moving event, and there were many guests present.
It is a far cry from the small ceremony which was reinstated some years ago by a number of members of the First Nation. That event brought back an ancient Kwantlen tradition, as the salmon are integral to their way of life, and have been for thousands of years.
However, for many years, such ceremonies were banned by the federal government, as part of a broader effort to assimilate First Nations residents into Canadian society. Many other such attempts came through the residential school system, set up by Ottawa in conjunction with a number of churches.
Some of these included banning children attending residential schools from speaking their tribal language and minimizing the ability of parents and children to spend time together.
Thankfully, the federal and provincial governments, prodded mightily by the courts and by a significant change in public opinion, now realize that Canada’s large number of First Nations add something unique and very special to the fabric of our country. And First Nations people themselves are taking increasing ownership of their lives, and sharing their culture with a much wider cross-section of Canadians.
Friday’s ceremony was a great example of that.
Visitors were welcomed with traditional drumming, and were then fed a true feast — including salmon, bannock, salads and dessert.
This was followed by three formal ceremonies, all of which are hugely important to the Kwantlen people. The first involved naming witnesses to the formal ceremony. Oral tradition is important to First Nations people, and witnesses are a key part of that.
The second portion involved honouring two individuals who rescued an ancient artifact from an auction and returned it to the Kwantlen. This artifact, a ceremonial wooden bowl, is likely hundreds of years old and played a big part in first salmon ceremonies in the distant past.
The third portion involved the salmon itself. Salmon were barbecued and placed on a ceremonial table, next to the bowl. They were then carried all around the field on McMillan Island, where the ceremony took place, and everyone present had a piece to eat.
The bones and other remnants were then put into the bowl.
After that, a ceremonial procession took place, and the remnants of the salmon that had fed and nourished everyone present were, in a very reverential way, returned to the Fraser River. This is meant to honour the salmon and also to replenish the river with material which will nourish new life, and keep the cycle going.
It was a great privilege to see this ceremony firsthand, and many thanks to the Kwantlen people.
Kwantlen First Nation hosted its annual “First Salmon” ceremony on Friday, May 2 with drumming, blanket presentations and a salmon feast to mark the return of spawning salmon to the Fraser River. (Harry Hunt photo)