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CYFN holds gathering to “call the salmon back”

The salmon population in the Yukon has been tapering off for the past few years.

Sean Smith makes an offering of tobacco during a fire ceremony at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse (photo by Peter Mather, provided to CHONfm by Council of Yukon First Nations).

 

Earlier this week the Council of Yukon First Nations held a ceremony to revitalize the territory’s declining salmon population.

 

Dubbed the “Yukon Salmon Ceremony and Gathering – Calling the Salmon Back,” the two-day event kicked off on Monday and featured a sharing ceremony, songs, stories, language and wisdom.

 

The gathering was co-hosted by the Yukon First Nation Salmon Stewardship Alliance and was a part of the Yukon Salmon Knowledge Hub – an initiative made up of Yukon First Nations with the goal of connecting salmon and people through culture, ceremony, language and story.

 

Diminishing salmon stock impacting traditional way of life

Chinook salmon swimming (photo from Yukon.ca).

 

Salmon numbers in the Yukon have been dwindling for years. In 2016 the Vuntut Gwitchin Government counted just over five thousand chinook salmon. Their files show numbers dropping by about a thousand each year, and last summer they said the season’s count was the “worst on record.” At the end of July, they had counted under 350.

 

That prompted a voluntary closure of the fishery – with Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation fishers being asked not to take chinook and to release any that they accidentally caught.

 

In a conversation with CHONfm last fishing season, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm said that not everyone was in favour of the fishing stoppage.

 

“I have certainly heard from some of our citizens that they are not happy that we do have a voluntary ban. They are speaking about their rights to be harvesting fish. Although, the majority of our community does support a voluntary ban specifically for, not just our rights today, but future generations rights to harvest salmon,” said Chief Tizya-Tramm.

 

He also stressed the importance of salmon when it comes to the traditional way of life in Old Crow.

 

“This is a huge fulcrum for our culture and the passing on of more than just fishing for those future generations, this is a lynchpin in our way of knowing and being. But also, you can bring it to the technical side, ‘what is the economic value of one pound of salmon?’ If we don’t have access to our traditional nutrients, we have to rely heavier on expensive foods that are flown to our community,” Chief Tizya-Tramm continued.

 

Last summer also saw Kwanlin Dün First Nation asking beneficiaries and citizens not to harvest salmon. They say low spawning numbers and seasonally high waters are endangering the fish population.

 

Honouring salmon through culture

Jocelyn Joe-Strack and Sean Smith attending a fire ceremony at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse (photo by Peter Mather, provided to CHONfm by Council of Yukon First Nations).

 

Council of Yukon First Nations Grand Chief Peter Johnston says this week’s gathering was a way of using tradition to help the salmon.

 

“For so long we have watched the salmon decline. They have been counted and measured and in large part they have been ‘managed’ using western science alone. It is time for salmon people to honour the salmon and lift each other up in ceremony, song, story, language, traditions and culture. This is a time to celebrate, support, or ‘call the salmon back’ in a way that is special to people, families, citizens and communities,” says Grand Chief Johnston in a statement.

 

The event was mostly virtual but there was a fire ceremony held in person at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse.

 

This year’s gathering was the inaugural one. Now there are plans to make it an annual occasion.

 

Published February 23, 2022. 

Written by: Dylan MacNeil

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