A cold fog fell over Oxbow Regional Park along the Sandy River on Saturday morning, and a small stream of smoke wafted in the distance.
Devin Bruno, 32, crouched at the end of a small dirt path skewering a salmon filet with a burned Douglas fir tree branch, preparing to bake it over the fire like his father taught him.
“My dad learned from their elders, and I learned from my dad,” said Bruno, a member of the Wasco band of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. “And now I’m sharing it with my kids.”
Bruno was at the park with dozens from the Pacific Northwest Indigenous community and Oregon Metro to celebrate the return of the salmon to the Sandy River and wider Pacific Northwest. Chinook salmon hatched in the Sandy travel out to the Pacific Ocean, swimming thousands of miles before eventually returning to the river in October to lay eggs.
The salmon “homecoming,” which started Saturday and runs until 3:30 p.m. Sunday, has been a Metro event for decades, said spokesperson Cory Eldridge. But it’s the first time the organization has been able to host it since the start of the pandemic. The event was created to give Indigenous community members a space to celebrate their connection to salmon.
“It really focuses on centering their stories and their traditional role in having these celebrations,” Eldridge said.
The event features foods like fry bread, a salmon bake and information booths about the salmon runs. It also includes Native American vendors selling jewelry, art and clothing.
The salmon runs are a celebration of renewal and continuation of life. Salmon is considered a First Food, and in traditional stories the fish was the first animal to promise to feed tribes, said Isabel LaCourse, the Indigenous community liaison for Metro’s park and recreation department.
“Every tribe is different,” LaCourse said. “But in the Pacific Northwest in general, salmon is life.”
LaCourse, a member of the Colville Tribes based in Washington, helped organize the event and said she wanted it to serve as a place for Native American communities to share the experience and importance of the salmon runs.
“It’s a place for us to come together to celebrate salmon, the return of the salmon, as well as just gathering in a place and connecting with each other,” LaCourse said.
– Austin De Dios; email@example.com; @austindedios; (503) 319-9744