Meet a Local Legend: The Salmon

Posted on November 3, 2015


It’s hard to quantify the enormous impact a simple fish has had on the Aboriginal people of British Columbia. But the salmon has been a vital part of First Nations diet, economy and mythology for centuries.

Before European contact, salmon was an important trade item, and featured prominently in a wide variety of legends, art and spiritual ceremonies. So, it is fitting that Florence Jack from Xwisten Experience Tours nominated the salmon for the Meet a Local Legend series.

Elder Ralph Phillips of the Xat’sull First Nation talks about how the fish has sustained First Nations communities since time immemorial in the latest video instalment of the series. 

“The salmon was one of the special things we had to eat,” he says. “Everything out of the fish was good for us… they came back every year to feed us and give us the good life.” He says the fish should be respected, because it gives “the gift of life,” while marvelling at the obstacles salmon had to go through for their annual return.

In some stories, salmon are considered returning relatives, further personalizing and deepening the connection to the Aboriginal people who depended on salmon for survival and sustenance. It was also a versatile food, which could be eaten fresh from a catch, or dried in a smoke house for the winter months… a tradition still practised today. Perhaps that is the ultimate lesson.

Elder Philips says the salmon reminds us of the struggles each of us has to go through, but it also continues to teach us about the past, the importance of honouring tradition and our own place in the cycle of life.

Explore that lesson and more in this, the latest episode in our Meet a Local Legend video series.

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