Sharing Salmon on the Skeena River

Posted on September 25, 2014

Salmon have always been vital to the First Nations people of British Columbia. The fish have been a life-giving food source for many First Nations in the province since time immemorial, but to many Bands, the salmon is so much more than simply nourishment.

In some stories, salmon are considered returning relatives, and featured prominently in a wide variety of legends, art and spiritual ceremonies. Prior to European contact, the salmon was an important trade item, and contributed greatly to a community’s economy.

The Skeena River, home to the Tsimshian and the Gitxsan people, is the second longest river located entirely in BC and it is renowned as one of the top sports-fishing destinations in the world. Anglers from all over the globe flock to the Skeena River in spring, summer and fall in pursuit of trophy salmon. The river hosts five different species of salmon: Chinook, Chum, Coho, Pink and Sockeye.

The area’s First Nations people have always benefited from this abundance and availability of salmon; and preserve and prepare the delicacy in a variety of different ways. Alice Barnes, who is hereditary Gitxsan chief and a tour guide at ‘Ksan Historical Village, – a museum and historical site in the Skeena River area – explained some of these preservation methods to Joslin Fritz, Lady Sherpa blogger for Wanderlust and Lipstick.

Along with eating the fish fresh from a catch, smoke houses have been used for centuries by First Nations to preserve salmon for the winter months – and they are still in use today. Throughout the fishing season you can still see smoke houses being used throughout the area. The salmon are usually smoked for two to four days.

In winter, the fully dried fish – which retains some 80 to 90 per cent of its nutrients – are unfolded and briefly heated over a cooking fire to release its oils and soften the “salmon jerky”. Other methods of preserving and preparing salmon include cutting specific parts of the fish into strips and using salt or freezing the strips in water. These methods have been passed down from generation to generation.

So, the passage of time hasn’t diminished the importance of the salmon for the First Nations, especially here. For the people of the Skeena River, the wild salmon still remains more than just a fish… it is food for families, a livelihood for fishing guides, a spiritual animal, and a way to connect with and share more than a thousand years of tradition.

If you’re passing through the Hazelton area, make sure to stop by ‘Ksan Historical Village for a visit!

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Totem Poles at 'Ksan Historical Village

> Ksan Historical Village