Salmon follow the Fraser River through Secepemc’ulecw, from Ts’kw’aylaxw (Pavillion) in the south to Xatśūll (Soda Creek) in the north, and the Secwepemc people follow the salmon. The salmon trail became the people’s path, with fishing villages set up in proximity to their source of wealth and abundance: “We’ve been walking the same trail for over a thousand years,” says Elder Ralph Philips of Xatśūll First Nation, “because we know the fish are going to be there.”
Not only does the salmon provide food, but it also offers wisdom to those who approach it with respect. The legendary salmon swims against the flow to complete its all-important mission; its endurance in hardship to achieve the higher goal is medicine it shares with the people.
Philips pays respect for the hard work and endurance of the salmon to complete its life cycle, an act that has sustained the Secwepemc people for countless generations: “They come back every year to feed us and to help us live a good life.”
Salmon give the people the gift of life. Much of the land around the turbulent, fast-flowing Fraser is steep, and fishing access is difficult. Traditional dipnetting is an innovative Indigenous solution, but not without considerable risk. Dipnetters tie themselves to a rock and lower long-handled nets into rushing waters to feel for salmon. The experience of dipnetting for salmon also passes the powerful salmon teaching: it is all worth it.
Like the salmon, the people return to the same place, generation after generation. They tie themselves to the same rock as their grandfathers did to fish for the salmon that will provide the food that breathes life into the next generation. Philips vows: “As long as this water’s running here, we’ll be here.”