Last Friday morning, a crowd gathered on the shore of the Columbia River at Kettle Falls to welcome paddlers of the Upper Columbia Basin tribes after their nearly week long journey. Spokane Riverkeeper was there to witness and support this amazing gathering!


Before the Grand Coulee Dam was built, this place looked very different. A series of cascades and rapids at Kettle Falls served as a sacred gathering place for native peoples every year during salmon runs. But the dam was built without consideration for the Tribes and First Nations, for the ecosystem, or for the salmon. The Ceremony of Tears in 1940 was the last Salmon Ceremony held before Kettle Falls was permanently inundated with water and the salmon runs were blocked – until 2016 when these canoes were built by tribes of the Upper Columbia River Basin and the journey to Kettle Falls and tradition of the Salmon Ceremony revived.


Last week, after the canoes landed on the beach, the ceremony was held to call the salmon home. This year’s journey and ceremony was especially significant because negotiations for the Columbia River Treaty began in May between the U.S. and Canada. The modernization of the Treaty presents an opportunity to change how the Columbia is managed. Tribes and First Nations are pushing for representation in negotiations and are advocating for the inclusion of “ecosystem-based function” – the incorporation of the health of the river ecosystem, including fish passage for salmon, into the Treaty.


At Spokane Riverkeeper, we support the tribes and First Nations in their efforts to recover salmon and restore the health of the rivers throughout the Columbia River Basin. It is important to remember that when the dream of bringing salmon home over Grand Coulee Dam is realized, returning salmon to the Spokane River will be next!