Several years ago I was invited to the first salmon ceremony performed by the Chinook people of the Columbia River. As the myth goes, Coyote tells the people of the river how to catch and prepare the first salmon of the season.
I remember walking down to the little hidden beach at present day Fort Columbia and watching the canoe load of paddlers approaching the beach. It was like seeing the river for the first time. The way it would have looked hundreds of years ago. The canoe sat so low in the water it was almost as if the paddlers were floating free of the canoe. As the bringers of the first salmon grew near to shore they held up their paddles in a salute, a gesture of good faith. As the drumming and singing commenced the canoe was beached and the salmon brought to shore.
After the ceremony and the fish was eaten with accordance to the ritual the bones are to be returned to the river thus ensuring a strong run of salmon for the next year. I was asked to join the crew to paddle out and return the bones. This was the first time I had ever been in a canoe and the memory has led me to this piece. Nayka Kenim Tillicum is the inspired work from that day on the river.
In the bow of the canoe is Coyote who travels up river telling people how to live. The paddlers with their paddles held high in the middle represent the Chinook people and the human aspect of the river. At the stern is the Tamanawas or the sprit power that aids the people in their lives.