Published by Edible Vancouver, Spring 2015
Author: Michael Marrapese
It’s 1,200 kilometres from the mouth of the Columbia River, just north of Portland, to Osoyoos Lake in southern BC. Travelling by canoe or kayak would be an inspiring, though arduous, journey—heading east through Portland, then twisting south and north through glacial valleys, farms laid out in squares along the river, and small towns with names like Sunnyslope and Longview, Pateros and Tonasket. Equally inspiring is that the Okanagan sockeye salmon make this trip every year, swimming the entire distance in as little as thirty days.
Most of us probably think of grapevines and fruit trees when we think of the Okanagan, but the salmon have played an important role in the history of the valley, stretching back millennia. For the First Nations that inhabited the area since the last ice age, salmon was an important food source, and as one of the Four Food Chiefs, had rich cultural and social significance pre-contact. The Four Food Chiefs—the salmon, the bear, the saskatoon berry, and the bitterroot—are used to teach respect and responsibility for the land, water, plants, and animals. Richard Bussanich, Senior Fisheries Biologist at Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA), explains that through the stories, “we honour each of the elements in the environment—not only in terms of environmental stewardship but in terms of the connections and principles of where man and nature are one.”
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