By Barb Brouwer
Special to the Observer
An ancient and life-giving spectacle will be played out on the Adams River this fall.
In this the dominant year of a four-year cycle, millions of sockeye salmon are expected to return to spawn. And as they have for thousands of years, Salmon Arm’s Indigenous neighbours who have relied on the fish to feed them throughout the winter, will celebrate their arrival.
Skw’lax te Secwépemc, aka Little Shuswap Lake Band, Kukpi7 (Chief) James Tomma has invited the communities of Adams Lake, Neskonlith, Shuswap and Splatsin to join Skw’lax in hosting an Indigenous-led Salute at at Tsútswecw Provincial Park.
This 5-Band Salute will take place from Sept. 30 to Oct. 23, and will open on Friday with a day of festivities that include cultural demonstrations, a Secwépemc storytelling stage with Kenthen Thomas, interpretive walking tours and a children’s area.
It will be led by Skw’lax, Secwépemc Knowledge Keepers and Cultural Helpers who will be involved in all aspects of the event – the opening ceremony, drumming over the water and daily smudging.
They will share Secwépemc culture, including artisan demonstrations, fishing technique demonstrations and food preservation, interpretive walks on the trails and at cultural sites throughout the park, along with storytelling, drumming, dancing and singing during the three-week celebration.
“I am very proud and very pleased at the acknowledgment of our culture and heritage,” said Tomma.
“This particular salute is going to be significant for all our people, regardless of race. It is the recognition of something that is not just a mere spectacle, it has a spiritual and cultural meaning to us and assures us that all is well.
When rivers ran red with returning salmon as they did over thousands of years, Secwépemc knew they would have food to see them through winter.
To ensure the sustainability of the salmon, the Secwépemc relied on one of their core values, k̓wseltktnews, which can be translated as, we are all related.
This value was demonstrated through being ecologically responsive to the dynamic interconnections between all living beings, including water.
The oral tradition of stsptekwle helps teach younger generations about their responsibility to maintain balance within themselves and the earth.
The 66-year-old Tomma is one of 14 children his mother raised in Scotch Creek, along with eight foster children.
It was a time when Indigenous people were denied the right to hunt and fish, a time of poverty, hunger and discrimination for Tomma and his family.
“When I was elected chief, the one thing I wanted to instill in our youth was to celebrate how our way of life and our culture was tied to nature,” he said, again referring to the importance of also instilling a sense of pride in their culture.
Tomma is hoping the sockeye will be in abundance on Friday, but while some 6.9 million fish had passed the sounding station on the Fraser River near Mission as of Tuesday, they had yet to arrive in the Thompson River.
On Friday, which is being referred to as a Day of Salmon Celebration and a Day of Reclamation, a Grand Entrance will take place from 10 a.m. to noon. Women and children will lead the way to the water from the park entrance.
Drummers and singers will follow and Spiritual Leaders will perform ceremonies by the water.
A welcome message from Kukpi7 Tomma and others will be accompanied by ceremonial singing, drumming, dancing and storytelling from noon to 2 p.m.
Little Shuswap Lake Band will host a community feast from 2 to 4 p.m., which will be open to the public by donation.
A Lahal Tournament will begin at 3 and could go on well into the night.
Artisans, Knowledge Keepers and performers will be present every day of the festival, sharing Secwépemc culture.
Gates will be open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
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