Colville elder Rick Desautel holds one of 30 summer Chinook salmon released at Kettle Falls, a traditional tribal fishery, Aug. 23.

Tribal members gather for third and final cultural release of 30 Chinook salmon above dams 

KETTLE FALLS – Following an opening honor song by Colville Business Council member Darnell Sam, the beautiful ceremony began: the last of three cultural salmon releases, this one at the historic fishing site of Kettle Falls. 

After the first salmon was released into the Columbia River, those present begin to cheer and shout with joy. 

“I’m very happy to be here today,” Council member Sam said. “I thank each and everyone of you for being here today, and I want to thank everyone that’s contributed to make this happen. 

“This is a really big time for this river, with the Columbia River Treaty negotiations getting started, and we need to show the importance of salmon in the Upper Columbia. The Colville Tribes’ cultural salmon release program, with its phased-in approach, is a major move forward.” 

Sam said this release, on August 23, is a part of the Northwest Power & Conservation Council’s “Phased Fish Passage Study” and will be part of an ongoing effort to bring salmon back in this reach of the River. 

A CTFW truck backed up to the edge of the bank, and from there, salmon were plucked out of the holding tank and placed into rubber black sleeves. In the carriers, the salmon were handed from member to member down the line of people. Third summer Chinook salmon eventually made their way from the back of the Colville Tribal Fish and Wildlife truck, down through the three lines of people and into the river. 

“I’m really happy to see everybody here,” said former CBC chair Mike Marchand. “I just wanted to acknowledge our ancestors. I spent a lot of summers a few miles away near Kelly Hill. That’s where my grandparents lived. For thousands of years, our people fished here. We haven’t forgotten them. I know my grandma would be really happy. I’m very thankful for today.”

Around 150 tribal members gathered at the historic Kettle Falls site just north of the Colville Tribes’ Noisy Waters gas station and convenience store.

“It’s such an important place,” said Colville Tribal Arrow Lakes Coordinator Shelly Boyd. “There are so many people here that have made this day possible through many years.” 

“There’s been a lot of work that’s been done on many different levels,” Councilmember Sam said. “Colville Tribal] Fish and Wildlife, the state, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, UCUT Tribes, the Colville Tribes. There’s many people who contributed to today.”

Colville Tribal member Joe Condon Jr. was one of the few able to release one of the 30 salmon back into the Columbia.

“Honestly it was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had. It was so powerful, being in that setting knowing how historic it was, it’s hard to explain,” Condon said. “Growing up in the area, hearing the elders talk about Kettle Falls and all it was and them thinking they would never see salmon back in that area, it was really powerful being a part of that. To be able to release one of the few salmon back, that was one of the best experiences I have ever had.”

The tribes’ first release of migratory salmon above Chief Joseph Dam was conducted at Rufus Woods Lake on Aug. 9 with 30 Chinook salmon being released.

“Because the salmon haven’t been in the water for so long, it was kind of like a rejoining,” said Randall Freidlander, CTFW director. “The goal was to reconnect the salmon to the habitat and to reconnect the people to the fish. That was the main goal. I can see we achieved our objective. Now the waters are open to those fish.”

The second cultural release was conducted south of Keller at the Keller Ferry alternative-landing on Aug. 16 with 30 summer Chinooks being released into the San Poil.

“It was so awesome to put the salmon in where it once was one of the biggest salmon holes for our tribes and people,” said Virginia “Gina-Bug” Redstar, a Colville tribal member at the third release. “All the work we put in secretly and in a sacred manner is all coming together. I went on the canoe journey this June, from Canada. And all the way, I prayed for the Lakes people to gain their food supply back. It’s coming along. Prayers are being answered.”

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