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Commentaries and editorials

Nez Perce Recalls
Salmon's Centrality to His People

by Rob Cullivan
The Gresham Outlook, September 30, 2008

Jeremy FiveCrows promotes fish festival at Oxbow Regional Park Oct. 11-12

Chief Joseph, the legendary Nez Perce leader, happens to be Jeremy FiveCrows' great, great, great - "I don't know how many greats" - uncle.

FiveCrows is also the descendant of Mormons who braved many dangers to settle in Utah. As the son of natives and settlers, FiveCrows says he hopes the silver anniversary of the Salmon Festival this weekend at Oxbow Regional Park serves to bridge all peoples interested in the fish's importance to the Northwest.

"Anyone can become part of a place if they're willing to listen to it," he says. "What I would like is for everyone to listen to the land and know what it means to live responsibly in this place."

FiveCrows grew up on a Nez Perce reservation in Idaho and salmon fishing with dip nets was part and parcel of his life, he says.

"I remember standing in the ice cold water and dipping," he says with a smile.

In the Columbia Plateau tribes' creation story, salmon was the first creature to offer itself for the benefit of humanity, followed by water, which offered to be salmon's home, he says.

"They didn't worship the salmon," he says of the tribes. "But they definitely honored it for its sacrifice."

Teepee Town

Last year's festival drew 8,000 visitors, and many enjoyed Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum Village, a cluster of teepees hosted by representatives from the Warm Springs, Yakama, Umatilla and Nez Perce tribes.

Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum means "salmon people" in Sahaptin, a language common to many of the native peoples of the Columbia River Basin.

"If you live in the Northwest, everyone is a Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum because play such an important part of the region," FiveCrows says.

This year's village offers traditional activities including storytelling, beading, weaving, fishnet tying, drumming, dancing, hide tanning, flint knapping and drum making. FiveCrows noted many elders seem to prefer talking about or demonstrating their tribal ways in the village's setting, as opposed to visiting museums or other institutions to discuss them.

FiveCrows says his favorite moment is approaching the village at the festival's beginning.

"You can hear the drums. You're in the middle of this forest. As you get closer, you can see the teepees. This scene wouldn't be a little out of the ordinary 200 years ago."

Yet FiveCrows says today's Northwestern tribes are no sentimentalists and are engaged in cutting edge science to help restore salmon to the Columbia Basin's waters.

He chuckles as he recalls a little boy leaving the science teepee in the village last year after viewing an exhibit featuring microscopic images of salmon scales as well electronic equipment used to monitor salmon.

"Mom," the little boy said. "Those Indians are so smart."

Rob Cullivan
Nez Perce Recalls Salmon's Centrality to His People
The Gresham Outlook, September 30, 2008

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