Seattle City Light Environmental Affairs Director Lynn Best was honored to be called as one of four witnesses for this year’s Blessing of the Fleet and First Salmon Ceremony by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community.
The celebration, marking the beginning of the fishing season, seeks to honor and protect the tribe’s fishing fleet. After a seafood feast of salmon, halibut, crab, prawns, mussels and clams, representatives from the Catholic, Shaker and Pentacostal faiths said blessings over the remains of four wild chinook salmon from the Skagit River.
The fish were wrapped in cedar boughs and carried by young men from the tribe. Following the ceremony, the young men and tribal fishermen released the salmon to all four directions.
Swinomish tribe members harvest salmon and steelhead from the Skagit River where Seattle City Light operates three hydroelectric dams that produce about 20 percent of the utility’s power. City Light works closely with tribal staff on flow management for the river and fish habitat restoration activities as part of the utility’s operating license for the dams.
Other invited witnesses were Billy Frank Jr., chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission; Shirley Soloman, Executive Director of the Skagit Watershed Council; and Pat Pattillo from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Frank, a Nisqually tribal member, is one of the best known American Indian environmental leaders in the Pacific Northwest. He is best known for his grassroots campaign for fishing rights on the Nisqually River in the 1960s and 1970s. He is also known for promoting cooperative management of natural resources.
Tribes reserved the right to fish, hunt and gather shellfish in treaties with the U.S. government negotiated in the mid-1850s. But when tribal members tried to exercise those rights off-reservation they were arrested for fishing in violation of state law.
Frank was arrested more than 50 times in the Fish Wars of the 1960s and 1970s because of his intense dedication to the treaty fishing rights cause. The tribal struggle was taken to the courts in U.S. v. Washington, and Judge George Hugo Boldt found in favor of the Indians in 1974. The Boldt Decision established the 20 treaty Indian tribes in western Washington as co-managers of the salmon resource with the State of Washington and re-affirmed the tribal right to half of the harvestable salmon returning to Western Washington.
You can watch a video of the May 16 event here.