By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News
Smoke billowed from the Tulalip Longhouse on the overcast morning of June 15. On the inside, a circle of traditional dancers moved in a counterclockwise motion to the sounds of strong drumbeats and melodies sang in the traditional Lushootseed language. As the singers began the final chorus, a young man rushed out of the longhouse, asking people who were outside, “is he coming, can you see him?”
Two younger kids joined the youth’s quest as he ran to the edge of the bluff overlooking Tulalip Bay.
“There he is,” he exclaimed and then ran back into the longhouse to report that the honored guest was nearby.
Moments later, the Tulalip singers and dancers emerged from the longhouse and began walking toward the shore of the bay. Draped in Coast Salish garb, tribal members continued to drum and sing, welcoming the visitor to the community.
Transported on the sacred Tulalip cedar canoe, Big Brother, the guest laid upon a bed of cedar branches.
Every year, the Tulalips continue to uphold a tradition that was revived by Harriette Shelton Dover during the late seventies, after it was nearly lost due to years of forced assimilation. The Salmon Ceremony, is an annual event that welcomes the first yubəč, or king salmon, of the fishing season. The honoring is held not only to ensure that Tulalip fisherman have a safe year on the waters, but also to thank the salmon for graciously providing the Tribe with sustenance since time immemorial.
“We honor the gift of our visitor, yubəč, Big Chief King Salmon,” said Tulalip Board of Director and Salmon Ceremony leader, Glen Gobin. “We’re harvesting from nature again, it’s how we honor and respect that, to en sure that he’s always going to be there. Him and his people will always be there, returning to take care of our people as they always have.”
The king salmon is brought ashore from the Salish waters as tribal members offer a welcoming song. The yubəč is carried into the longhouse where the traditional singers and dancers perform a blessing for the guest.
When the blessing is complete, the festivities continue at the Greg Williams Court where Salmon Ceremony participants and spectators are treated to a delicious salmon meal. Once everybody is well-fed, the visitor is sent back to the water to return to its community and tell its people of the Tribes’ hospitality. In return, many salmon will journey to Tulalip’s waters throughout the season to feed the community because of the honor and respect shown during the ceremony.
After another successful honoring, Glen reflected on this year’s ceremony, proudly beaming about the amount of participation from local youth.
“It’s important that our young ones understand our teachings, our traditions and where they come from,” said Glen. “So much has been lost and taken away that we’re not left with what was originally there, but we do the best we can. It’s really encouraging to see the smiles on their faces when they come and they’re wanting to participate. Nobody makes them do anything, they come here out of a desire within themselves. I liken it to when I was young and heard the beat of a drum, I was just drawn to it. I see that in these young ones. When they see bits and pieces of our culture and then they get to participate in it, they understand what ownership of it means. If they have that, then we’re ensured for the next generations.”