Sacred Salmon Ceremony welcomes salmon back to Idaho

Nearly 30 Idahoans of all stripes gathered Saturday, May 12, in Riggins to welcome Idaho’s salmon home.

Riggins outfitters Gary and Barb Lane have been organizing what they call the Sacred Salmon Ceremony annually for 18 years. It's designed to set aside intentional time and energy to welcome the salmon back to their natal waters. 

Gusty winds whipped across the river at Spring Bar upstream of Riggins as men and women prepared boats for four circular laps of the swirling eddy. Gary Lane introduced the ceremony with welcoming remarks and explained the significance of the boat circles to those gathered on the beach.

The circle is sacred, he said, and like the water cycle or life cycle of salmon it must not be broken. The circles the boats perform are a way to share cultivated gratitude and energy back to the river to bring the salmon home safely. 

An event fashioned in the Native American spiritual tradition, the smell of burning sage and rosemary mixed with the cool spring canyon air as participants prepared their boats for launch. Once in the current of the eddy, the boats drifted upstream and crossed into the river’s immense current. The wind rushed as the river took hold and swept the boats downstream. Once at the downstream end of the eddy, the boats reentered the powerful upstream flow and completed the first of four laps.

When the laps were finished, participants gathered to participate in yet another circle, this time a circle of sharing in which they sat and passed a Native American talking stick from one to the other and shared their thanks for the river, fish, Idaho, family and friends—all powerful forces, yet seemingly small compared with the adversity Idaho’s salmon face. 

All of Idaho’s salmon are listed under the Endangered Species Act, and that has nothing to do with the Salmon River. The habitat along the Salmon River below Spring Bar—and far above it into the mountains—is some of the most pristine salmon habitat in the world.

“It’s all downstream,” Gary Lane said. “It’s all the adversity those fish face downstream that isn’t bringing them back to us here in Riggins and beyond.”

Everyone in the group echoed this message in some way and said it is appallingly clear that the status quo for salmon must change.

Photos by Ava Isaacson