It's hard to believe that day after tomorrow we will be flying into the autumn and another day ahead to be with the Winnemem's salmon relatives, the seventh generation from those who their ancestors sang to. The great salmon runs of the Winnemem River ended that long ago for the salmon but within the memory of our Chief who remembers fish 8 feet long.
I haven't heard the Salmon Song yet, but the words are full of longing. We yearn to see them again. We yearn for that whole way of life, the freedom to be who we are, for the salmon to be free to be where they belong.
I remember our Chief Caleen Sisk Franco telling the story of the poor human being at the beginning of time. All the animals were given life, and direction of how to be. The salmon is such a wondrous example. The male and female salmon after spending a couple of years in the ocean, return home to where they were little salmon with their egg sacs and then becoming fry to begin the cycle again -- growing mature in the ocean and then beginning their arduous trip back to their rivers and streams. The trip is as arduous as any in nature, and when they arrive, battered, with their last breath, the female deposits the eggs and the male fertilizes them then they die. The wonder is, when the little fry are hatched, they grow and know innately exactly what they are supposed to do and how to do it by themselves. At the right time they all start on their long journey to the ocean.
The human being is born without the knowledge of what to do in nature, what part to play, how to do things right naturally. This knowledge, the scientists call "instinct." When I learned about the animal kingdom in Biology, "instinct" was taught as something lower than knowledge. We were taught that only the human could gain knowledge. We were not taught that the human baby was unable to do anything to stay alive by themselves. As babies, we have to be fed and cared for and taught by parents or another human being to make it in life. There is something beautiful in being human -- that original knowledge that one cannot do anything without another. One would think that we would all grow to learn to be compassionate, gentle, nourishing beings. But then "choice" enters the picture. And it seems, with choice has come mischief. What is there in us as human beings today with all that has been done to the Great Circle of Life that still remembers what part we play in Nature, what is the right thing to do? Has the line of true knowledge as it was given to the first of our ancestors been broken? in many cases replaced by confusion? and arrogance? and a deep disconnect?
I have a lot of trust and respect in our leader who is finding a way for her people to make it through this time of Great Confusion in the society we now live in by literally following the fish. She repeats over and over that our way of life is to speak for Salmon, and in doing so, we speak for the water, climate, the earth, the Balance of Life. The Salmon, after all, when they first saw that naked little being, with no claws with which to protect themselves, no fur to keep themselves warm, no knowledge with which to take care of themselves gave this pitiful creature, the human being, their Voice. From that time, the Salmon do not speak. They only ask that in return, we remember to speak for the salmon too. The human being has built their history all over the world by speech, By the power of Naming they have begun to believe they own everything they Named, and by defining, they believe they have created, and by persuasion, wit, by categorizing and diluting, by dividing, they have dominated and deceived.
Excitement for the trip is building so much that I can hear it in the air, certainly for Will and me, as we come nearer to the time we will meet the salmon relatives of our Winnemem family to reaffirm the ancient bond which has always tied the Winnemem to the salmon, Nur, from the beginning of time, and despite incredible hardships, that tie has never been broken. Separated as they have been for the lifetime of our young Chief, her people's debt to the salmon still guides her choices. If all human leaders were to honor the ancient promise made between them and Nature, it is possible for to stop and turn back the destruction. The question is, are there enough -- people, active sacred places -- is there enough will of the people and is there time enough?
Our Chief has answered that with a resounding yes, we are going to do this. Is she noticed, heard, respected by the leaders of the one country which uses more of the world's resources than any other country in the world and any other civilization has from the beginning of time?
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