Babers was feeling emotional, head buried in her mother's shoulders. Her mother, Chief Caleen Sisk Franco comforted her 19 year old daughter, speaking softly. Babers and her cousins, the Winnemem youth, had just released the small salmon into the stream to swim on the way down the river on their long journey to the ocean. Each of the youth had touched the small fish as they released a bucket full into the stream. No one said, "let's touch the salmon." It's just the way they do it. The Dance Captain also released the fish, the Chief, the Head Man, all of us took a turn. It was a beautiful sight to see after seventy some years of separation, Winnemem and their Nur together in one place. It was a unplanned ritual moment.
One could call this a miracle since for decades the Winnemem grieved for days gone by, believing their salmon were gone forever, victims of the Shasta Lake Dam. Now today, the tribe was in New Zealand at a hatchery releasing a seventh generation of salmon into the river.
I looked over. Caleen was still comforting Babers but I suddenly got this flash of insight. Babers was expressing her mother's heart. Caleen was both feeling the very emotions her daughter expressed while, at the same time, comforting her. She probably would like to weep right now, but Babers did it for her.
I had heard the report of the long trip Caleen made to the recognized tribes asking for support for the New Zealand trip. After all, bringing the McCloud salmon back would help all the tribes. I heard the sad story that for some of the tribes the taste for fish had all but disappeared as did their will to help the Winnemem make this historic journey to bring the salmon home. So it made an impression on me -- this tribe, separated from their salmon for two generations still having such a strong connection that they had such strong emotions reuniting with their fish, touching the fish and watching them begin their difficult journey to the ocean, perhaps anticipating leaving them in a few days when returning home to California. Where are such teenagers anywhere else. How were the Winnemem able to keep their strong connection to the Nur inits absence over the generations when other tribes had lost their taste for fish, and without the need as a food, so went their will to help the fish survive.
I will leave it this way for the time -- a question not answered, a snapshot moment of a mother and a daughter -- a daughter who loves her cell phone like anyone else her age but who also has ancient deep emotions for the salmon -- so deep that at 19, she needs to be held and comforted by her mother.
I leave you with the ramifications. Whom can we most likely count on to continue the guardianship of salmon, of river and ocean the next generation? And who is the fish expert? The PhD or the Winnemem mother. Caleen Sisk Franco, WM.
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