‘A soul wound’: a First Nation built its culture around salmon. Now they have to fly it
In late summer every year, when buckbrush on the mountains turns yellow and the soapberries grow soft and translucent, families from Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation gather at the mouth of Tatchun creek to fish for their namesake.
The creek itself, in Canada’s far-flung Yukon territory, is named after the fin on a salmon’s back that sticks out of the water as the fish fights its way upstream. Tatchun empties into the Yukon River, home to the world’s longest run of chinook salmon. Elders say the fish used to be so plentiful they could have walked across the water on their backs.
But when Yukon First Nations gathered at Tatchun this summer, it wasn’t to fish. It was, in the words of the Little Salmon Carmacks chief, Nicole Tom, to “call the salmon back”.
A sacred fire burned and there was traditional dancing, drumming, prayers and a feast. “It is very traditional that you make a big pot of fish soup and share the first salmon,” says Tom.
Only now, there is no first salmon. Instead, they had to boil a frozen one, shipped in from Alaska.