Fishing-Traditional Fisheries Management Practices

Sustaining a viable fishery was crucial to the survival and wealth of the people. Traditional knowledge pertaining to fishing would have been passed down to the younger generations. For some, the responsibility of managing family fishing sites may have been passed on to them by a relative. Individuals also could have been chosen to become a Salmon Chief at a specific fishing sites and/or areas, such as Kettle Falls.

There are key differences among generalized hunter-gatherers and complex hunter-gatherers. Peoples of the western Plateau, including the Sinixt Nation, are classified as complex hunter-gatherers that controlled access to optimal fishing and hunting locations and participated in elite trade. Such evolution and organization among Sinixt People were essential in order to manage a sustainable fishery for themselves and other Nations, including generations to come.

Some management practices were simple, yet effective. For example, only fish that we not able to clear the falls were open to the fishery. In this way, strength of the genetic stock was maintained as only the fittest passed on to spawn. Other traditional management practices were more complex, such as Salmon Chiefs.

Traditionally, people became Salmon Chiefs through their lineage and certain fishing sites were owned by the eldest families. Vance Robert Campbell, Sinixt Headman, explains how both the Salmon Chief and family fishing sites were highly respected by the people. It was the Salmon Chief who made all of the important decisions involving fisheries.

One responsibility of the Salmon Chief was to decide how many fish were caught in order to maintain a sustainable food source for generations yet to come. It was the Sinixt who managed Kettle Falls and made decisions about how the fishery was utilized by their own people and 6 other tribes. They decided exactly who fished where and how much they could catch. Paul Kane wrote in his journal that one Salmon Chief’s basket at Kettle Falls was said to contain on average 400 salmon per day during 1847 and could catch up to 1700 during the peak of the salmon run (Russell Harper 1971).

Dave Jane and his brother Herman are also remembered by Campbell as being one of the last Sinixt salmon distributors for the Sinixt. Certain people were chosen to transport the fresh salmon from the fishing sites to different villages and distribute the salmon to the People. From this point, people could prepare the fish any way they wanted but drying the fish was a common method as it would last throughout the winter.

Lawney Reyes, in his book entitled 'The Legacy of White Grizzly Bear: Learning to Be Indian', shared the following about Salmon Chiefs:

During the salmon harvest, the head authority at the falls [Kettle Falls] was the appointed Salmon Chief. Before any nets or traps were set or fishermen were positioned, he stood near the lower Falls, facing downriver, and prayed. The Salmon Chief welcomed the arrival of the chinook. He apologized and thanked those salmon that would be speared or taken in the traps. He assured the chinook that most would be allowed to go upriver to spawn and bring forth their young. The Salmon Chief spoke the traditional greeting to the chinook every year in June when the great runs began. It was the responsibility of the Salmon Chief to see that the closely related tribes shared equally in all salmon that were caught. Other tribes that came to fish at the falls were also treated fairly by the Salmon Chief, and they were always welcome.

According to the Sin- Aikst [Sinixt] tradition, the first Salmon Chief was chosen by coyote. Coyote made beaver the Salmon Chief. "The people of many tribes will come here to fish," Coyote said to Beaver. "You will become chief over all of them. You must share the salmon with everyone who comes. There will always be enough for everyone. You must never be greedy and you must see to it that no one else is greedy."