I’m honored to be part of this compilation album!
My contribution to this collection came through on the banks of what most of us now call the Columbia River. I had just returned from Squamish, Canada, and passed many rivers and creeks along the road that listed the First Nations name on the signs above the English name. It struck me that this very simple sign of respect and recognition is not something I had ever seen during my travels in the US, and that I didn’t know one Indigenous name for the river flowing at my feet.
I learned that one name is N’chi Wána, the Big River or Great River, in the Ichishkíin language of the Yakama, Umatilla, Walla Walla, and other tribes. There are only about 100 native speakers of this language left.
What a sign of respect, to name the river for what it is – one of the largest by volume on this continent – rather than named after a boat named after a man who colonized and brutalized the original inhabitants of this continent.
Then I thought about the salmon swimming in the waters below, whose numbers continue to dwindle due to damming, rising sea temperatures, and pollution. There is a superfund site just downstream of where I sat that day. These powerful creatures, who spend their lives in the ocean and swim thousands miles to return to their birthplace to spawn, now face even more obstacles. I thought of people who honored them by burying their bones back in the river after they feasted, instead of treating them as a boundless “resource” to “harvest” to near extinction.
The chorus, “Let your salmon guide us upstream, got to keep your waters clean, let our lives feed the next generation”, reflects the salmons’ sacrifice of their own bodies after spawning, and their nutrients feeding the forest and their offspring. I find it a powerful parallel to the sacrifices we now need to make to allow our future generations to thrive or even just survive.
I hope this simple song honors the river, the salmon, and people who once lived in greater harmony with all our relations…I hope it is an invitation to continue to educate ourselves…I hope it is an inspiration to live our lives in a way to feed the next generation.
Please check out this collection. All donated proceeds from this album support Our Children’s Trust and 350 Seattle’s work building a passionate grassroots movement for climate justice. Learn more at 350Seattle.org