The Gift of Salmon


Susan Point (Coast Salish, Musqueam, b. 1952), Water: Essence of Life, 2003 Western red cedar panels, 96 x 96 in., Courtesy Stonington Gallery, Seattle

Native American stories often honor the salmon as a vital source of life and sustenance. In one Lummi legend, the salmon was given as a gift, only to be taken away when people started to complain. Though the salmon eventually returned, the story teaches us to value the essential aspects of life. This lesson resonates powerfully today.

Salmon populations in the Northwest have been declining for decades because of overfishing, destruction of habitat, pollution, and the obstruction of migratory routes by hydroelectric dams. Rising water temperatures and melting glaciers that result from climate change also jeopardize the salmon’s survival. The Endangered Species Act lists many salmon as “endangered” or “threatened.”

The Wild Salmon Center safeguards the North Pacific watersheds that sustain salmon, and the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association restores local populations by revitalizing habitats. The Elwha River Restoration Project, which successfully dismantled the Elwha dam in Olympic National Park, provides the model for how an ecosystem can be restored. As more people take action, the salmon may return once again.