A New Dance For The Northwest Fisherman

"Dance Back the Salmon"


        Years ago I read the book "Dance Back the Buffalo"by Vardis Fisher. And in watching the oftentimes comic;the oftentimes tragic, scenario of the Northwest fishing controversy, I wondered if all the shouting and jumping up and down was the beginning of a new dance for the fisher people of the Pacific Northwest.

        It matters little who dances, white or Indian fishermen, it is a fact that there are just too many fishermen and not enough fish. A common occurrence in today's civilization.

No salmon has run up the Thames river in England for one-hundred and fifty years. Progress they called it. The causes are many and well-known to any intelligent person from over fishing pollution, mismanagement -- take your pick, out of whichever one suits your particular prejudice.

        The controversial 'Boldt Decision" (which is 100 years late) which gives 50% of the harvestable catch to treaty-entitled Indians, is meaningless, when you consider that 50% of nothing always adds up to nothing.

        It is always a sad historical event when a good way of life must comes to an end, such as fishing, reaping the harvest from the sea. It was more than a sad historical fact for the buffalo hunting Plains Indians. It was a catastrophe Their whole way of life evolved around the buffalo and that way of life was destroyed with the destruction of the once millions of buffaloes. The mass slaughter of the buffalo by hired hunters was done in the name of "Progress" to clear the way for railroads and the masses of people who were seeking free land, free gold, free this, free that. Those hired buffalo hunters are now immortalized as great American heroes, the giants who wow the west, Buffalo Bill for example.

        Yes, I know you've heard all this before, but it is pertinent to the point I wish to make. There were no massive humanitarian programs to save the Plains Indians. In fact, the hope was that they would all die off. There were no government re-stocking programs to save the buffalo. No "buy back" program for the Plains Indians' bows and arrows. Starvation and Death were their constant companions. And, of course, those who always take advantage of the oppressed3 in this case, the bureaucratic Indian agents and land-hungry missionaries. The Plains Indians, desperate and dying, appealed to the Great Spirit. But even the Great Spirit was shocked and unable to help. For the Great Spirit had given the two-legged's "free will" knowing that there would be a few who would abuse that freedom never dreaming that a whole race would go mad -- and use their freedom to oppress, to slaughter and slag. And so the Plains Indians hungered and died by the hundreds, by the thousands. They died quietly, heroically, with dignity. What little food they had was shared -- always they thought first of the children and the elders.

The hope came, a dim light flickered in the darkness, a faint beat of a distant drum was heard.. The Messiah Wavoka appeared amongst the dying hopeless people. He gave his message from "The Great Spirit" that they should pray and dance and the buffalo would return and their oppressions would disappear. His words brought hope and inspiration to a dying people, whose way of life was being destroyed. He'd review their life instincts. And though many will say that he was a hoax, a fraud, because the buffalo did not return, remember that a beautiful people survived. They prayed and they danced and though they continued to starve, they chased ole Death away and clung unto life's hand. And they survived, they lived through "Wounded Knee", "Sand Creek", the many Mai Lais of America.

And it is even said by our elders, that the white buffalo hunters secretly danced with them. For their way of slaughtering the buffalo was ended too: The government banned the hunting of buffalo for they had decided that they needed a few live models for the Indian head nickel. The buffalo hunters hollered about their rights but to no avail. And a few daring ones ignored the band and would sneak out and shoot a few buffaloes in defiance of the ban. And the U.S. buffalo patrolmen hunters would put red mud on their faces and they danced, and danced, trying to dance "Back the Buffalo". But the guardian spirit of the buffalo refused to hear their pleas. The buffaloes were praying to the Great Spirit too. We do not understand the greed of these white hunters. They us for a sacrifice: They do not give Thanks: They slaughter us for our tongues and robes. Oh Great Spirit'. Is this all the meaning to our existence?? To be slaughtered, to be skinned?? With no respect to our dignity for our right to live, and the "Great Spirit" heard them and released them from returning.

What about it "Salmon Hunters" any of you got a drum?
Let us start a dance.
We will "Dance Back the salmon".
But just between you and me,
I don't know if we've got a chance.
The other night down by the river,
I heard the Salmon people praying.


Nov. 6, 1976 Yet Si Blue

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