His arms raised skywards in a gesture of gratitude, the Salmon Chief is more than just a reminder of the past he represents a vision for the future.
Last week over 100 people of many cultures watched the unveiling of Smoker Marchant’s metal sculpture near the southern shoreline of Skaha Lake in Okanagan Falls.
“It is our history — the stories of land before time and it’s important to guide the youngsters back to that history,” said elder Modesta Betterton of the Osoyoos Indian Band who once lived in the small community. “This will represent our young people’s history that they will now tell their children.
“This (sculpture) has significance because it represents respect for the food from the fish and brings us back to the land.”
Commissioned by the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen through Director Bill Schwarz, the work also salutes the efforts of recent years to return the salmon to harvestable levels in local waters.
Dam building on waterways to the south virtually wiped out those stocks which had been a critical component of First Nations food sources for thousands of years.
“We thank everyone for honouring our fish, for honouring what used to be,” said Betterton. “There are things that have happened and those are things that we have to accept but this is very important.”
Chief Clarence Louie of the Osoyoos Indian Band was also grateful for the recognition especially in light of the promising salmon returns.
“I never thought I would see in my lifetime our people fishing in OK Falls,” said the chief. “That was such a sight for us to see that the salmon are back in Okanagan Falls for the first time in almost a 100 years, and that is a very important accomplishment.
“We have a responsibility to this area because the full history of this area starts with the Okanagan people.”
OK Falls was originally part of the Osoyoos Reserve # 2 but was removed by government in the early 1900s.
As usual Louie didn’t miss an opportunity to poke some good-natured fun at his political counterparts.
“Want to thank Bill Schwarz and the RDOS for having the idea,” said Louie. “It is rare that a white guy has a good idea that involves native people. I want to say: ‘Bill I really respect that.’”
On a more serious note he added the symbol of the salmon chief is very important to all seven of the Okanagan Nation bands and the Colville Wash. Nation which is also part of that group.
“We still have a lot of work to do and we still have a lot of relationship building to do,” he said. “To share our history, to really understand what happened here, and that this is where the history has to start from again.”
Okanagan-Coquihalla MP Dan Albas agreed: “This is a historic occasion because of the shared history of the area.
“I’m very appreciative as well that we have so many children here because the statue will bear testament to the growing relationship we have and I look forward to furthering ways that we can increase that relationship.”
For his part, Schwarz believes it is critical the Osoyoos band’s historical relevance to the region is remembered.
“This is the first step,” said the director. “The importance (of OK Falls) — in time out of mind — for enhancing the native culture as a gathering place.
“It is a harbinger of what is yet to come within this area through dialogue, co-operation and through trust and respect, one through the other.”