SANDPOINT — Last summer, at Summer Solstice, members of The Upper Columbia Plateau Tribes, which includes the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, joined by their Canadian relations, paddled newly constructed dugout canoes — fashioned from ancient cedar trees donated by one of the tribes on the Northwest Coast — from their respective reservations to a traditional tribal landing and gathering site along the Columbia River at Kettle Falls, Wash.
This Thursday, the Upper Columbia Tribes will paddle again. This time invited by the Kalispel Tribe and beginning at their aboriginal village site at Sandpoint City Beach — "qp qepe" — Salish for “place of sand.” They will paddle for three days and 51 miles to their Reservation across the Pend Oreille River from Usk, Wash., in time for their 42nd annual powwow celebration.
The Coeur d’Alene, Kootenai, Sinixt or Lakes, Spokane and Colville Confederated Tribal paddlers are expected to join the Kalispel paddlers. They have invited non-native paddlers as well to come along for part of or the entire journey.
The reason for this paddle is “Remember the Water.” Living downriver from Lake Pend Oreille, they want to draw attention to the vital need to care for our lake and rivers, as water is life.
Last year's journey was a historical event as the tribe had not canoed and gathered at the Kettle Falls site in 86 years. The Coeur d’Alene tribal paddlers came the farthest, traveling for 10 days to get to Kettle Falls, once the second most important salmon fishery in the Pacific Northwest. This essential source of salmon as food for thousands of people was inundated and destroyed by the building of Grand Coulee Dam. It altered the lives of tribal peoples of the region forever. This recent journey resurrected a tradition that had once been essential to the way of life of these Interior tribes.
Hundreds of Native people and others waited onshore for the eight large, dugout canoes and smaller sturgeon-nose canoes to arrive. Spiritual leaders spoke about the primary reason for the journey: to demonstrate the need to bring the salmon back to the upper Columbia River region. Elders shared stories of the past and their ancestors stories of the salmon being in this part of the river.
Felix Aripa, a highly respected elder of the Coeur d’Alene, also 93 years old, arrived toward the end of the canoe landing. Although on oxygen and with difficulty speaking, he recalled in his Salish language the importance of the water and the fish and beaver — the words of his grandmother.
"The People are rising up," he said. "For the water and for the salmon."