Allison's Book Bag

The Importance of Salmon

Posted on: November 10, 2015

It’s the day of the First Salmon Ceremony, when P’eska and his people will give thanks to the river for the salmon it brings. But when P’eska wakes up, he sees that the special tray needed for the ceremony has been left behind.

The above description comes from the inside flap of P’eska and the First Salmon Festival, a picture book written and illustrated by Canadian Scot Ritchie. The back pages include a letter from Chief William Charlie, an illustrated afterword, and a glossary. Tomorrow I’ll review P’eska and the First Salmon Festival. Save the date: November 11!


A Canadian author and illustrator, Scot Ritchie has worked with the National Film Board of Canada and has had his illustrations exhibited at the National Gallery of Canada. He has been published in advertising, editorial, map, and educational material. Many of the 50+ children’s books to his credit were both illustrated and written by him. He enjoys traveling and has been able to work in various international locations.

I’m very excited to report that ‘P’esk’a and the First Salmon Ceremony’ is out! This book has been a labour of love…. The original name was ‘Qwuni and The First Salmon Ceremony’ but I found out that Qwuni is the wrong dialect for where my story takes place so it had to be changed. It turned out to be a good thing because P’ésk’a means hummingbird. It’s a perfect name for the little boy as he runs through the village, poking his nose into everything. I’m really grateful to the Chief of the Sto’lo nation who was kind enough to give his approval to the book – it means a lot to me.


P’eska and the First Salmon Festival is published by Groundwood Books, an independent Canadian children’s publisher based in Toronto. The company looks for books that are unusual. In particular, Groundwood Books is committed to publishing books for and about children whose experiences of the world are under-represented elsewhere.


Set one thousand years ago and based on archeological evidence, Ritchie’s story is about the Sts’Ailes people. From Ritchie’s tale, we learn that a special tray is needed for the First Salmon Ceremony. Every spring, the Sts’Ailes celebrate the ceremony, as a way of saying thanks to the salmon. After the salmon is eaten, its bones are returned to the river.


Everything the Sts’Ailes need to survive is found in the forest and in the river. The Sts’Ailes use cedar for many things, including building canoes, drums, and clothes. Although salmon is the most important food, animals and berries are also eaten.

Although Chief William Charlie writes about being pleased to see P’eska and the First Salmon Festival help bring to life the ancient way of his people, I wonder what other books are available that show the modern ways. Chief William Charlie notes that the Sts’Ailles are actively revitalizing their history, language, and culture. He views this book as important to the effort.


According to the Sts’ailes website, the Chehalis First Nation or Chehalis Indian Band /ʃəˈheɪlɨs/ is the band government of the Sts’Ailes people, whose territories lie in British Columbia. According to their website, culture runs very strong in their people. “We take great pride in what we do and how we carry ourselves with our ceremonies and spirituality.” The Chehalis perform many ceremonies such as The First Salmon Ceremony, Ground Breakings for new buildings, as well as having many drummers with vast knowledge of traditional songs and talented artists that are known in their territory and beyond!

Sts’Ailes first salmon ceremonies honor the returning salmon today as they have done for countless generations. According to the Sts’ailes Development Corporation, the ceremony involves putting the bones and unused portions of the first salmon back in the river. The Sts’ailes Development Corporation notes pre-contact fish weirs still mark traditional use areas, and archaeological remains are evidence that salmon has been in Sts’ailes diet for thousands of years.

To learn about the First Salmon Ceremony, I researched the traditions of other First Nations. According to Wikipedia, the first salmon is shared with either the entire community or more privately in a family setting. After the salmon meat is eaten the bones of the fish are then returned to the river. This is to show respect to the salmon people. Failure to perform the ceremony or share the fish could result in the fisher experiencing bad luck for the rest of the year and the salmon run may not be as strong.

Salmon was a preferred food, said to give individuals energy. In contrast, other meat could make one feel heavy and lazy. In order to eat salmon through the off-season, salmon was preserved through two different methods. In the summer salmon was wind dried with salt and in the fall salmon was smoked. The latter was traditionally done for a couple of weeks but with modern refrigeration technology smoking is only done for a few days. Dried salmon was then either boiled or steamed before eating.

Salmon was not only used for food, it was also crucial for trade. Since European settlement, the salmon have been experiencing decreases in numbers. Major contributions to this include the building of the CPR, agriculture, and forestry. One of the newer major issues is the expanding farmed salmon industry. Today, rivers are being managed to preserve them as reliable salmon refuges. Healthy wild salmon are viewed by the Sts’Ailes as a reflection of a healthy ecosystem and vital to mankind’s future.

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