"Salmon: Cycles of Life

in Northwest Interior Washington"

Pacific American Fisheries Collection--Cannery Interior

Center for Pacific Northwest Studies

Exhibit Developed for the

Library of Congress

Bicentennial Local Legacies Project


Prepared by Chris Friday, Director

Center for Pacific Northwest Studies

Table of Contents

Abstract Project Scope Project Administration Local Directing Institution
Project Plan Project Sources Estimated Project Costs Local Team Members
Historical Narrative Summary Return to Table of Contentsfish2.gif (4895 bytes) Congressional Staff Team Member Addresses

Return to Table of ContentsAbstract  

This project traces the cultural meanings of salmon to the many different people who have inhabited Northwest Interior Washington over the past two centuries. Through historical texts, photographs, oral histories, video clips, and other materials, this project documents the folkways of the different ethnic communities (Native Americans, European Americans, and Asian Americans) surrounding their use and perception of the fish at various historical junctures. In this context, religious uses of the fish by Native Americans can be understood alongside those who have depended upon work in the processing plants for their subsistence and with the contemporary public hearings regarding the fate of salmon stocks. All reveal significant aspects of the cultural and historical milieu in which they emerged. Each represents a cultural pattern and each offers significant understandings of how different people have approached the environment with particular expectations, as well as how those groups understood themselves. No other symbol better capture the historical and cultural shifts of Northwest Interior Washington better than salmon. (See Historical Narrative Summary for an additional, brief discussion.)

Return to Table of ContentsProject Scope

Geographic: Concentration on Northwest Interior Washington, which includes present-day Whatcom, Skagit, and Island Counties. Some reference to the northern portion of the Olympic Peninsula and Snohomish County as well as Alaska and British Columbia may be made.

Cultural: Focus on ethnic groups most active in the fisheries including Native Americans, European Americans (Yugoslavians, Scandinavians, etc.), and Asian Americans (Chinese, Japanese, and Filipinos).

Historical: Attention to aboriginal uses and views of salmon, but with a focus on the period from circa 1800, which coincides with the sustained presence of European Americans in the area, to the present.

Return to Table of ContentsProject Administration

Local Directing Institution: Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington.

Local Team Members

Congressional Staff at Representative Metcalf's offices

Return to Table of ContentsProject Sources

Institution Collection Materials
Center for Pacific Northwest Studies Buswell (1880-1920) Photos, Text
Center for Pacific Northwest Studies Jeffcott (1850-1920) Photos, Text
Center for Pacific Northwest Studies Hammes (1940-1960) Photos, Text
Center for Pacific Northwest Studies Pacific American Fisheries (1900-1940) Photos, Text, Maps
Center for Pacific Northwest Studies Alaska Packers Association (1950-1980) Photos, Text
Center for Pacific Northwest Studies Northwest Ethnohistory Coll. (to 1990s)

Native American Legal Cases

Center for Pacific Northwest Studies Allen (1850-1960) Native American Oral History, Text
Center for Pacific Northwest Studies Misc. Regional Oral History Tapes and Transcripts
Center for Pacific Northwest Studies Al Swift Papers (1970-1990) Govt. Hearings, Pub. opin.
Whatcom Museum General Photo Collection Photos, Text
Whatcom Museum Biery Coll. (Shared w/CPNWS) Photos, Text
WA St. Archives NW Region Whatcom County Oral History Project Transcripts
WA St. Archives NW Region General Collections City/County recs., Maps
Skagit County Museum County Oral History  Project Transcripts
Skagit County Museum General Collections Photos, Text
Anacortes Museum Fidalgo Island Packing Co. (1880-1940) Text, Photos
Lynden Pioneer Museum General Collections Photos, Text

Return to Table of ContentsEstimated Project Costs

Costs associated with conducting interviews or collecting and processing materials will be borne by the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies or the institutions of the local team members. (Other costs not listed assumed as in kind contributions to the project by team members.)

Existing Collections

Photo Reproduction Costs $50

Oral History Reproduction Costs

Tapes $50

Transcripts $50

Video Reproduction/Ed. Costs $150

Historical Text Reproduction $50

Total $800

New Materials

Processing Newly Collected Photos

Time $300

Materials $200

Conducting Oral Histories (n.c. for interviewing, volunteer basis)

Tapes $150

Transcribing $1,500

Photocopying $125

Processing Misc. Ephemera

Time $100

Materials $50

Total $2,425


Est. Total $75


Return to Table of ContentsProject Plan

  1. Spring/Summer 1999--Identify relevant photos, oral histories, text, and other materials at the following archives--Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, Whatcom Museum of History, Bellingham Herald, Northwest Region State Archives, Lynden Pioneer Museum, Skagit County Museum, Anacortes Museum.
  2. Spring/Summer 1999--Broaden representation of local team members to include official representative from Native American tribes in the area if at all possible as well as representatives from other relevant groups.
  3. Summer/Fall 1999--Conduct oral histories, collect photographs, and locate appropriate text of contemporary peoples' involvement with salmon issues. (Fishers at work, fisheries protests, fisheries negotiations, fisheries hearings, and community celebrations.) Items to be placed in a "Local Legacies Project" collection at the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies or another appropriate institution in the region at the completion of the project. Director, archivist, and team member will be involved in the selection, collection, and interviewing of people. All appropriate and professional standards of documentation as well as the securing of copyright and title will be observed in this process. (See attached Collections Management Policy of the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies for basic guidelines.)
  4. Fall/Winter 1999--Project director will make the final selection of the items to be sent to the Library of Congress in consultation with project members and will draft and circulate the written report. Final selection if exhibit materials, written report, and relevant permission forms to be completed and sent to Library of Congress by December 1, 1999.


Return to Table of ContentsHistorical Narrative Summary

The salmon has been at the center of life and labor in Northwest Interior Washington from aboriginal times to the present. Many different people have built unique folkways around the fish, its harvest, and its consumption. Their responses have, however, not been uniform among these groups or across time. In the last century Native Americans have, for example, added commercial fishing on top of earlier cultural patterns in which the fish represented an item of deep cultural and religious meaning, a central part of their diet, and an item for exchange or barter with others. Early European American arrivals to the region marveled and the seemingly inexhaustible supply of salmon but saw the fish as a less than desirable food and even an annoyance. Some settlers simply used pitchforks to hoist the salmon from irrigation ditches onto fields for fertilizer as they had done with menhaden on the East Coast for generations. In the last half of the nineteenth century, salmon became the dominant market fish in the region as canning companies sprang up at nearly every bay and stream on the coast. Salmon became the silver of the sea, mined from the area's waters, packed into cans, and shipped around the world.

By the 1920s, Bellingham, Washington, had the largest salmon cannery in the world. Native American and European American men and women worked in these plants as well as many Asian Americans. Brought together by the canned-canned salmon industry, these workers introduced their own unique cultures to the community. Some practices were isolated within each group--common in the era of segregation. Still, there were areas of cooperation and sharing. The story is mixed, but worth knowing for it presents important lessons for the present day.

Up to the 1970s, salmon canning, then frozen and fresh fish markets proceeded at a breakneck pace. That decade, though, proved to be one of crucial change. By that time, most of the salmon canneries were gone. Fishers, commercial and sport, still pursued the catch, but environmental, legal, and political factors constrained them. Salmon stocks had begun a clear decline, but isolating the definitive causes eluded researchers then as well as today. Fishers fought over the shrinking supply, especially in the courts. During that decade, Native Americans and state governments clashed in the federal courts. The 1974 "Boldt Decision" that apportioned up to half the harvest to Native Americans did not lessen the controversy. Salmon, once a symbol of plenty in the region, became an emblem of Native-white conflict, a sign of environmental degradation. Such issues have not been laid to rest. The 1998 listing of certain salmon stocks as endangered affects urban dwellers of the region who must now consider lawn fertilizers, parking lot run-off, sewer discharge, new construction, and hydro-electric power. Legislation designed to protect salmon in urban environments may have as dramatic an effect there as the protective laws levied against farmers, loggers, and miners. Moreover, the legal struggles between the states and Indian tribes have not ended and the debates have grown to include ongoing conflicts between the United States and Canada.

In spite of these conflicts, this past decade has been marked by surprising and unprecedented levels of negotiation and compromise among those competing for salmon and groups affected by efforts to save declining fish stocks. Recent hearings jointly sponsored by Congressman Metcalf and Senator Murray regarding proposed National Oceanographic and Aerospace Administration designation of a Northwest Straits Marine Sanctuary are one case in point. Although tumultuous, the negotiations between Indian tribes and Washington State as well as those between the United States and Canada offer another. Those meetings and negotiations can be seen as cultural phenomena of today's world. They are public events that reveal systems of though and negotiations over folkways.

People in the region have long celebrated salmon, but they have done so in strikingly different ways depending on the historical era and their own cultural perceptions of the fish. Understanding the local legacy of salmon as part of Northwest Interior Washington's historical and cultural cycles of life illuminates what salmon have meant to the many different peoples of the region across time and offers insights into how they understood their relationship to the environment as well as how they saw themselves.

Return to Table of ContentsTeam Member Addresses:

Chris Friday, Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, Goltz-Murray Archives Building, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA 98225-9123 Phone: (360) 650-7747 Fax: (360) 650-3323 Email: Christopher.Friday@wwu.edu

Elizabeth Joffrion, Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, Goltz-Murray Archives Building, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA 98225-9123 Phone: (360) 650-7747 Fax: (360) 650-3323 Email: Elizabeth.Joffrion@wwu.edu

Toni Nagel, Whatcom Museum of History and Art, 121 Prospect Ave., Bellingham, WA Phone: (360) 738-7397 Email: tnagel@cob.org

Carole Morris, Bellingham Herald, 1155 N. State St., Bellingham, WA 98225 Phone: (360) 715-2283 Email: cmorris@bellingh.gannett.com

Jim Moore, Manager, Northwest Region State Archives, Goltz-Murray Archives Building, Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA 98225-9123 Phone: (360) 650-3125 Fax: (360) 650-3323 Email: Jim.Moore@wwu.edu

Troy Luginbill, Lynden Pioneer Museum, 217 W. Front St., Lynden, WA 98264 Phone: (360) 354-3675 Email: troy@lyndenpionermuseum.com

James Barmore, Skagit County Museum, La Conner, WA 98257 Phone: (360) 466-3365 Email: jimb@co.skagit.wa.us

Karen Marshall, Anacortes Museum of History, 1305 8th St., Anacortes, WA 98221 Phone: (360) 293-1915

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