"Salmon: Cycles of Life
in Northwest Interior Washington"
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 Contents||Congressional Staff||Team Member Addresses|
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.)
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.
Local Directing Institution: Center for Pacific Northwest Studies, Western Washington University, Bellingham, Washington.
Local Team Members
Congressional Staff at Representative Metcalf's offices
|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|
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.)
Photo Reproduction Costs $50
Oral History Reproduction Costs
Video Reproduction/Ed. Costs $150
Historical Text Reproduction $50
Processing Newly Collected Photos
Conducting Oral Histories (n.c. for interviewing, volunteer basis)
Processing Misc. Ephemera
Est. Total $75
PROJECT TOTAL $3,500
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.
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: email@example.com
Carole Morris, Bellingham Herald, 1155 N. State St., Bellingham, WA 98225 Phone: (360) 715-2283 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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: email@example.com
James Barmore, Skagit County Museum, La Conner, WA 98257 Phone: (360) 466-3365 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Karen Marshall, Anacortes Museum of History, 1305 8th St., Anacortes, WA 98221 Phone: (360) 293-1915
RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS