Tribe hosts First Salmon Dinner in West Linn

WEST LINN -- Nine days after holding a private Tribal First Salmon Ceremony at the McLean House in West Linn - the first for the Tribe in 130 years - the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde held a public First Salmon Dinner in the same spot to commemorate salmon returning to the Willamette River.

The dinner also complemented the Tribe's relationship with the Willamette Partnership, a coalition of diverse leaders working "to shift the way people value, manage and regulate our environment," according to the partnership's Web site.

Grand Ronde Tribal Council member Chris Mercier sits on the partnership's Board of Directors.

"The celebration reminds us of the role the salmon has historically played in the lives of our people," Mercier said. "Not only that, but it also highlighted that the Willamette River has always been a vital part of life in the valley, of not only our ancestors, but of most Oregonians. The celebration reaffirmed the Tribe's commitment to being a good steward of our ancestral lands and waterways."

The event started at 5 p.m. with hors d'oeuvres prepared by chef Matt Bennett of Sybaris Bistro in Albany. Attendees sampled a "Northwest sushi" of seared venison loin in a hazelnut Oregon roll, lightly pickled mussels, teriyaki eel and foie gras, steelhead rillettes and a "canoe" of crayfish salad.

At 5:45 p.m., Tribal Public Affairs Director Siobhan Taylor led attendees on a walk around the McLean House and briefly told guests about the Tribe's salmon tradition and the Tribal artwork displayed on the path.

As Taylor recited the Tribal story, the Tribe's Portland area drum group, Place of Our Ancestors, which includes Eric and Erin Bernando, Jordan Mercier, Tribal Council members Jon A. George and Chris Mercier, Elders Dolores Parmenter and Debi Anderson, Lisa and Greg Archuleta, Lei-Lani Hernandez and Sam Robinson (Chinook), drummed and sang. Tribal Council members Cheryle A. Kennedy and Kathleen Tom attended as well.

"One hundred and 30 years ago was the last time the people who make up the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde conducted a salmon ceremony here," Taylor said while standing on a log. "Some of the Tribal people here tonight are direct descendants of those people. Chief Oregon John was a member of the Willamette Tumwater Chinook, which controlled Willamette Falls.

"In this spot a week ago, the first Salmon Ceremony in 130 years was held. Today will be the first time in 130 years that we can celebrate the return of salmon publicly with our friends."

Taylor walked guests past carved and painted cedar planks that told the story of the salmon, the falls and the Grand Ronde people.

"We have been here tens of thousands of years and we will be here tens of thousands of years more," Taylor said. "And we hope to have healthy fish in our rivers."

She also told the story of how Crow saved the last salmon egg from destruction so that Tribal peoples would always have salmon to eat.

"This ceremony gives thanks for the fish," Taylor said. "We eat everything and the remains go back to the river to ensure the continued return of salmon for the generations to come."

Upon arriving at the Tribal drum group, attendees listened to Kennedy give an invocation and were introduced to Tom, Mercier and George.

"We are the people of the salmon," Kennedy said after giving the invocation, "and as long as the salmon continue to flourish, the people of the salmon will flourish as well."

Kennedy said her grandfather's village was located at the current site of the McLean House. She said the five wooden herons surrounding the house's lawn derived from his telling of the story of the five herons who watched for the salmon return every year.

"I think the people who are here share the same vision as the Tribe," Tom said. "I think you are here for a purpose. You're here to meet the Tribes that were here. We welcome you to our ceded lands … we appreciate you coming here and sharing this meal with us."

After Kennedy's and Tom's speeches, the drum group played a blessing song as attendees returned to the interior of the McLean House for dinner. Inside, a copy of the Tribe's Willamette Valley Treaty was hung to reinforce that West Linn is part of the Tribe's ceded lands.

The dinner continued the appetizer theme of combining traditional Native foods with a modern culinary approach. Appetizers included venison bresoala, elk mortadella and hazelnut-foie gras truffle, camas-acorn crisps and pickled fiddleheads.

Other courses included nettle soup, Chinook salmon, gathered greens and, as a nod to Tribal efforts to raise money to send representatives to Washington, D.C., to push for Restoration in the early 1980s by selling huckleberry jam, a honey-buttermilk sorbet with huckleberry preserves served in a lidless Mason jar.

"This celebration of the first salmon features the traditional foods of the original Oregonians," chef Matt Bennett said. "It is not an anthropological study; it is as modern as the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde are today. With that said, it is hard to cook and eat these foods without thinking of those that came before."

A 2006 painting, "Sea Lion & Salmon," by Greg Robinson (Chinook) adorned the menus placed at each table setting.

The event was attended by employees of Willamette Partnership sponsors Wildwood Urban Design and Development, Mahonia Vineyards & Nursery, CleanWater Services, the Freshwater Trust, Capital Pacific Bank and the law firm of Perkins Coie.

In addition, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, Gov. John Kitzhaber's chief of staff, Curtis Robinhold, and Troutdale Mayor Doug Doust attended. Representatives from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, the state Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Forest Service also attended.

"I really want to thank the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde for telling their story," said Dick Pedersen, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality. "It is such a powerful story. I'm just really humbled to be in this place where you celebrated so much so many years ago and a week ago restored that tradition.

"What I learned in my business, as environmental director, from that story is how important it is that everything is connected and that we are so connected as humans to the air we breathe, the water we depend on and the land we live on, and you can't separate those connections today from the generations on into the future. It's a great lesson and you have to keep teaching it to us."

Other Tribal employees who attended included Fish & Wildlife Program Manager Kelly Dirksen, Ceded Lands Manager Michael Karnosh and Public Affairs Acting Administrative Assistant Chelsea Clark, who, with Portland area staff Lisa Archuleta and Hernandez, helped Taylor organize and work the event.