Salmon are fundamental to all coastal peoples, and are a symbol of regeneration and life. Many myths tell of people taken to the undersea world of the Salmon who return with secret knowledge and powers. According to Salish legends, the salmon were people with superhuman abilities and eternal lives. They lived in great houses under the ocean but since they knew that humans on land needed food, they offered themselves to the land based tribes as food by turning into salmon fish. Their spirits were returned back to the ocean where they were reborn.
In the past, First Nations of British Columbia, including the Bella Coola, West Coast Peoples, Tlingit and many others, relied on salmon as a primary source of protein. Over centuries the coastal peoples have developed rich artistic expressions of the salmon.
“We are the First Peoples of the Northwest Coast. For thousands of years we have shared a way of life. But we are many different nations, living side by side. Our stories tell how the world came to be. They teach that we must care for the resources of the land and the sea — the cedar and the salmon. They tell us where our ancestors came from and why it is important to continue our traditions.” Excerpt from the CMC’s sound-and-light show, The Canadian Experience.