Groups vow to fight for salmon 'comeback'

A still shot from the new Patagonia film “Artifishal, the Fight to Save Wild Salmon," which will be shown at the event Thursday at the Medford library. Courtesy photo

Salmon have always been a vital part of food security here, and many people believe the time has arrived for key stakeholders and the public to examine the role of hatcheries and whether they strengthen the species and their survival during this chaotic time of climate change and removal of dams on the Klamath River.

It’s a controversial issue, one that the nonprofit Rogue Valley Food System Network will examine Thursday, Aug. 22, with native storytelling by Tom Doty, the new Patagonia film “Artifishal, the Fight to Save Wild Salmon,” and a panel discussion that will include the Native Fish Society, Rogue Riverkeeper, Applegate Partnership & Watershed Council, Siskiyou Salmon (a private fishery) and others.

The event, which is free and open to the public, starts at 5:30 p.m. at the Medford library, 205 S. Central Ave.

Alison Hensley Sexauer, Rogue Valley Food System Network coordinator, emphasizes the event is not a debate for taking sides but a respectful analysis of all the issues and impacts of fish farming and species health in a rapidly changing environment.

“With the news of a large salmon die-off in the Yukon, likely because of warming, I personally feel we can’t ask quickly enough to reflect on the ecology where we live and what’s growing around us,” says Sexauer. “For a glimpse of hope for their future, we need to give salmon some space to make a comeback.”

The film’s trailer on YouTube is more pointed, saying humans are “reversing natural selection and devolving the fish. We’re on a path to where there eventually will be no fish, and we’ve spent billions of dollars to get to that point. It’s not working,” it adds. “The wild ones are being exterminated, and the whales will follow.”

Native storyteller Doty will seek to lift the salmon story out of the immediate commercial needs of civilization, telling the ancient story of the “salmon people,” who made a reciprocal deal with humans 15,000 years ago, so “we give back to those who gave us so much. We sing, pray, drum and play games, welcoming them and showing gratitude as they swim each year past the falls in Gold Hill.”

After they brought back an ancient ritual called the Salmon Ceremony 25 years ago, says Doty, government officials said salmon runs on the Applegate River doubled from the year before.

The reality, notes Doty, is that “the salmon are not doing so well because of farmed salmon. My focus will be on the native community, which has all kinds of different opinions on this. We have tradition that, when the world feels out of balance, not quite right, then we come up with stories to remind us to wake up and do something about it. My job is to get it out there.”

Doty, musician Tish McFadden, Takelma elder and spiritual leader Agnes Baker Pilgrim and others have been working for three years on “Upriver to Morning, A Journey to Wisdom,” which weaves intergenerational themes within the context of salmon’s year-long journey, from the Pacific Ocean to the upper Rogue River. It will include a book, audiobook, story theater script, songs and comprehensive tools for teachers.

The audiobook was finished a few weeks ago. Details are at www.dotycoyote.com/storytelling/utm.html.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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