Salmon are in for a treat – four days of ceremonies, a rarely performed dance and an apology

Sorry to say, some salmon have finished up on Alf's dinner plate and are past caring about apologies.

Alf regrets he has a full diary and other commitments later this month, because he would dearly love to witness the delivery of an apology to some fish.

He especially would like to see how the fish respond once they have received the apology.

Radio NZ can take the credit for alerting Alf to this exercise in contrition.

It advised him that a group of Native Americans was on a spiritual pilgrimage to New Zealand.

Twenty-eight representatives of the Winnemem Wintu people from California plan to apologise to the Chinook salmon, known in New Zealand as quinnat, which they believe is descended from eggs taken from their rivers.

Alf is anxious to see how the language challenge is overcome. He fears the salmon might have been here for so long, maybe they won’t understand the words of apology.

Mind you, the Winnemem have put plenty of time aside to ensure the message gets through.

The New York Times reports the Winnemem will apologise to the salmon in a four-day ceremony on the banks of the Rakaia River starting on 28 March…

Alf supposes the salmon ought to have got the message one way or another by the end of those four days.

More important, perhaps, Alf wonders if New Zealanders fully appreciate the visiting delegation’s intentions.

There’s more to this than just saying sorry to the salmon.

He therefore urges his readers to check out the New York Times account of what this is all about.

The newspaper says the group of more than two dozen Native Americans has embarked from San Francisco on a spiritual mission to New Zealand, where they will ask their fish to come home to California.

The unusual journey centers on an apology, to be relayed to the fish on the banks of the Rakaia River through a ceremonial dance that tribal leaders say has not been performed in more than 60 years.

The fish in question is the Chinook salmon, native to the Pacific but lately in short supply in the rivers of Northern California, home to the Winnemem Wintu — a tiny, federally unrecognized and poor tribe supported by some Social Security payments, a couple of retirement plans and the occasional dog sale.

As the Winnemem see it, the tribe’s troubles began in early 1940s, with the completion of the Shasta Dam, which blocked the Sacramento River and cut off the lower McCloud River, obstructing seasonal salmon runs, and according to the tribe, breaking a covenant with the fish.

“We’re going to atone for allowing them to build that dam,” said Mark Franco, the tribe’s headman. “We should have fought harder.”

The New York Times explains how the salmon finished up in the Rakaia River.

Nope. They do not have dodgy navigational sensors.

As luck would have it, the United States government once bred millions of Chinook eggs from the McCloud and shipped them around the world in hopes of creating new fisheries, including a batch that went to the South Island of New Zealand, where the fish thrived.

And so it is that the Winnemem — who have used their spiritual powers in the past to try to stop dam construction, heal the sick, and sway the votes of Senator Dianne Feinstein — are on an 11,000-mile vision quest whose itinerary, according to the tribe’s chief, came to her from a higher plane.

“The spirits came into the fire area here,” said the chief, Caleen Sisk-Franco, referring to the tribe’s circular, open-air meeting room. “And they said, ‘You’ve got to get it done.’ ”

This means, of course, that the tribe can communicate with spooks as well as with salmon.

You would think – wouldn’t you? – they could have put these talents to better income-generating use, over the past several decades.

But Alf digresses.

The chief, Caleen Sisk-Franco’s, told the New York Times the tribe and the salmon were intrinsically linked.

“What happened to the salmon happened to us,” she said. “The fish have been diminishing in numbers, and so have we.”

The group raised $US60,000 for the trip by selling trinkets, soliciting help from richer tribes, and using a Facebook page.

The headman, Mark Franco, has made it clear to the delegation that the trip is not a vacation, but a mission. “We have a job to do,” he said.

Hone Harawira should take note.

They will be bringing their drum, along with several manzanita logs, a container of sacred water and a collection of ceremonial weapons, including spears and bows and arrows.

Alas, the bloody bureaucrats seem to have intervened to bar the delegation from bringing all the contrition kit the tribe wanted to bring.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service denied the tribe permission to take much of its ceremonial regalia — including hawk, woodpecker and vulture feathers — though its eagle headgear was approved. “Win some, lose some,” Mr. Franco said.

Such battles are commonplace for the Winnemem, whose population once numbered more than 14,000. Their conflicts with the federal government date to 1852, when Congress refused to ratify a treaty that would have given the tribe and more than a dozen other Indian groups a 35-square-mile reservation along the McCloud.

Another insult came in 1985, when the tribe lost its federal recognition from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, something Mr. Franco attributes to a clerical error as well as a change in bureau policy.

The trip to New Zealand is not the first time the Winnemem have turned to ancient methods to try to change policy.

In 2004, while fighting a proposed plan to raise the Shasta Dam 18 feet, the tribe staged a war dance, a four-day, round-the-clock ceremony carried out by their dwindling numbers of warriors.

“We were exhausted,” Mr. Franco said.

But the dam was not raised.

We will get our chance to see the visitors strut their stuff when they stage the ceremony that will culminate with the rare “nur chonas winyupus,” or middle water salmon dance.

Significantly, they aren’t counting on the fish swimming back home.

The Francos say they intend to ask local fish and game officials if they can bring back some of New Zealand’s salmon eggs — once of California stock — back to the McCloud.

“We have to do more than pray,” Ms. Sisk-Franco said. “We have to follow through.”

Inevitably, Ngai Tahu have become involved in this carry-on.

As Radio NZ reported –

A spokesperson for Ngai Tahu says the Winnemem have been in discussions with local Maori over their plans to reintroduce the salmon to their native waterways.

Alf doesn’t expect Ngai Tahu to be apologising to the salmon, of course.

The salmon are not their taonga, and anyway, they are more likely to demand the New Zealand Government does the apologising.

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