NEAR ROSLYN, Wash. -- Yakama tribal member Russell Jim pulled the ceremonial plug and in a matter of seconds, locally born sockeye salmon returned to Lake Cle Elum for the first time in a hundred years.
“Something I never thought I would ever do, and yet here I am,” said an emotional Jim.
The sockeye were the first of a generation planted in Lake Cle Elum and born in upstream tributaries to return. Their path is blocked by dams, so they were captured downstream and trucked past the barriers to the lake.
Hundreds of tribal members and guests were there to greet them Wednesday and celebrate the return of a valuable and cultural food source that was lost as pioneers paved the way for the western expansion.
Tribal members prayed and sang and feasted after hundreds of salmon were flushed from trucks into the cold lake. Speakers said historically 200,000 sockeye would migrate into the Yakima Basin each year. The fish provided nutrients for the native tribes, wildlife and plants.
There were reflections and yearnings for how it was then, but the focus was on the future.
“What has taken place today is for our future, our children and our grandchildren,” said Tribal Council Member Gerald Lewis.
Biologists said plans are in the works to establish fish ladders and other structures to help the adult salmon to one day make the return trip on their own.