The Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) has reintroduced Chinook salmon above Vaseux Lake at sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ (pronounced S-hoho-neet-kwa) Provincial Park — also known as Okanagan Falls — for the first time in 70 years.
“We are releasing Chinook back into their historical habitat,” says Herb Alec, hatchery building operator for the Penticton Indian Band.
The release — which took place on April 20 — was ceremonial, says Alec. They kept it small, planning “to release a lot more in the coming days and weeks.”
“We’re hoping to achieve the return of the Chinook… big enough numbers that the Okanagan people can go back to subsiding on them, living off them, using them for ceremonial purposes,” he says.
In previous years, the ONA has released Chinook salmon at multiple locations on Syilx Territory — in the Oliver area, along the Penticton river channel and at the En’owkin Centre — to increase their survival rate, he says.
“There are a lot of predators in Vaseux Lake, but this year we did things a little differently,” says Alec. “We raised these fish quite a bit bigger so that they can survive.”
Alec says he’s worked with the hatchery for seven years, and he feels called to be a steward of the water, replenishing fish stocks in the Okanagan’s lakes and rivers as his great-grandfather did.
“My great-grandfather was Martin Louie. He was the Salmon Chief for the Okanagan as well as the upper Columbia,” he says. “I feel like it’s a responsibility being passed down.
“Any time we bring fish back, it’s important to the culture.”
Thanks to Athena Bonneau
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
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