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Why the Salmon come to the Squamish waters

A Squamish Legend

Long ago when animals and human beings were the same, there were four brothers who went about doing good.

Coming to the Squamish Indians one time, they were persuaded by the chief to stay a while in his village. Knowing the wonder-working powers of the brothers, the chief said to them, "Won't you bring the salmon people to our shores? We are often short of food. We know that salmon is good, but they never come to our waters."

"We will persuade the salmon People," replied the oldest brother, "if we can find out where they live. We shall have to ask Snookum, the sun."

After a good deal of struggle and using a few tricks, the brothers got the Sun to tell them where to look for the Salmon People. "The home of the salmon is a long way off in that direction," replied Sun, pointing toward the west. "If you want to visit them, you must first prepare much medicine and take it with you. Then all will be well."

The brothers let the Sun go and he flew off into the clouds. After gathering many herbs and making much medicine, they said to the Squamish people, "Get out your canoes and make ready for a long journey. At sunrise tomorrow we will set out for a visit with the Salmon People."

Next morning they all started westward. For many days they paddled, and finally they came near an island. There they saw what seemed to be a village. Smoke of all colors rose into the clouds. "This seems to be the country we are looking for," said the brothers. "Sun told us that this is the home of the Salmon People." So the paddlers took the canoes to the beach, which was very broad and smooth. All the Squamish people went toward the village, the four brothers carrying the medicine with them. They gave some of the medicine to Spring Salmon, the chief of the village. As a result, he was friendly toward the whole party.

In the stream behind the village, Spring Salmon kept a fish-trap. Shortly before the visitors had landed, the chief had directed four of his young people, two boys and two girls, to go into the water and swim up the creek into the salmon trap. Obeying his orders, they had drawn their blankets up over their heads and walked into the sea. As soon as the water reached their faces, they became salmon. They leaped and played together, just as the salmon do in the running season, and frolicked their way toward the trap in the creek.

So when the time came to welcome the strangers with a feast, Chief Spring Salmon ordered others of his people to go to the salmon trap, bring back the four fish they would find there, and clean and roast them for the guests. When the salmon were cooked, the chief invited his guests to eat.

"Eat all you wish," he said, " but do not throw away any of the bones. Be sure to lay them aside carefully. Do not destroy even a small bone"

The Squamish and the brothers gladly accepted the invitation, partook freely of the roasted salmon, but wondered why they were asked to save the bones.

When all had finished eating, some of the young men of the salmon village carefully picked up the little piles of bones the guests had made, took them the beach, and threw them into the sea. A few minutes later the four young people who had earlier gone into the water re-appeared and joined the others. For four days the Chief thus entertained his guests with salmon feasts.

The care taken with the bones at each meal excited the curiosity of one of the visitors. On the fourth day he secretly kept back some of the bones and hid them. At the close of the meal, the rest of the salmon bones were collected in the usual manner and cast into the sea. Immediately afterwards, four young people came out of the white water. But one of them was covering his face with his hands.

Approaching the salmon chief the youth said, "Not all of the bones were collected. I do not have any for my cheeks and nose." Turning to his guests, the salmon chief asked, "Did any of you mislay any of your salmon bones? Some are missing." And he pointed to the face of the young man.

Alarmed by the result of his act, the Squamish youth who had hidden the bones brought them out, pretending that he had just found them on the ground. Now all the visitors were certain that their hosts were the salmon people.

"We have come to visit you, Salmon Chief, for a special purpose," explained the oldest brother. "We came to ask you to let some of your salmon people visit Squamish waters, come up the streams of the Squamish people. My friends are poor, and they often go hungry. We shall be very grateful if your people will sometimes visit them". "I will do as you request," replied the salmon chief, "on one condition: they must throw all the bones back into the water as you have seen us do. If they will be careful with the bones, my people can return to us again after they visit you."

"We promise," said the four brothers.

"We promise," said all the Squamish people.

Then they made preparations to return to their home across the water, toward the rising sun. As they were leaving, the salmon chief said, "I will send Spring Salmon to you first in the season. After them I will send the Sockeye, then the Coho, then the Dog-Salmon, and last of all the Humpback."

Ever since that time, long ago, different kinds of salmon, in that order, have come to the Squamish waters, to the sea, into the straits, and into the streams. And in the days of old, before the coming of the white people, the Indians were always very careful to throw the bones of the salmon back into the water.

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