Searching for Salmon in Chuckanut Creek

On November 10th Reconnect Earth set out to witness one of the most spectacular seasonal phenomena in the Pacific Northwest: the return of migrating adult salmon to their spawning ground in the streams where they were born. The group of us met up at Bellingham’s Arroyo Park, then followed the trail down to Chuckanut Creek and investigated several spots along the creek looking for salmon.

Chum salmon in Chuckanut Creek

We were fortunate to get an up-close look at some of these amazing fish as they struggled upstream through the shallow waters. Though we didn’t want to disturb the salmon, there were times when we could have reached out and touched them. We also took time to identify and appreciate other animals and plants we encountered, including the three main conifer tree species that grow in the park: western red cedar, western hemlock, and Douglas-fir.

At this time of year Chuckanut Creek is home to migrating chum salmon, one of the five salmon species in the Northwest. We found numerous salmon resting in pools and fighting their way up through the rocky riffles as they sought their spawning grounds. This year’s returning adult salmon will lay eggs that hatch next year and give birth to a new generation of fish who will migrate to the ocean and spend years there fattening up before returning to their freshwater streams and beginning the cycle anew.

Creating a timeline of colonization

After taking plenty of time to appreciate the salmon, we gathered up for a discussion about the history of Indigenous peoples and colonialism in the Pacific Northwest. Like all parts of North America, the Northwest has a brutal history marked by genocide and the theft of land from Indigenous nations. These injustices have yet to be rectified and are still with us today. Our group participated in an activity meant to spark discussion by building a timeline of events from the past 200 years that affected Indigenous people in this region. Though this history includes many atrocities carried out by European colonists, it also includes inspiring stories of Indigenous resistance. From the rebellion led by Nisqually Chief Leschi in the 1850s, to recent victories won in court by tribes like the Lummi defending their salmon fishing rights, Indigenous people have been fighting back since the first wave of colonization began.

Two salmon making their way upstream

Our conversations about local Indigenous history led to an extremely thought-provoking discussion about the wider implications of colonization, and how traditional societies all over the world have cared for the landscapes they have inhabited since time immemorial. We finished by talking about a couple of upcoming opportunities to take action on environmental issues, including a December 3rd public hearing on a proposed crude fossil fuel export ban in Whatcom County, and the December 6th national day of climate strikes.

Overall this year’s salmon-searching trip was a big success when it came to both seeing fish and exploring the complex issues that define our relationship with the more-than-human world. Reconnect Earth has one more weekend trip coming up this fall. Learn more and sign up to join it here.

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