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Native Americans on NZ salmon mission

Native Americans on NZ salmon mission

23 Mar 2010

A group of Native Americans are on a spiritual mission in New Zealand - to ask chinook salmon to return home to California.

Winnemem Wintu tribal leaders will gather on the banks of the Rakaia River, in Canterbury, next Sunday (28.03.10) to apologise to the chinook salmon - an introduced species that's also known as quinnat in New Zealand.

At the culmination of a four-day ceremony, the 24 representatives will perform the "nur chonas winyupus" or middle water salmon dance.

The tribal group - who are collaborating with New Zealand Māori leaders of the South Island Ngai Tahu tribe to organise the ceremony - was welcomed to New Zealand yesterday (22.03.10) with a traditional Māori powhiri.

Return of the salmon
Chinook salmon were once abundant in the waters of the Sacramento and McCloud rivers but numbers were drastically reduced with the construction of a dam that obstructed seasonal salmon runs.

According to the Winnemem, the dam broke a sacred covenant that the tribe had with the fish.

The tribe says that New Zealand salmon are descended from eggs taken from their rivers, and they are hoping to reintroduce eggs from this original stock back into their homeland.

Chief Caleen Sisk-Franco says the tribe came to New Zealand on a vision quest based on a higher spiritual calling.

"The spirits came into the fire area here and they said ‘you’ve got to get it done’."

Representatives of the Winnemem - a small tribe living on the edge of poverty - scraped together funds for the important trip by selling trinkets, soliciting help from richer tribes, and through Facebook.

For the riverside ceremony, the delegation has brought ceremonial regalia including eagle headgear, a container of sacred water, weapons and a ceremonial drum.

NZ chinook salmon

The chinook salmon - known in New Zealand as quinnat, king or spring salmon - is one of five species of Pacific salmon. It is New Zealand’s largest freshwater fish, and the largest species in the salmon family.

The breed was introduced into New Zealand rivers on the South Island’s east coast in Canterbury and Otago more than 100 years ago.

The ocean-swelling chinook salmon swim up the rivers to spawn, offering a prized catch for anglers.

While the chinnook is now scarce along the Californian Pacific coast, it has thrived in New Zealand waters. In the US, the species is found in the San Francisco Bay, California, to north of the Bering Strait in Alaska.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, the salmon has established spawning runs in the Rangitata, Opihi, Ashburton, Rakaia, Waimakariri, Hurunui and Waiau rivers.

Nine populations of chinook salmon in the US are listed as threatened or endangered - commercial fisheries in Oregon and California were closed in 2008 and 2009 due to the extremely low population of fish present, which was blamed on the collapse of the Sacramento river run.

More information:

Salmon fishing in New Zealand


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