Fellow member of Women Writing the West, Carmen Peone has lived in Northeast Washington on the Colville Confederated Indian Reservation since 1988, gleaning knowledge from Joe, her tribal member husband, other family members and friends. She has worked with tribal elder, Marguerite Ensminger, for three years learning the Arrow Lakes-Sinixt- Language as well as various cultural traditions and legends. With a degree in psychology, the thought of writing never entered her mind until she married her husband and they moved to the reservation after college. She came to love the people and their heritage and wanted to create a legacy for her sons.
Carmen’s new release is entitled Delbert’s Weir. It is a young adult survival book that takes place in the mid-1800s and concerns Delbert Gardner, a teen boy, and his two friends in Northeast Washington Territory, who want a chance at learning traditional Native hunting and fishing methods from their American Indian friend, Pekam.
Carmen has very kindly consented to give away one ebook copy to someone who leaves a comment! The winner is Betty Bauer. My sincere thanks to all who took the time to leave a comment–comments still welcomed, however!
Three years ago, the Colville Confederated Tribes brought back traditional fishing in the form of a fence style weir as shown below.Traditional weirs were made of Cottonwood and Indian hemp rope or rope from the stalk of the cattail, or tule. Today the weir that stretches across the Okanogan River is made of aluminum for easy annual set up and tear down.
Before Grand Coulee Dam was built in 1942, salmon migrated roughly 700 miles from the Pacific Ocean, where the mouth of the Columbia River divides Washington and Oregon, to spawn up at the Kettle Falls located just below the Canadian Border. This was the site where the Arrow Lakes or Sinixt and many other tribes would fish off wooden scaffolds, harvesting the ones too weak to jump with fifty foot falls. They would then wind dry their bounty and store the fish in baskets in order to feed the people during harsh winter months.
In the smaller tributaries like the Okanogan River, Indigenous tribes would use fence style weirs of either wood or rock to catch salmon. Today, they use the same style of weir, but instead of wind drying the meat, it is vacuum sealed and frozen, then distributed to tribal members as needed. Every year thousands (in 2014 40,000) of salmon are trapped by the pictured weir. This has brought back traditional food to the Colville Tribal Members and their families by traditional means. In a way, lost honor is restored to the people.
The idea of using a weir in a boys survival book entered my mind during the time my husband was the director for the Colville Tribes Fish and Wildlife department. At that time, they were in the beginning stages of building the aluminum weir and weaving the ties of tradition once again through the hearts of the people. The tribe owns and operates two hatcheries that raise Chinook salmon.
Another traditional fish catching means was with a trap in the shape of a heart at the edge of a stream bank. The fish could enter through the top of the curves that form the heart, drop in, and not be able to find their way out. The same strategy is used for making bee catchers out of plastic pop bottles.
All photos the author’s own.
In a time when the west was still untamed, sixteen-year-old Delbert Gardner leads two friends into the backcountry for a three day adventure. Little did they know three days of hunting and fishing would turn into eight days of near starvation, injury and illness. When hope of returning home seems out of reach, Delbert recalls watching his Native American friends construct a fishing weir and sets out to build one himself. To him, it is the only way out.
Delbert found three long sticks and handed them over to Jed and Ross who speared slabs of fresh meat on the ends and roasted them over the fire. The aroma of sizzling meat wafted in the air and wedged in Delbert’s nose. He joked and laughed with his friends as they waited. Hungry. Anxious.
The meat lasted about as long as it took to spear it.
Delbert sat and stared at the other two. He was thankful for the food, but still hungry. By the look on their faces, Ross and Jed were also. The three stood in unison, without saying a word, and raced to the creek. Delbert rushed to one fish trap for inspection, not stopping to remove his cowboy boots and saw the other two do the same. He peered into the trap and found nothing. Heat rose up his neck as he slapped his leg.
Jed waved them over to another trap. He jumped and hollered in a high-pitched shrill, trying to remain upright as his boots slid over slimy rocks. A speckled trout with a red streak running down its sides rested in the tip of the trap.
Delbert rushed over and leaned close, letting loose a howl. He lost his balance and slammed into the creek. His shoulder cracked against the rocky bottom. He felt no pain. I did it. I caught a fish. He scrambled upright and balanced against the current.
Ross rushed over to see Delbert’s catch.
Jed ran to the other three traps. “Empty here,” he called out.
“At least you caught one,” Ross said.
Delbert clambered to his feet and gave Ross a grateful smile. He felt relief flood his face. This was no time to rib a friend. But it was time to thank their Creator.
Delbert picked up his catch with both hands and held the trout knowing his life depended on it. His heart thrummed with pride. “Come on, let’s stoke the fire and roast this thing.”
They sat by the fire, hands up and with their drenched boots propped up against the rocks. They listened to the fire crackle. Watched the flames lick their fish.
The sun slid halfway behind the western mountains and as it did so the cricket chorus came alive as if to tease Delbert. While boots steamed by the fire, Delbert convinced Ross and Jed to join him and attempt to catch those annoying critters. He sat taller and stretched his neck as he scouted the terrain. He instructed Jed and Ross to sneak around barefoot, which he decided was quieter, and pointed them in different directions.
Before they left, Delbert reviewed the cricket snatching instructions.
Ross rolled his eyes.
Ross and Jed listened with smirks on their faces. Once again, Delbert ignored their brashness.
Ross flicked his wrist. “Like this?”
Jed laughed. “What about this call?” He cupped is hands over his mouth and made a high-pitched chirping noise.
Delbert sat for a moment and watched their reaction. He challenged them by asking, “Okay, I bet you two don’t catch one cricket. But here’s the deal, whoever’s cricket snags a red skinned trout, gets to eat it. The others starve.”
Delbert’s Weir is available at:
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/carmen+peone?_requestid=709814
Carmen can be found at:
Website and blog: http://carmenpeone.com/
About me: http://carmenpeone.com/about/