Kettle Falls to the Pacific Ocean

“Ilth koy Ape Falls to the Pacific Ocean – By The Grace of God”

This original oil painting, is Joseph’s interpretation of David Thompson and his nine companions departing Kettle Falls to reach the mouth of the Columbia River. The boat Thompson designed is made of cedar as no good birch as in this area.

On our visit to Kettle Falls, July 28, 2007, one of the first objects to catch my eye is a huge black rock with deep scratches in it. A vision begins to form of the first nations men ritualistically taking turns at sharpening their spears on this rock. In the background the salmon leap and fly out of the water and into the rushing falls making their way up river in order to spawn – to fulfill their final purpose. The inner knowing of their destination urges them on in the struggle to reach home.

The Salmon Chief is ready to give the blessing to begin the harvesting of the salmon. The fishermen have been designated their spots along the river and falls. Large baskets are hung around the turbulent falls to catch the salmon as they leap upward trying to gain distance from the river’s current. The salmon will be prepared and laid out for drying by the women above the shore. This harvesting of salmon will sustain their people into the fall and winter.

Lt. Charles Wilson, Royal Engineers, August 1860 writes “They catch from 700-1000 salmon a day in this river, which are equally divided amongst hem in the evening by one of the chiefs. The most curious sight is to see them empty the basket, two men strip and jump into it armed with wooden bludgeons with which they knock the salmon on the head and then pass them on to the others on shore; it is rather an awkward situation in this same basket, as part of the fall, though not the full force of it, runs right over their heads nearly drowning them whilst what with the weight of the fish and the rush of the water the frail basket rocks about in anything but a pleasant manner.”

These great gatherings of tribes were a time of celebration, marriages, feasting, and giving of thanks to the salmon, which is significant culturally and spiritually to the first nations living along the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers. In the distance I can hear the great noise of Kettle Rapids, mingling with the laughter, singing, dancing and praying of the annual gathering. There is excitement here. Reunion.

Sharon Cross 2014