Celilo First Salmon Ceremony

This is the key annual ceremony devoted to the first salmon to arrive at the site of sacred Celilo Falls, (now buried by the reservoir behind The Dalles Dam), the single most significant indigenous fresh-water fishery in the entire Columbia River Basin, sacred to all the tribes of the Columbia and beyond. This is a ceremony that, in some shape or form, has been going on for thousands of years. There are other first-salmon ceremonies up and down the Columbia, but this one is the “holy of holies.”

This is a site where a considerable population of peoples from as far away as the Pacific coast, the Rockies, the Great Basin and California came to trade seasonally, due to the riches of the salmon. Every year, usually in the middle weekend of April there are three days of ceremony. On Sunday the ceremony ends with a feast of traditional foods — roots, berries, fresh-picked wild greens, salmon in all its forms, venison, elk and more. Non-Indians can respectfully attend, watch the ceremony and participate in the feast.

What matters crucially is that all visitors obey the longhouse rules and follow the rules as set down by the leader of the ceremony. (Among other things, once in the longhouse you stay in the longhouse until there is a set break. No cameras, no recording equipment, no idle talking. Reverential silence.) Cameras are allowed, but not exactly encouraged, on the exterior grounds. There are food booths (frybread and the like) and Indian art booths nearby. Embrace the ceremony, pray with Indian friends, brothers and sisters. Travel back thousands of years in the sacred place of the longhouse.

  • Event held annually in mid-April
  • Trained guides available

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National Geographic