Maidu Indian Salmon Ceremony
Saturday, October 7, 2006

The Tsi-Akim Maidu Tribe performed its Salmon Ceremony on the banks of the South Yuba River this Saturday with a day-long set of free festivities called, "Calling Back The Salmon."  The event began with a sunrise ceremony under the Highway 20 bridge. Following that, a tribe member speared a salmon which was run up the river by relay to Englebright Reservoir and then taken by canoe to the mouth of the river.

The salmon relay continued to Family Beach at the South Yuba River State Park at Bridgeport, where a full salmon ceremony was held at noon. Following that was drumming, dancing, speakers and grilled salmon in the grassy area next to the Visitor Center.

Co-sponsors of the event were the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL), The Sierra Fund, Sierra Nevada Deep Ecology Institute, Yuba Watershed Institute, and the California Department of State Parks.  These groups made the public aware of the ceremony and cleared regulation hurdles for the Tsi-Akim Maidu Tribe, but the tribe ran the event from beginning to end.

Tribe leader Grayson Coney explains the ceremony to public attendees on the hill behind Family Beach.
He announced that the sunrise ceremony was also well attended.

The crowd listens intently as Grayson Coney speaks.

The crowd filled this level spot and spilled down the hill to and on the beach.

Joan Buffington explains that no photographs are to be taken during the solemn ceremony itself.
Joan is among the many people who promoted increased public awareness during the past seven years.

One of many tribal elders at the ceremony

A few of the Bridgeport docents, rangers and friends at the ceremony, left to right:
Hank Meals, Diane Marten, Tuffy Haselhorst, Jeremy McReynolds, Bill Haselhorst

Izzy Martin (right) chats as we wait for the ceremony to begin.

Old-time friends of the South Yuba River, Hank Meals on right

Joyce Geiger, her niece Gail Erwin, and a friend.

Gail Erwin was very happy to be at the event.

Down at the river a tribe member explains how a smoke stick (in his left hand) is used to bless ceremony participants.
He walks around the person as he wafts smoke onto them with a feather fan (in his right hand).
The stick is a bundle of reeds that smolder with an incense-like smoke.

A growing group of observers wait on Family Beach for arrival of the salmon.

At 12:05 p.m. tribe member Jason Ryberg carries the salmon down to the river from Point Defiance Trail.

He is followed by a flag bearer and supporting entourage.

They all cross the river to Family Beach.

Jason Ryberg arrives with the salmon.

A helpful hand onto Family Beach


While Jason cut off the salmon's fins and tail, the ceremony was begun by J. D. Smith, a Maidu who has performed the ceremony many times and had come from some distance to lead this one.  As everyone, observers and Maidu alike, gathered around a fire circle, J. D. Smith lead the group in prayer for salmon to continue coming year after year.  He was ably assisted by Grayson Coney and Master of Ceremonies Michael Ben Ortiz.  Don Ryberg is Tsi-Akim Maidu Tribe Chairman.

The final prayer was done by Jason Ryberg carrying the salmon counterclockwise around the fire circle four times, entering and leaving the circle from the east.  J. D. Smith invited all present to repeat this four-revolution ritual, all entering and leaving from the east.  Many participated and those who asked were "smoked" at the circle's edge.  Before guests began circling the fire, Jason Ryberg ended the Maidu-only part of the ceremony by burning the salmon's fins and tail in the fire.

J. D. Smith (center) chats with the tribe member who performed the smokings.

Guests circle the fire as some get smoked (in the foreground here).

Many joined in the solemn circling of the fire