Dancing Salmon Home is a 60-minute documentary covering the Winnemem tribe’s historic journey to reunite with their
Chinook salmon relatives, and call them home.
In the Beginning when the Creator brought all the living beings into the world through a spring on Mt. Shasta, it was Salmon that gave Human a voice. In return for that voice, Human promised to speak for Salmon, and since that time, the Winnemem Wintu people lived on the McCloud River, in what is now northern California.
Since first contact with white men, the Winnemem suffered great losses. In the mid-1800s, the lure of gold and cheap land led to “open season” on Native people, and the Winnemem population went from 14,000 to a few hundred within fifty years. Then they lost their homes, their river and their salmon. But they never forgot the promise their ancestors made, to use their voice to speak for the salmon.
In 2010, 28 tribal members traveled to New Zealand to meet their salmon relatives for the first time in generations. In 1945, the Shasta Dam ended the Chinook salmon run up the McCloud, but a hatchery built on the river in the late 1800s sent eggs around the world, and the Winnemems’ salmon now thrive in New Zealand.
The 125-member Winnemem Wintu tribe gets little respect at home, but they have never given up speaking for salmon, for their sacred places, and for the health of the Earth and the Water. Now they have forged a lasting bond with the Ngai Tahu Maori people of New Zealand’s South Island. The Maoris threw themselves into hosting the Winnemem: arranging food and travel, introducing them to Maori sacred places and their sacred eel, and giving permission to hold a ceremony on the Rakaia River. Through four days of singing, dancing and fasting, the Winnemem people held in their hearts their salmon relatives, who they met for the first time in generations, as they held the small salmon fry in their hands before releasing them into the stream to begin their journey to the sea.
The tribe still has a long way to go, but they have made the first steps on the journey toward bringing their salmon relatives home. And they continue to use the voice that salmon gave them to speak for the health of the Water and the Natural World, on which all of us depend.