Salmon Bake honors Native American culture

Matthew Brooks, News Contributor

As the Friday-morning clouds opened up to rays of sunshine, a line of people formed to get their hands on some of the salmon being served at this year’s Salmon Bake—an annual event hosted by the Native American Longhouse Eena Haws. 

This year’s event marked the 21st edition of the Salmon Bake, with over a thousand people estimated to be in attendance. As the salmon cooked and the smoky aromas of the fire filled the air, the line continued to grow—eventually wrapping all the way around Moreland Hall, with some people waiting an hour to get food.

Among the faces in the crowd was Luhui Whitebear, the assistant director of the Native American Longhouse Eena Haws. She and the rest of the team involved spent months working to plan the event, including working with the Global Community Kitchen.

“We work with them, we work with a tribal fisher that fishes off the Columbia river to make sure the salmon are running, because if the salmon don’t run we would be in trouble with fish,” Whitebear said. 

The man responsible for all of this year’s salmon, Jordan Wheeler (also known as Many Rattlesnake Braids), said that he caught the Spring Chinook using traditional methods.

“These are off a scaffold, off the platforms, with a big round hoop net—a traditional scaffold-caught fish,” Wheeler said. 

With the salmon being the star of the show, Wheeler said that it usually takes about 30 of the spring Chinook salmon to feed the hungry crowd.

“If you were to buy it from a store, I mean at about $40 a pound for these spring Chinook you’re talking 10 grand worth of fish at least, maybe more.”

With lots of fish needing to be caught and fileted, Wheeler spoke about how this event is truly a blessing for him.

“All the people that come around for just the salmon, over a thousand people here today eating the fish, it’s really just a super blessing to be able to provide these fish and still be able to catch them the old way, the traditional style and cook them this old way, old style and have everybody be fed and happy,” Wheeler said. “It’s really just a blessing.”

Not only was there a chance to get a quality meal, there was also a chance for community building. Susan Bernardin, the Director of the School of Language, Culture, and Society, was in attendance and excited to partake in the meal. She believes that the Salmon Bake is a wonderful opportunity for the community to come together.

“I think it’s a great example of community building that’s possible,” Bernardin said. “And food is often a really effective way to bring people together from different communities.”

Accompanying the salmon were blueberries, kale salad, roasted potatoes, as well as a slice of cornbread, all piled high on each plate. 

“You will find no better food in Corvallis on this day,” Bernardin added.

With so many community members sharing the tasty meal, Whitebear spoke about much she enjoyed seeing the people in attendance.

“I love seeing the OSU community and Corvallis community and beyond coming over,” Whitebear said. “There’s people that are from out of town that I’ve seen come through too, so that’s really nice for them to see campus and kind of experience campus and what we do and celebrate salmon culture.”

According to Whitebear, the timing of this event is also significant, as it goes beyond the nice weather that people were able to enjoy.

“This is a significant time in the Spring for the Northwest area for when the salmon are running,” Whitebear said. “And that’s part of what this celebrates, that salmon culture that’s been a part of the Northwest since the beginning of people being around.”

While this is one of the biggest events that takes place on campus every year, Whitebear was sure to add that this is far from the only event put on by the NAL. 

“The NAL is open to anybody to come through, and to be in community with us in more than just for the salmon bake – we do things all year,” Whitebear said. “ When we advertise them they’re for everybody to learn about things that are going on in native communities.”

To learn more about the Native American Longhouse Eena Haws and their events, you can visit their website.

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