Thomas Doty – Storyteller

Sacred Salmon Ceremony

Photo.  Drawing.  Photo.

When the Salmon Have Sore Backs

By the time the salmon reach this middle stretch of the river, they look battered. Their fins are torn and their sides bruised. They've struggled against miles of strong rapids and leaped many a waterfall on their journeys upriver. By the time the salmon reach our village of Ti'lomikh, their backs are sore, at the very least. This is a triumph, and a time of celebration.

– From All Night Salmon Leap the Falls

An Ancient Ceremony Comes Home

The Sacred Salmon Ceremony came home to its original site in 2007 for the first time in over 160 years. The ceremony was conducted by Agnes Baker-Pilgrim, Takelma elder and Keeper of the Sacred Salmon Ceremony. The ceremony's home is the ancient Takelma village of Ti'lomikh, along the Rogue River in southern Oregon. For the previous 13 years, the ceremony had been held along the Applegate River.

On December 23, 2006, Grandma Aggie blessed the land, the first step in bringing the Sacred Salmon Ceremony back to its source. On January 24, 2007, Stephen Kiesling located the ancient stone Story Chair near the falls at Ti'lomikh, and two days later Stephen Kiesling, Kim Marie Murphy and Thomas Doty waded the Rogue River and confirmed the discovery. For thousands of years, the chair played an important role in the Sacred Salmon Ceremony.

On June 4, 2007, when the Sacred Salmon Ceremony came home to Ti'lomikh, the diving platform carved into the rock above the Story Chair was once again part of the ceremony. Divers returned the bones and skin of the first salmon to the bottom of the pool below Ti'lomikh Falls. Traditional Takelma stories were also brought back to the ceremony. Thomas Doty was joined by guest storytellers Lindagail Campbell and Chet Nickerson. Once again, the stories of Daldal, Coyote and Panther and his brother Wildcat, were shared on the riverbank at Ti'lomikh.

Grandma Aggie says, "The Old Ones used to believe that salmon were people who looked like us, the two-leggeds. They lived in beautiful cities beneath the ocean floor. Every spring and fall they chose to put on the form of salmon to come back and feed the two-leggeds. They teach us that you have to give back."

Grandma Aggie retired in 2014, and the people await the next Keeper of the Sacred Salmon Ceremony.