Sts’ailes Salmon Conservation Story
According to legend, during the time of those mythic, shape-shifting beings that embodied the Indian world, the Sts’ailes people constructed a weir on the Chehalis River near it’s confluence with the Harrison. The weir served as a device to trap salmon and provided a platform for spearing. The weir spanned the river, and it was functioned so well it cut of the migration of salmon to the spawning grounds and the “forest” Indians living upstream at Chehalis Lake.
As the supply of salmon failed the Indians of the lake, disease and hunger overcame them, and the people looked to their Otter Chief for help. He donned his otter coat, transforming himself into an otter, and swam downstream to where he found the weir holding up the salmon.
Several attempts by the otter to dismantle the weir to allow fish passage, were repaired each day by the people of the local Village. The repeated damage to the weir greatly alarmed those operating the weir, who were convinced the havoc was caused by the hairy giants who lived in subterranean caverns in the distant mountains to the north.
They decided to watch and see what happened, and were astonished to meet a huge otter who spoke to them in their own language. This is how the Chehalis village in the valley first learned of another at Chehalis Lake. They were quick to make a compact with these people upstream, to lift their weir regularly to let the salmon through.
For a time, runners closed the gap between the villages, communicating between weirs in the lower and upper river. And, it is said they could be seen at night speeding down the Chehalis trails lit by the torch of a burning salmon head on stick.
In time the two villages decided to amalgamate forming a single village between Harrison Lake and the Mouth of the Chehalis River. Today, the Sts’ailes continue to depend upon their rich salmon resource, and they take seriously their responsibility to protect the salmon from development, habitat loss, and over-fishing. Their vision for the future Harrison fishery includes harvesting for food, social and ceremonial purposes, as well as economic opportunities and includes their leadership in salmon stewardship. Today the Harrison River is a recognized salmon stronghold, sharing this status with several other world renown productive salmon ecosystems. For further information Google “Harrison Salmon stronghold”.