Westbank First Nation distributed salmon among its community members for the fifth year on Tuesday, Aug. 18. (Twila Amato - Black Press Media)

WFN salmon distribution celebrates traditional food, community

Younger nation members are also taught how to clean, filet and preserve fish

Westbank First Nation (WFN) has been distributing salmon to its members in mid-August for the last five years to ensure they receive traditional food sources, and so younger generations can keep learning about how to process their own harvest.

The salmon was harvested by the Okanagan Nation Alliance, made up of the eight nations and bands in the Okanagan. The fish are then divided between the nations and distributed throughout each community. At WFN, approximately 150 families receive salmon every year.

This year, WFN distributed fish on Aug. 18.

The pandemic may have forced many to stay home, but community members still came out to the WFN youth centre one by one to pick up salmon for their families. Audrey Wilson, acting membership services manager for the nation, said this year is exciting as it’s the first time they set up cleaning and filleting stations.

“We’ve been doing this for over five years now… all we did before was hand them out, families took them home and they cleaned their fish,” she said.

“This is good because we at least get to see each other for a short time.”

She said she’s seen some changes in the amount of fish that come to the community, with last year being especially quiet.

“I think from last year, there was no salmon for any nation. It goes in spurts yearly, where sometimes it’s a slow run and the next year, we’re flourishing… we’re just hoping for better years moving forward.”

WFN’s youth and recreation manager Nicole Werstuik said salmon distribution days are important for the younger generation.

“We have lessons showing them how to fillet, cut into steaks, just so they know how to preserve and have sustainability for their families,” she said.

Werstuik herself took a few minutes to re-learn how to fillet salmon, which she hadn’t done in a few years but she said it’s important to learn it again and to teach it to younger generations so they can have more of an appreciation for their surroundings and their history.

READ: Westbank First Nation museum doing well despite increasing COVID-19 cases

Twila Amato
Video journalist, Black Press Okanagan
Email me at twila.amato@blackpress.ca
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