"It’s like a big family reunion"

August 7, 2015

by Jeff Adams, Samaritan’s Purse Canada Director of Communications and Creative Services

Annual “Fish Camp” sparks temporary drop in youth participation at Ministry Centre.

The Samaritan’s Purse Ministry Centre in the Dease Lake region of northwestern British Columbia is experiencing a temporary reduction in the number of local youth participating in the centre’s programs, while many families in the area focus their attention on the annual “fish camp.”

For centuries, the Tahltan First Nation people have waited for the annual salmon run on the Tahltan and Stikine Rivers. It’s a time when salmon swim upstream to their spawning grounds. For the Tahltan people, it’s a crucial period when every member of the family becomes involved in trying to catch and store enough salmon to feed their families for months to come.

Many Tahltan leave their permanent homes in Dease Lake and other surrounding communities and temporarily live in tents, trailers, or small cottages (hence the name “fish camp”) along the scenic riverbanks. Some catch fish using rods and reels while others rely on nets stretching out into the river.

“I can remember doing this with my family since I was five, and I was probably doing it even before that age,” said a 36-year-old Tahltan NatIon member, while he and his two sons gutted and cleaned several large salmon that became caught in the family’s net at the junction of the Tahltan and Stikine rivers.

A heavy equipment operator at a local mine, the man said he and his boys store in ice-filled coolers the salmon they catch, then take them home and freeze them.

Other fish camp participants preserve salmon the same way First Nations have for centuries—by smoking them. Tahltan member Willie Williams has a smokehouse at the fish camp site to which his family has been coming each year since he was child. “I grew up around here,” he says.

Williams notes the annual fish camp is not only an opportunity to gather food, but to unite with family members and friends —some of whom no longer live in the area, but who come back each year for the salmon run. “It’s like a big family reunion for many of us. We look forward to this time and celebrate it.”

Most Tahltan families will spend a couple of weeks at the fish camp before returning to their normal lives—and homes. And so while fewer children have been showing up at the ministry centre in recent days, staff there know it’s only temporary.

“They’ll be back, and we’ll be happy to see them,” says lead youth worker Josiah Atkins, with a smile.

Local youth participate in a wide variety of activities at the centre. There are crafts, hiking, biking, soccer, Frisbee, charades, water relay races, watching movies, playing video games, music jams, skateboarding, and more. All of it is designed to help the children have safe and wholesome fun.