Source: A Northwest Indian College production for NASA's Where Words Touch The Earth
In this video segment, learn about how natural cycles are related to subsistence living. Hear about the Moon's importance to the Lummi people of western Washington State, and how the lunar cycles tell them when it is time to fish and time to gather. In addition, a Coast Salish Elder from British Columbia, Canada, speaks about the interdependence of nature and explains how the scent from a fir tree helps salmon find their way back home. The video segment was adapted from a student video produced at Northwest Indian College in Bellingham, Washington.
Traditionally, indigenous communities live a subsistence lifestyle that keeps them closely connected to the environment. A subsistence culture relies on natural resources for food, clothing, and shelter, and it requires a deep understanding of and respect for the natural world. In order to harvest the fish, wildlife, and plants that nature provides, Native communities have developed an intimate relationship with the land, and they are strongly attuned to the cycles of nature.
Salmon forms a large part of the subsistence diet for many Native communities in the Pacific Northwest. The fish are harvested in the summer and fall, when they return to the rivers, streams, and lakes to reproduce. The life cycle of the salmon begins in these freshwater systems, but the fish migrate to the ocean, where they mature for several years. When they are ready to reproduce, the salmon return to the very same freshwater where they were born. How the fish find their way back is not well understood, but they likely use a combination of natural cues (such as Earth's magnetic field, the Sun's position in the sky, and water salinity and temperature) to navigate in the ocean. Once they reach freshwater, salmon are guided by their sense of smell. The unique odors of the location where they are born are imprinted in the brains of young salmon and stored until adulthood, when the chemical signatures of their birthplace guide the fish home again.
As a tree flowers and then loses its leaves, it contributes its scent to the water where a young salmon begins its life and will one day return. In this way the life cycle of the tree is tied with the life cycle of the salmon; the cycles of nature are interconnected. Resources can be managed using natural cycles such as the daily cycle of the Sun, the 29-day cycle of the Moon, and the yearly cycle of the seasons. The Coast Salish people have developed a 13-moon system (based on the 13 lunar cycles that occur in a year) to help guide the harvesting of resources and keep track of the seasons; the monthly cycle of moon phases is a natural means to mark the passage of time. In the 13-moon system, there are distinctive names for each moon, and each moon is associated with particular subsistence and cultural activities. For example, the spring salmon moon, known as Yomach, signifies the return of the salmon. At this time of year, families prepare for the fishing season and honor the salmon with the First Salmon Ceremony.
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