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Canoeing salmon advocates near source of Columbia River

Sea2Source Episode 5: Kettle Falls to Kinbasket Lake BC from Voyages of Rediscovery on Vimeo.

The “Sea to the Source” canoe expedition that left Astoria, Ore., on Aug. 2 in hand-made crafts is on track to reach the end of its voyage Monday at Canal Flats, the source of the Columbia River in British Columbia.

An expedition of canoeists and Native American students is leading an upstream effort the length of the Columbia to advocate construction of a fish ladder to reintroduce chinook salmon runs in the Columbia River above Grand Coulee Dam.

  • See photos of the latest leg of the journey upstream from Kettle Falls.

The crew consists of five river guides who oversee a river-based environmental education program called Voyages of Rediscovery. They have enlisted the muscle power of Indian Tribes, youths and other supporters to build new boats and power them along the way.

Donna-Gay Ward of Northport, Wash., paddled more that 300 miles with “the Guys” to the U.S.-Canada border. By Oct. 12, she said the paddlers were in Revelstoke, British Columbia, making a food buy and were down to four men paddling the new canoe they had built while at Kettle Falls. “They have been getting up around 4:30 a.m. and hitting the water at first light and paddling all day,” she said. “The day they phoned they had done about 75 km!”

Here is the latest update, received today from expedition member Adam Wicks-Arshack: 

What an incredible RIVER!  Last week we paddled away from Revelstoke and into the most remote and serene sections of the Columbia River.  In just a few days we made it to Mica Dam and were treated to a nights stay in a house and an all you can eat buffet at the cafeteria (I am pretty sure they will now have to raise the BC Hydro rates after our food binge).  What great hosts as have been everyone that we have met along the Great River of the West.  Leaving Mica dam was a little eerie, you could really feel the power of the river and the power of what we humans have done to the river.  For the past 500km we had been warned about the Kinabasket Lake about the winds in particular and how fierce they can be.  It was a thrill to paddle past Boat Encampment, the Canoe River, Wood River and finally turning south around the big bend of the Columbia River.

Fortunately we were able to cover a lot of territory in short time and sailed about 65km in one day.  We really felt as though the river graced us and allowed us safe passage and this was for a reason.  The river wants salmon and wants to get healthy again.

Wicks-Arshack says the paddlers have been resupplied, helped  and cheered on by people along the way who “share incredible stories and their deep relationships to the river and the salmon.”

They all seek to let salmon regain their relationship with the entire river from sea to source, he said.

“It is clear we need more education along the river,” he said. “There is a great disconnect between the upper and lower basin.  Many people in Canada are unaware of where the river meets the ocean and people on the lower river in the USA are oblivious to where the headwaters are and the sacrifices the First Nation, Canadian people, and the land have made for flood control and hydro power.”

  • In Spokane:  Expedition members plan to participate in the Roundtable discussion on the Columbia River Treaty Perspectives  at the annual Lake Roosevelt Forum, Nov. 19-20 at the Davenport Hotel in Spokane.

“There is a lot of work to do.  Even though this trip is coming to an end, for us, this is just the beginning lets start figuring out how we can get a diverse group of young people connected to the river…. Respect for the river comes with a love for the river and you can only love something you know.” 

He envisions an international water trail — perhaps The Columbia River Water Trail from Source to Sea — that “would constantly remind Columbia River citizens that everyone lives downstream.”

Canoe journey spotlights plight of Columbia salmon

Episode 1: The Fish Ladder from Voyages of Rediscovery on Vimeo.

RIVERS — An expedition of canoeists and Native American students is leading an upstream effort to advocate construction of a fish ladder to reintroduce chinook salmon runs in the Columbia River above Grand Coulee Dam.

On Aug. 2, five salmon-inspired dugout canoes started their journey up the Columbia River to pay tribute to the salmon no longer able to reach their historic spawning grounds of the Upper Columbia River since the construction of Grand Coulee Dam.

The boats have made it past Chief Joseph Dam last week, paddled up Lake Rufus Woods and completed the portage around Grand Coulee Dam on Saturday. They expected to paddle up Lake Roosevelt to Keller Ferry by Saturday night and then leave there today, headed for Two Rivers at the mouth of the Spokane River by Monday night.

From the confluence of the Spokane and Columbia Rivers, the paddlers will head up the Spokane River to Little Falls — the first dam that blocked salmon from migrating up to Spokane Falls in 1910.  Spokane Tribe schoolkids (who helped build one of the dugout canoes) will join the paddle. A public event of some sort is planned at the end of the week. See blog updates here.

The “Sea to the Source” expedition left Astoria, Ore., in an upstream voyage toward Canal Flats, the source of the Columbia River in British Columbia. 

The crew consists of five river guides who oversee a river-based environmental education program called Voyages of Rediscovery. They are enlisting the muscle power of Indian Tribes, youths and other supporters along the way.

“The idea behind the canoes and the river expedition is to bring the salmon back to the upper reaches of the Columbia River,” said Adam Wicks-Arshack a guide with Voyages of Rediscovery and environmental educator.  “We carved these canoes with thousands of students who’ve had the salmon removed from their culture by Grand Coulee Dam.”

The five dugout canoes were carved at various schools over the past year.  For most of the trip they have been paddling two canoes, the “Salmon Savior” a 21-foot ponderosa pine, carved at the Wellpinit Middle and High School on the Spokane Reservation and a larger 33-foot cedar canoe, the “Crying Salmon,” which was carved by the students of Inchelium School on the Colville Reservation.


As the expedition arrives at each school that carved a canoe, Inchelium, Wellpinit, Kettle Falls, and Medicine Wheel Academy of the Community School in Spokane, the canoes will be gifted back to the school and young people who carved them. 

“These canoes represent the Salmon,” said Xander Demetrios, a river guide with the expedition. “They have traveled through many hardships from the Pacific Ocean and are nearing their former Spawning Grounds.  These will be the first salmon to pass Chief Joe and Grand Coulee in a long time.”

The expedition has canoed more than 545 miles up the Columbia River to Chief Joseph Dam, the first dam without a fish ladder and is approaching Grand Coulee Dam. 

The river guides and environmental educators anticipate another 1-2 weeks of paddling to reach the international border between the United States and Canada.

John Zinser,  boat builder and river guide, proudly praises the young carvers (see video above). “The students worked every day on these canoes and it is an honor to paddle these salmon canoes which were created with so much energy from so many young people,” he said.  

When the expedition arrives at each school the crew is giving presentations about their journey and the importance of salmon and the Columbia River.  Most importantly each student will have the opportunity to paddle in the canoes they carved.

This expedition comes in the midst of preparations by the United States and Canada to renegotiate the Columbia River Treaty that governs one of the great rivers of the world.  The 1964 Treaty failed to consult with Tribes, First Nations, and the residents of southern British Columbia.  The Treaty built 3 treaty dams in British Columbia and the Libby Dam in northwestern Montana, forcing 2000 people from their homes.  The Treaty contains only the two purposes of hydropower and flood control.  

Tribes and conservationists want a third purpose added to the Treaty:  restoring the Columbia River to ecological health including bringing salmon home to waters blocked by dams.

“The Grand Coulee Dam was once considered to be the greatest engineering project the world had ever seen,” noted Wicks-Arshack. “Now let's get started with the greatest eco-engineering project—a fish ladder at the Grand Coulee Dam.”

Voyages of Rediscovery is a program of The River School, a non-profit river based environmental education not for profit.  They have been offering educational canoe trips and canoe building opportunities on the Columbia River for the past five years. If you would like to follow the Sea2Source expedition, you can follow their blog and/or facebook page.