This is Cle Elum Lake. It was once the nursery for juvenile salmon that hatched in the mountains you can see in the farthest distance in this photograph. The Colvilles and the Yakama are working hard to bring salmon back, using Nk’mp salmon from the Canadian Okanagan and a towable water tower to bridge the level of the Yakima River and the gap of reservoir sand between it and the lake. That’s how much they want to have a conversation with those fish.
Let this story be a lesson for all people, of whatever intention, who treat water as a material substance and not the life energy of an ecosystem. Water is social. As soon as it is treated as a resource, it becomes industrial. The next step is the final insult to indigenous people: the transference of human dignity, work, to machines, followed by a proposed translation of human culture and identity into artificial intelligence, or, if you wish, into bondage. This lake is proof. You can argue about this one for years, but it’s really very simple. This is the river, just north of the wapato gathering grounds around Thorpe, Washington, where 5,000 people gathered every summer, before following the fish upriver to Cel Elum Lake.
It’s now fenced off with No Trespassing signs. The violence was done years ago, with the transference of living land, as part of a community, into elements of earth, wood and water. Make no mistake: the contemporary fashion to consider the earth as social, in a populist sense, with uses to be determined by people who live in industrialized environments, in fact the very idea of use, as well as the contemporary fashion to consider artificial intelligence technology as a boon, is a profound violence against indigenous people.
Indigenous: of the earth.
Here’s the next big salmon fishery to the north, on the Washaptum.
Go there, for God’s sake, because you are indigenous, too. This violence is not something that happened long ago. It is happening today, in the most powerful corporations and most prestigious universities of the world, and among artists and writers, whose technologies are often based on elemental uses of the earth as well. Don’t look away from this one. This is the one that matters. This is the one in which we are all guilty and can all be redeemed. Here’s a pair of those Nk’mp salmon to show you the way.
The way is simple. When the Nimíipuu started to bring salmon back to the Kooskooskie River …
… below the ancient story of Coyote’s Fishnet …
… a story as old as the ice age, at least, they resolved to do so for the salmon, not for any use to which the salmon could be used. It’s that simple. If we want there to be an earth, we have to make one, and not for us. If you’re going to make art, make it for the point where earth and water meet and become each other.
Anything else is not of this earth. “Don’t state what it is you want,” friends advise me. “No one ever achieved anything by going towards it directly.” Well, maybe so, but someone has to say this stuff. If not me, then you. Or us.