CRITFC Salmon Camp
Fostering an interest in natural resources careers and closing the academic achievement gap for Native American youth.
Salmon Camp is a component of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission’s Tribal Workforce Development program. The annual camp focuses on providing culturally relevant science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) experiences to foster an interest in natural resources careers and close the academic achievement gap for Native American youth.
A limited number of incoming 6th-8th grade students from the four tribes are selected to attend the free camp. Meals and lodging are provided and, after the program is successfully completed, a stipend is offered. The week long camp is held during the summer in tribal homelands. The four tribes take turns hosting Salmon Camp. The 5-day, overnight camp exposes the students to a blend of Western science and traditional ecological and cultural knowledge.
Salmon Camp Participants:
- Learn about the science and lifecycle of salmon
- Work on salmon restoration projects
- Explore Traditional Ecological Knowledge
- Meet tribal professionals working in the sciences
- Learn from tribal elders and cultural experts
- Gain unique and valuable hands-on experience
Salmon Camp 2015 Recap
Each CRITFC member tribe takes turn hosting Salmon Camp on a rotating 4-year schedule. The 2015 Salmon Camp was held in partnership with the Nez Perce Tribe. It took place on the Nez Perce Reservation at Camp Wittman, approximately 25 miles south of Lewiston, Idaho on Craig Mountain. Twenty Warm Springs, Yakama, Umatilla, and Nez Perce middle school students from throughout the Columbia Basin participated.
With the assistance of the Nez Perce Tribal Fisheries Department, participants learned about cultural traditions and customs and got hands-on experience exploring the salmon life cycle, watershed health, and food webs. The campers also had opportunities to speak with professionals about their education and career and were provided with resources on college preparation, financial aid, and course selection.
Day 1 Topic Areas
- Nez Perce history and culture
- Regional ecology
- Value of oral histories in modern understanding
- Team building
Welcome to Nez Perce Country
On the first day, campers arrived at the Nez Perce National Historical Park Spalding Site. Park rangers gave the campers an overview of Nez Perce history and the area. After everyone had arrived, the campers boarded the bus to make their way up to Camp Wittman, where icebreakers and team-building activities helped the campers and counselors get better acquainted. The students discovered the sports equipment and had no problems getting to know one another, have fun, and enjoy the forest campground. After reviewing the schedule for the week and creating ground rules, campers welcomed Josiah Pinkham from the Nez Perce Cultural Resources Program for dinner. Josiah shared traditional Nez Perce stories that focused on the traditional human relationship with the land and the culture that grew out of that relationship. He also told myths about local land formations the campers would see over the course of the week.
Day 2 Topic Areas
- Nez Perce history and culture
- Fish biology and importance of a healthy ecosystem
- Climate change
Salmon, Lamprey, and Healthy Rivers
Campers began their first full day with field studies focused on wildlife, specifically lamprey and salmon, as well as the components of a healthy habitat. Emmit Taylor (Nez Perce Fisheries) and Allen Pinkham, Sr. (Nez Perce elder) joined campers for a day-long Snake River jet boat tour up Hells Canyon. Allen led the tour and shared stories about the cultural significance of the river. Campers toured a significant petroglyph site along the Snake River at Buffalo Eddy. They spotted a lot of wildlife along the steep canyon walls, including mountain goats, deer, bald eagles, and blue herons. Following lunch and a quick swim, the campers heard from Emmit, who spoke about the unusually hot summer, and the impact warmer water temperatures were having on salmon and lamprey this year. The tour continued upriver to the Nez Perce Crossing at Dug Bar, the historic location where Chief Joseph and his band forded the Snake River on their flight to escape the US Cavalry during the Nez Perce War in 1877. Back at camp, the students enjoyed dinner and a presentation on lamprey by Jarrod Crow (Nez Perce Fisheries). Evening activities included eating s’mores around the campfire and playing volleyball, lacrosse, and football.
Day 3 Topic Areas
- Nez Perce history and culture
- Balanced ecosystems
- Aquatic ecosystems
- Water quality
Native Plants, Invasive Species, and Water Quality
Campers spent day three in the traditional Nez Perce camas fields at Musselshell Meadows. Here they learned about the importance of First Foods. Nez Perce Fisheries Watershed Coordinator Marcie Carter guided the activities. Gwen and Essie Carter (Nez Perce elders) taught the campers about how to properly dig camas, including using a tú-kes (a traditional root digging stick). Marcie Carter spoke on the danger and impact of invasive species. She covered the importance of preventing non-native plants from taking root in ecologically rich locations like Musselshell Meadows. The macroinvertebrate session was lead by Nez Perce Fisheries staff and interns. Campers learned about and collected the insects, spiders, and mollusks found in healthy aquatic ecosystems. Using snorkels and masks, campers got an up close look at salmon, macroinvertebrates, and plants in the stream. After swimming in the Clearwater River, campers enjoyed dinner and a discussion with Tatlo Gregory on seasonal rounds and the Nez Perce language.
Day 4 Topic Areas
- Traditional First Foods
- Fish Biology
- Hatchery management and supplementation restoration
Salmon Supplementation Hatchery and First Foods Feast
Thursday was a busy day filled with a tour of the Nez Perce Fish Hatchery, swimming along the Snake River, and the traditional First Foods dinner. In the morning, Aaron Penney (Nez Perce Fisheries) led the campers on a tour of the Nez Perce Tribal Fish Hatchery. They visited the Pacific lamprey and salmon holding tanks and learned about the unique curved, cobble-lined ponds that mimic natural streams that help teach salmon to survive in the wild. After lunch, campers enjoyed a final swim in the Snake River and relaxed before returning to camp. The traditional First Foods dinner, one of the most anticipated activities of Salmon Camp, was attended by some of the campers’ families, community members, and staff. Julie and Justine Miles prepared a delicious salmon meal, which included Lee Bourgeau’s famous frybread and camas from Emmit Taylor’s family. Josiah Pinkham offered a traditional blessing on the meal. Salmon Campers spent the evening visiting with elders and catching up around the campfire and roasting marshmallows. The fireside discussion dwelt on how much the campers appreciated their experiences at Salmon Camp and how they wished it were longer.
Day 5 Topic Areas
- College preparation and planning
- Goal setting
- Creative writing
College Preparation and Goodbyes
Campers woke up early to pack their belongings and clean the cabins before breakfast. They were joined by Bob Sobotta (Lewis-Clark State College) and Solo Greene (Nez Perce Tribe) for a discussion on college, STEM options, setting goals for themselves, and following their dreams. Campers finished up their poster presentations and enjoyed a farewell BBQ lunch.
Salmon Camp Impact
Several weeks after returning home, the Salmon Camp participants presented the posters they created at camp to their families and community during wrap-up sessions held in each tribal community. The experience gave the students an opportunity to practice their public speaking skills as they shared what they had learned about salmon and lamprey and what they enjoyed most about Salmon Camp. The jet boat tour at Hells Canyon was definitely at the top of the list! After their presentations, campers answered questions from their families about their future college and career plans. Tana Atchley (CRITFC Salmon Camp Coordinator) led a discussion on the importance of learning about math and science as students complete their K-12 education.
Salmon Camp definitely had a positive impact on the participants. A post-camp survey found:
- Met expectations 95%
- Increased interest or confidence in science 80%
- Interested in pursuing a STEM-related degree 85%
- Wanted to learn more about college opportunities 80%
- Definitely or would like to go to college 90%
CRITFC thanks all of the organizations and individuals who helped make the 2015 CRITFC Salmon Camp a success, including counselors: Bridgette Greene, Jasmine Smith (Hewett), Alex Pinkham, and Clint Kordon; presenters: Josiah Pinkham, Emmit Taylor, Jarrod Crow, Allen Pinkham, Sr, Marcie Carter, Gwen Carter, Essie Carter, Thomas Gregory, Solo Greene, and Bob Sobotta; cooks: Julie Miles, Justine Miles, and Lee Bourgeau; Nez Perce Fisheries staff and interns, Nancy McAllaster from Nez Perce Tribe Fish and Wildlife Commission, Wenona Holt from Appaloosa Express, Deanie Smith from the Warm Springs Culture and Heritage Department, Kathleen Peterson from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation Children & Family Services, Snake River Adventures, and the Lewiston Boys & Girls Club staff at Camp Wittman.