In the beginning, before the “Two-Leggeds” walked the Earth, creator came and asked who would help take care of them. The first to come forward were the Salmon. The relationship between salmon and Native People in the Pacific Northwest goes back to the beginning of time.  People take care of the land and the water so that the animals and the fish can live and remain healthy, and the animals and the fish then take care of the people by feeding them and providing nourishment. Have we come to a point where we have polluted the land so much that the fish are now polluting us?


Oregon State University (O.S.U.) teamed up with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (C.T.U.I.R), Department of Science and Engineering (D.O.S.E) to study the exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) when the traditional food salmon, is caught, prepared, and smoked. PAHs ( are produced when organic material is burned, such as wood, fossil fuels, or natural gas. PAHs can be carcinogenic or non-carcinogenic, meaning they can be cancer risk increasing or non- cancer risk increasing. 

Two traditional smoking methods were observed; one in a traditional tipi, and the other in a smoke shed. The two tribal members who agreed to be observed wore equipment that took air samples during the smoking process they also provided urine samples. Twenty spring-run Chinook traditionally caught by tribal members on the Columbia River were used in the study. O.S.U. researchers used state-of-the-art methods to identify and measure PAH levels. 

Two days of gathering data, between two methods of smoking, and two volunteers. The fish was prepared using traditional methods to ensure the independence of each variable. Researchers compared the results to a study done in the United Kingdom. Only a few PAHs were found in the salmon before smoking and at very low levels. But PAH were found at elevated levels found after smoking. Smoking salmon in a traditional tipi had the lowest PAH levels. CTUIR-DOSE scientists and OSU scientists concluded salmon has cultural value as well as nutritional value, and tribal members should continue the enjoyment of salmon in many forms, and to limit the PAH exposure smoked salmon should be alternated with fresh, frozen, canned and dried preparation methods.

Focus groups showed that Tribal members still maintain the environmental connectiveness that occurred in the beginning of time when the Salmon came forward to take care of the people. Reservation lands and tribal communities show an increase in environmental hazards. Continuing to study the effects on the environment and how that circles back to the Native People are useful to help bring the sustainable and healthy benefits back to the care of the land, the animals and the people.

Figure 1, self made smoke shack, used to dry and smoke salmon

Figure 2 CTUIR Tribal member Stuart Harris adds to his fire which smokes the salmon filets inside the tipi which was hand made by his wife Debra Harris.