By William M. Twardek

A four-year collaborative project led by the Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF) has explored what is happening to salmon migrating through Traditional Lands of the upper Yukon River.

Centuries ago, thousands of Yukon River Chinook salmon were being harvested by the Indigenous Peoples in the area we now refer to as Whitehorse. Now, just a few hundred salmon make the long 3,000 km migration to Whitehorse each year, and nearly all Indigenous Peoples in the surrounding area have stopped harvesting salmon to help recover the once prolific stock.

“We need to keep respect for salmon in the forefront and work together to ensure the best possible future for this species,” said Brandy Mayes, lands operations manager of Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN). She, like many others, feels a sense of responsibility to the salmon.

Salmon migrations are remarkably unique within the animal kingdom. Salmon are born in freshwater streams, swim to the ocean, then migrate back to their birth site to spawn.

“We hear that the waters used to run red with fish, and now they hardly run at all. Salmon have been important to our culture for thousands of years, and it’s important to make sure the stock stays healthy for thousands of years to come,” said Cheyenne Bradley, steward officer with KDFN.

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