Mill-Luck Salmon Celebration

Kira Flores, 9, left, and Kai Russell, 10, sell handmade jewelry Sunday during the 16th Annual Mill-Luck Salmon Celebration at the The Mill Casino-Hotel on Sunday.

NORTH BEND — Thousands of people from around the region once again converged at The Mill Casino-Hotel & RV Park in North Bend over the weekend to enjoy the 16th annual Mill-Luck Salmon Celebration.

The annual event, which celebrates the heritage of the Coquille Indian Tribe as well as other Pacific Northwest tribes, featured a wide range of Native American exhibits, food and music.

William Murphy, left, and Rob Kelly watch over salmon cooking around the fire pit Sunday during the 16th annual Mill-Luck Salmon Celebration a…

Chairperson of the Coquille Indian Tribal Council Brenda Meade said the celebration is a great way for tribal members to share with the community and one another their culture and traditions.

“It’s important to know that the Coquille Tribe is a potlatch tribe and part of the meaning of potlatch is to share good food and spend time with friends and relatives,” said Meade. “I hope people know we love spending time with our family and friends and we hope they think about coming back and spending more time with us.”

In addition to enjoying a number of Native American dances and drumming performances, folks were also treated to live demonstrations of weaving, beading and other traditional artisan craftwork.

Jesse Davis, who was among the artists, showed visitors how to make clapper sticks, a musical instrument, out of elderberry branches. With assistance from fellow youth tribal members, Davis split and hollowed out elderberry wood with visitors to make the clapper sticks.  

“We’re always willing to share information with people,” said Davis. “Anything that anyone does learn at this event it’s always carried on with a good heart so making sure the information is passed on the same way you learned it.”

On Saturday, in between demonstrations and performances, the annual canoe races also took place, where visitors got a chance to watch tribal members participate in a number of friendly competitions.

Doug Barrett, tribal council member, teaches visitors of the 16th annual Mill-Luck Salmon Celebration how to braid tuli into a headband at the…

Shirod Younker, the canoe ambassador, has for years worked and researched to piece together traditional Native American dugout canoes and reincorporate them using modern materials and boat building techniques.

“It’s through the process of replicating the traditional art forms of our ancestors that teaches us how to be better human beings,” said Younker. “It’s not just about making things that we consider indigenous, but the lessons of making those things – a basket or a canoe or a paddle – that process is the true lesson that our ancestors have given us.”

Younker said allowing people to take part in canoe rides and share in their traditions will hopefully build stronger connections between communities and encourage more stewardship of the earth.

Coquille Tribal member Dr. Jason Younker once again led the traditional salmon baked meal which included skewering and burying tinfoil wrapped salmon in a fire pit. The pit, which acts a natural oven, perfectly cooks the salmon until it’s tender.

“I’ve been a part of this event for 15 years,” said Younker. “I think my favorite part, and hopefully we can continue doing this every year, is the explanation of why we do this. We had our fire-lighting ceremony opened to the public for the first time and we got so many good questions.”

Shantell Ulestad weaves a tuli matt during the 16th annual Mill-Luck Salmon Celebration at the The Mill Casino-Hotel on Sunday.

A way to honor the salmon for its ultimate sacrifice in feeding the tribe, the annual fire-lighting ceremony was another great way to share and educate community members about tribal culture, said Younker.

Following tradition, the bones of the salmon, which were prepared throughout the weekend, were placed back into the bay under a ceremonial prayer as another way to give thanks and encourage its return next year.

“Coquille people, and for that matter tribal people in Oregon are extremely generous and they share everything that they possibly could,” said Younker. “We have always wanted to share our culture and heritage with as many people as we possibly could.”

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Reporter Amanda Linares can be reached at 541-266-2039 or by email at amanda.linares@theworldlink.com.