At Salmon Homecoming every autumn at Oxbow Regional Park, visitors can hear the birds singing, the Sandy River flowing and the wind rustling through the trees. Once the event is underway, visitors can smell the salmon baking, soup cooking, and hear the sounds of children playing and laughing along with traditional songs. People are also gathered along the Sandy River, looking to see if the salmon have returned home to spawn and complete their life cycles.
Witness the ancient cycle of Chinook salmon returning to the river of their birth to spawn, creating the next generation. Salmon Homecoming is a collaboration with the Native American community to honor the salmon by sharing traditional sciences, stories, songs and a Salmon Bake. Come out to Oxbow Regional Park to spot the salmon in the Sandy River, a designated National Wild and Scenic River. Learn about and enjoy the 1,000 acres of old-growth forest, hiking trails, river beaches and wildlife.
Oxbow Regional Park
$5/car, $7/bus. Pre-pay for parking.
Registration not required.
Join Metro staff, volunteers and community members at the river’s edge. Get help spotting spawning salmon and learn about the behavior and life cycle of salmon. Borrow a pair of polarized glasses for the best
Oct. 19 and 20, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Enjoy a cup of hot chocolate or cider. Guaranteed to take the chill off and lift your spirits for a walk in the autumn woods. First-come, first-served.
Oct. 19 and 20, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Come participate in a native plant walk led by an Indigenous community member and learn more about the unique ecology of our region.
Oct. 19 and 20, meet at Alder Shelter
1 to 2:30 p.m.
Sandy River restoration walk
Take a walk along the Sandy River and learn about the restoration work happening to improve water quality and restore habitat for native fish, such as salmon, steelhead and Pacific lamprey. On this walk, participants will look for native fish spawning in the river and learn the characteristics of healthy fish habitat.
Oct. 19, meet at Alder Shelter
11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. or 3 to 4 p.m.
Lichen and moss
Diminutive but darling, Northwest mosses and lichens are renowned for their abundance and diversity. Grab your hand lens and join a naturalist in taking a closer look into the enchanting world of mosses and lichens. Learn about their ecology and how to identify them.
Oct. 20, meet at Alder Shelter
11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 2:30 to 4 p.m.
Two years ago, Indigenous community members helped re-envision Salmon Homecoming to incorporate their cultural traditions into a popular event that, for decades, had been framed around western concepts of nature education. Now the two-day event includes Indigenous storytelling, tea preparation, drumming, a Salmon Bake, and native plant walks introducing people to Indigenous perspectives on plants, animals and water.
“(This event) is an invitation to deepen understanding of Indigenous cultures and practices,” said Judy BlueHorse Skelton, an assistant professor of Indigenous Nations Studies at Portland State University. “It’s an experiential event. People are invited to participate, observe and experience our traditional practices when it comes to salmon.”
At gatherings like Salmon Homecoming, prayers and songs are offered. The care and the tending that’s practiced with land and salmon are cultural protocols that are being followed, said BlueHorse Skelton, who helps plan the event.
“They may not be obvious to some, but part of coming and participating in Salmon Homecoming is to be part of honoring the salmon,” she said. “We are in salmon nation. Salmon is our relative. We have a responsibility to protect and instruct others and make sure salmon will be here for future generations.”
Christine and Clifton Bruno started hosting a booth in the mid-90s, when the event was called Salmon Festival. As Indigenous artists, they brought photos and information about salmon, demonstrated bead work and basketry, made and sold arts and crafts and shared information focusing on Native American culture.
Compared to Salmon Homecoming, the festival was bigger but not necessarily better, Christine Bruno said. For instance, Salmon Festival added a stage for speakers as the event grew, but she saw that as a performance, which was unnecessary.
“Today, we want more focus on salmon and nature,” Christine Bruno said. “We want storytellers standing on the ground (rather) than on the stage. We’re really focusing on people coming out, not for a big show, but for an experience.”
As the event grew over the years, the Brunos added a Salmon Bake demonstration and also made salmon soup.
“Soup will be made from salmon heads and backbones, which is very healthy and shows how no part of the salmon goes to waste,” Christine Bruno said in an email. “Our son, Joshua, is one of the younger story carriers, bringing traditional teachings – focused on Northwest culture – to today’s generation.”
There was no large-scale salmon celebration between 2009 and 2017, when Salmon Homecoming started. During the gap, Metro offered guided salmon viewing and education programming.
Prior to the Indigenous community overhauling the event in 2017, Metro staff planned most of the event. Staff realized that their western ways for teaching environmental education did not include telling accurate histories and stories of Indigenous celebrations.
“In nature education, you’re inherently speaking about the land and the natural elements of the land,” said Alice Froehlich, nature education supervisor. “As an education team, none of us were Indigenous people, (and) we’re not from here.”
To bridge that gap, Metro hired resource specialists to improve the nature education programming to be more respectful and accurate when speaking about Indigenous peoples, places and traditional uses of plants.
“Those relationships led to work on Salmon Homecoming,” Froehlich said. “We contracted to co-create the event with members of the community. That’s when the Salmon Bake came back and other elements that they would like to share.”
Salmon Homecoming is just one of many experiences the Indigenous community prepares for each year.
The community also plans the Indigenous People’s Day Celebration, which includes storytelling, drumming, dancing and craftmaking at the Oregon Zoo. The Brunos also help plan Salmon Celebration at Johnson Creek Park, which celebrates the restoration of Crystal Springs Creek that brought wild salmon back to the city. Metro Nature in Neighborhoods grants have supported the restoration of the creek. The Brunos have been involved with multiple events at Tryon Creek State Natural Area.
During Salmon Homecoming in 2017, torrential rainfall led to the cancellation of the second day. This inspired Indigenous community members to gather fallen cedar trees to build a traditional cedar plank shelter for future events at Oxbow. As a traditional practice, cedar logs are split into planks by hand and put together into a shelter, when needed.
In the future, they hope to provide a cultural educational experience for schools and the public at Oxbow or another site. This can include anything related to salmon culture and botany, such as presentations, storytelling, games and a Salmon Bake.
“There are so many things Oxbow has to offer, and it would be really nice to do more of that,” Christine Bruno added.