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WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on place-based stewardship education. Since 2001, a partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department (KNRD) has supported this newsletter and allowed us to expand class offerings through EPA funding. Further staff support comes through Renewable Resources Extension Act (RREA). Our newest partner, sponsor of the Rain Garden Challenge, is the Pend Oreille Conservation District. Many thanks to our partners and to you, our readers, for your continued enthusiasm for "digging" into the natural history and culture ofthis part of the world.

Fish Weir


by Dr. Allan H. Smith (from The Kalispels, People of the Pend Oreille, edited by O. J. Cotes, 1980, reprinted 1996.)

Fish were exceedingly important in the diet of the Kalispel even though no salmon entered their rivers. They were caught with hook and line, with spears and harpoons, with nets of several types, and on stranding platforms. Occasionally they were taken with bow and arrow, impounded on flooded flatland behind low dams, and even noosed. But by far the most productive method involved catching them—carp, trout, whitefish, suckers, and squawfish—in basket traps set into brush or stick weirs or suspended at creek or river falls. Although these weirs were used in spring and fall, they were most productive in the summer, when fish either were endeavoring to escape into the Pend Oreille from sloughs and creeks that were drying out or were ascending still-flowing steams, especially in the Priest Lake area, to spawn. Virtually all of the great quantities of fish that were dried for winter food were caught during summer season.

One of the most productive of the brush weirs was constructed on Calispell Creek close to the point where it joins the Pend Oreille, in the heart of the Kalispel camas grounds and across the river from the site of their principal winter village. The assembling of the weir was directed by a headman with more spirit power than ordinary men, power that was thought necessary to prevent a huge fish from later breaking through the barrier.

When it came time to build the weir, the headman announced this fact. He made preparations for the ritualistic spects of this event.

A large conical basket trap, woven of maple sticks, was set in place at each end of the weir, mouth upstream when the water was falling and the fish were descending to the Pend Oreille River and facing upriver in the early fall when the water was again rising and the fish were attempting to move back into Calispell Creek. To secure the fish that had been caught, the traps were removed from the water and the pointed end untied to allow the catch to slide out easily. The fish were distributed to all families in the fishing camp under the direction of the weir headman. At the height of the season, traps of this kind yielded well, furnishing fish in considerable number for immediate eating and, more important, for drying for winter use.

These weirs proved one illustration of the extent to which the Kalispel had developed highly effective adjustments to their special physical environment through a simple technology. They show clearly the ability of the Kalispel to labor cooperatively, with the minimum of formal organization, in activities of economic importance. They demonstrate the critical principle of public ownership of significant natural resources and the joint use of them for the good of all. And they reveal the degree to which the spiritual world entered the most material aspects of the daily life of the people.

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