Dozens gather along the banks of the Sprague River in Chiloquin to bless the C’WAAM in a time-honored tradition of the Klamath Tribe.
In the old times, the Klamath Tribe believed everything they needed to live was provided for them by their Creator - They still believe this today.
One of those things provided by Creator is the C’WAAM. Each spring the Klamath Tribe holds a ceremony to celebrate the fish and to give thanks to the Creator for providing the fish.
According to oral history, passed down from generation to generation, the C’WAAM (Lost River Sucker) was provided to the Klamath people by the Creator during a time of famine and savage of a gigantic rattlesnake. After prayer and repeated requests for pity, the Creator slew the snake, cut it into pieces, and cast them into the lake. Where the pieces landed, a C’WAAM was born. The Creator told them they should celebrate and be thankful for the fish.
C’WAAM Ceremony Today
Each year in the spring, the Klamath Tribes holds an annual C’WAAM Ceremony giving thanks to Creator for the fish, and to pray for their return to the rivers as they head upstream to spawn.
During the ceremony, two C’WAAM are released into the Sprague River. Following a blessing from Tribal Elders and a prayer from the tribe. The traditional purpose of the blessing and release is in hopes the fish will return in abundance for fishing and stable food supply.
The ceremony had been conducted by the Klamath Tribe for thousands of years. In the middle of the 20th century, tribal members stopped performing the ceremony. However, fifty years later after the decline of the fish the ceremony was brought back as an important part of tribal culture and heritage.
“It’s a ceremony that Creator told us to do years ago,” says Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry. “We have honored that ceremony for thousands of years and there was a time we did not do it. During that time is when our fish, the C’WAAM, were put on the endangered species list.”
In the midst of protecting the fish through biological & scientific research, attorneys and legal actions, a tribal elder suggested to return to doing the C’WAAM Ceremony.
“It had been nearly 50-years since we done the ceremony,” says Gentry. “That is why we re-instituted the ceremony. To thank the Creator for the fish and providing everything that we need for life. To honor him, thank him for the fish, and to pray for their return. That is what we were told that is proper to do, before we can even catch the fish.”
During the ceremony a C’WAAM is sacrificed and placed into the fire. Cedar clippings are then tossed on to the fire by tribal members as they individually pray over the fish. This is both symbolic and believed that the smoke from the cedar and C’WAAM will carry the prayers to Creator.
“We can still do the ceremony, and we can celebrate that Creator still loves us and pray that those fish will return,” says Gentry. “But it is unfortunate, that we cannot catch the fish and follow through on that.”
C’WAAM Oral History
Klamath Tribes Member, Jeff Mitchel recounts the oral history of the fish during the C’WAAM Ceremony held, March 23, 2019: