Klamath Tribe blesses C’WAAM and honors Creator in ceremony [VIDEO]

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.

Klamath Tribal Elder, Rayson Tupper blesses a C’WAAM (Lost River Sucker) to be released during the annual spring C’WAAM Ceremony held by the Klamath Tribes. March 23, 2019 (Brandon Gailey / Klamath Falls News)

Klamath Tribal Elder, Rayson Tupper blesses a C’WAAM (Lost River Sucker) to be released during the annual spring C’WAAM Ceremony held by the Klamath Tribes. March 23, 2019 (Brandon Gailey / Klamath Falls News)


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:

Long ago, our people lived on this land, our Creator placed us here. He placed the animals on this land. He created all this beauty around us. The trees. The rivers. The sky. The birds. He had blessed us in such a good way.

We have always lived here on this land, this is our home, it has always been our home.

But as we started living here. It had changed. A famine had come across this land. Our plants weren’t producing our foods. Our berries weren’t ripening. Our plumbs. Our roots. Our wocus. All of these foods that we have always depended on, that the Creator blessed us with, we were losing them. We had little, and our people were suffering.

We were starving and people were starting to die. We knew we needed something to happen.

There is a place not far from here, it is called Nylox. It’s along Klamath Lake - there was a village there. People gathered at that site and talked amongst ourselves. What can we do to save our people? We need to ask the Creator to pity us. To help us. Word got sent out to all of our villages across the lake. People gathered at Nylox and we talked.

We asked our holy men, our medicine people, to help us. To do something that would save our peoples.

If matters were not worse, besides the famine, that come across this land people were being savaged by a beast. A snake had come upon this land. The snake was big, gigantic rattle snake. The snake was coming around to the villages devouring the animals and everything it could come across – including people. People were scared.

But at that place our holy men prayed. They started singing our songs. They started praying asking Creator to have pity on us and help us.

Nylox is a long ridge along the east side of Klamath Lake. When you travel Highway 97 today, you travel along Nylox.

Our people prayed and our creator was sitting atop that ridge and he was listening to our people. He listened to our cries. He listened to our prayers. He listened to our song. And the Creator decided to have pity on us. He decided it was time to intervene and do something to help us. As he stood up there atop that ridge. That snake come crawling along that ridge, looking at the people gathered down there below.

The Creator reached down and pulled out his flint knife and he grabbed that snake and he slew it – he killed that snake. He took his knife and he cut it up into small pieces. He cut it up and cut it up – as he held those pieces, he flung them, out into the lake. Each place where a piece of that snake hit, turned into a C’WAAM.

The Creator said to us, this is my gift to you so that you can have life.

The Creator told us that this fish would be the first fish to travel up our streams in the early spring.

Here in this land we look around and we see this snow. Much like long ago we’d have lots of snow, deep snows. Winters would be long, but we always knew if you can make it to the spring time we would be gifted with another year to walk this earth.

The Creator told us the fish would be the first fish that would travel up these rivers and spawn.

If you make it through that winter, you come out here and you can have this gift. But you must do one thing. You must always remember to give thanks for this fish.

That was a law that the Creator had passed onto our people.

He told us that, we needed to give thanks. He instructed us what to do – what we are doing here today still.

More photos from the ceremony