My northwest tribe was salmon people. The Great Silver Argatmor — who leaps from the underworld as Goll the mythical salmon, metamorphosed from the red horizon of the sun that sinks off Connacht and Donegal — is emblazoned on my family flag.
For thousands of years they have celebrated the late winter returns to Lough Derg and Lough Erne by roasting the Ess Ruaid salmon at the Falls of Assaroe. In their mythology, the first human child was fathered by salmon and born at the winter resting-place of the sun goddess Aine, Grianan Ailech, overlooking the Lough Foyle saltwater sound where the fat spring run of Atlantic salmon could be seen coming home.
The new human order told in these oldest of Erin tales — modeled on the salmon’s habitat — connects earth to sea and fish with people and people with deities as one family, of which the Celts of northwest Eire, and their kin of Galicia in northwest Spain, understood the simple, profound truths of coexistence I later rediscovered fishing Pacific salmon with the Salish Indians of northwest America.
It is not a complicated tale, but it is a common one told by tribal peoples about a time long ago when humans neglected their fish and animal relatives, supposedly at the behest of gods who they said gave them dominion over our earthly world in recognition of humanity’s great wisdom. As our sacred family of life is slowly extinguished, does it not seem far-fetched that such tall tales of human superiority are still believed?