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Totem Stories

Bear and the Steelhead

The carvings on this bench depict a story from the Salish people of the northwestern United States and British Columbia. The story teaches respect for natural cycles, represented by the salmon’s annual migration upriver from the sea to freshwater breeding grounds. Salmon Woman created the cycle when people who depended on the fish for food took the year-round abundance for granted and abused the resource. After Bear defied warnings not to harvest the fish in their breeding grounds, all salmon except the steelhead (the only one he had not disturbed) died. Today, it is only the steelhead that survives spawning and returns year after year to breed, while other salmon species die in the spawning beds. The proper time to catch the salmon is under the harvest moon during the fall equinox.

Symbols and colors in this bench:

  • Moon: Protector and guardian of the earth by night
  • Salmon: Dependability and renewal—the provider
  • Bear: Strength, learned humility, motherhood and teaching
  • Red: Blood, valor
  • Black: Power
  • White: Skies and spacious heavens
  • Yellow: Sun, light and happiness