US Water Prize for Outstanding Artist: Salmon Speakers
Salmon Speakers first came together with the goal of amplifying Indigenous voices on both sides of the US-Canada border and inspiring collective action in communities within the Stikine, Taku, Unuk, Nass, and Skeena River valleys.
Their efforts center around Indigenous sovereignty, equity, sustainability, food security, and food sovereignty. The team began their work by facilitating gatherings, story circles, and interviews in southeast Alaska and northwest British Columbia. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the team quickly adapted their work—moving from planning a live theatrical performance to a digital production.
“When the Salmon Spoke” was produced by Southeast Alaska Indigenous Transboundary Commission and Ping Chong + Company, collaborating with SkeenaWild Conservation Trust and Salmon Beyond Borders. This video production is part of Ping Chong + Company’s “Undesirable Elements” series of interview-based theatrical works. The production features life stories of ten Indigenous citizens tied to the Stikine and weaves together cinematic imagery and Indigenous music and visual art.
Storytellers include Trixie Kalkins Bennett (Tlingit/Tahltan, US), Allen Edzerza (Tahltan, Canada), Lovey Brock (Haida, US), Annita McPhee (Tahltan/Tlingit, Canada), Elizabeth Peterman (Tlingit/Tahltan, US), Bill McPhee (Tahltan, Canada), Frank Young, Jr. (Haida, US), and Rhoda Quock Jakesta (Tahltan, Canada). Narrators include Erin Tripp (Tlingit, United States) and Peter Morin (Tahltan, Canada). In addition to the storytellers, the Salmon Speakers who contributed to the making of “When the Salmon Spoke” include Ryan Conarro (creative director and producer), Kirby Muldoe (Gitxsan/Tsimsian), and Heather Hardcastle (community engagement and facilitation).
Alongside the widely viewed premiere of “When the Salmon Spoke,” the team created a website, the When the Salmon Spoke Story Box, to archive storyteller profiles and audio clips from their interviews. The Salmon Speakers team has continued to host screenings of the production and facilitate conversations called Salmon Wauwaus, (“wauwau” means “conversation” in Chinook trading language). Salmon Speakers hosted many wauwaus, including at Salmon Nation’s Virtual Festival of What Works (November 2020), and the University of Denver Museum of Anthropology (January 2021). By archiving these stories and dialogues, Salmon Speakers are working to continue to build trans-national, watershed-scale, and Indigenous-led visions for these globally significant watersheds. To follow the work of Salmon Speakers, visit their website.
The US Water Alliance is pleased to award Salmon Speakers with the US Water Prize for Outstanding Artist in recognition for their work advancing sustainable, integrated, and inclusive solutions to water challenges.