August 12, 2012 by csukach
The Totem Heritage Center, established in 1976, is home to the world’s largest collection of 19th century totem poles. Totem poles are thought to exist only in the Pacific Northwest regions of Washington, Southeast Alaska and British Columbia.
The poles tell stories and recount family lineages and important events. The story of Raven and Fog Woman is displayed on a pole outside the Center and explains the yearly salmon migration in the area.
“One day Raven and his slaves, sometimes known as his companions, were out fishing and all they could catch were bullheads, which are kind of a small bony fish—not very good to eat, and they were getting kind of frustrated,” Stanton recounts.
Stanton tells of fog that enveloped the fishermen and of a woman who emerged from the mist and introduced herself as Fog Woman. She asked them to fetch her a basket of fresh water and they did so.
“And all that Fog Woman did was touch her fingers to that basket of fresh water and then dumped it out in the ocean and suddenly salmon appeared,” Stanton says. “It was the first time that Raven and his slaves had ever seen salmon.
After that, Fog Woman taught Raven how to fish for salmon, how to smoke it, keep it for the winter and he could be fed all year round.”
Raven was very pleased and he and Fog Woman actually got married, explains Stanton.
“But Raven, in addition to being a trickster, he could also be a very greedy and gluttonous man—very selfish,” Stanton foreshadows, sharing how Raven begins taking Fog Woman for granted.
“He ordered her around, told her, ‘Get me some more salmon, get me some more food,’ and he didn’t treat her very well. One time, Fog Woman and Raven even argued and Raven hit Fog Woman in a moment of anger,” says Stanton.
“Fog Woman said, ‘That’s enough. I’ve had it with you. I’m going to leave you forever,‘ and she started walking away out towards the ocean,” Stanton continues. “Raven tried to chase after her. He tried to grab onto her but she just slipped through his fingers like fog. As she walked out into the ocean, all of the salmon came out and they followed her and disappeared.”
Stanton tells of the loneliness and hunger suffered by Raven and his companions and how this bothered Fog Woman.
“So Fog Woman took pity on them and she sent her daughter, Creek Woman, to go to the head of every stream,” Stanton says. “So it’s when fog comes to the head of the streams that the salmon will start swimming upstream once a year. And that’s the story of how salmon come back to the stream every year here in this region and how the people have food.”