By Eli Francovich

The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wash.)

NESPELEM, Wash. — While rain and wind scrubbed the air of wildfire smoke, members of the Colville Confederated Tribes released 30 salmon into the Columbia River upstream of the Chief Joseph Dam in central Washington on Friday.

The release, while modest, is the first time salmon have been in that stretch of the river since the Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams were built in the 1950s and 1930s, respectively. And the release represents a tangible step toward an ambitious plan years in the making: the reintroduction of salmon to the upper reaches of the Columbia River.

“This is a good step in the right direction,” tribal council member Rodney Cawston said to the 100 or so people who attended Friday’s ceremony. “To right something that has been wrong for 80 years now.”

The event started with council members addressing the assembled crowd near Nespelem, while the salmon waited in an idling tribal fish and wildlife truck. As an elder led the group in a traditional prayer, the large, migratory fish could be heard thrashing about in the transport truck, as if eager to get going, as one attendee noted.

After the ceremony, the fish were removed, and one by one placed in large, rubber bootlike containers. They then were handed to lined-up tribal members (and nonmembers), each holding the sacred fish momentarily before passing them down the line.

At the river’s edge the salmon were released. Some instantly darted off, disappearing into the opaque water. Others rested, momentarily, before venturing into their new home.