Framed Art Card - River of Wealth (9" x 12")
One of my favourite memories from childhood is sitting at the kitchen table with my brothers and sisters when we would t’sapa. The table was completely covered with newspaper and our sleeves were rolled up past our elbows. We would take our salmon or our boiled potatoes and proceed to dip them in a light golden coloured oil. For the non-initiated, the scent from this oil can be overpowering and, as in the case with my wife, induce gagging. The oil in the Kwak’wala language is called Tli’na, or eulachon grease.
Tli’na is rendered from the eulachon, a fatty member of the smelt family often called candlefish because it is said that due to the high oil content of the fish one could light it like you would a candle. It is removed from the fish through a lengthy—and smelly—process of fermentation and boiling. Each family has its own unique method passed down through the generations. The end result is often referred to as “liquid gold” by those who prize its taste and nutritional value.
In our culture, Tli’na is given away at special potlatches and feasts. For those that give away large quantities of Eulachon grease, their status amongst the tribes will increase. When my grandmother was young, her father, Chief Charles Mountain Wilson of Fort Rupert, gave away canoe loads of grease as shown in the photo above.
The return of the Eulachons to their special spawning grounds in our inlets and rivers is truly a gift from the Creator. It is our River of Wealth.