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Klamath Tribes Revive First Sucker Ceremony

Members of the Klamath Tribes gathered along the banks of the Sprague River near Chiloquin, Ore., in March 1990 to revive the nearly lost tradition of the First Sucker Ceremony.

It had been nearly half a century since the last First Sucker Ceremony was held before the Tribes were terminated in 1954 by the federal government.  However, tribal elders had not forgotten the custom of seeking the Creator’s blessing of the early run of fish migrating upstream to spawn.

The ceremony is held about the time of the “fish blanket snows” when unusually large, spring snowflakes shower the Klamath Basin.

Suckers, also known as mullet, have always been an important staple in the diet of Klamath and Modoc Indians, but their harvest stopped when two species of suckers were declared endangered in 1988. 

Serious efforts to protect the fish began in the 1990’s, including restoration of the Williamson River Delta on Upper Klamath Lake and removal of a Sprague River irrigation dam.

Tribal officials postponed this year’s ceremony after the Sprague River hovered near flood stage in March, but officials issued a notice that the tradition would continue as soon as it was safe.


Source: Herald and News, March 10, 1991; Klamath Tribes announcement, March 22, 2017.

Todd Kepple has been a Klamath Basin resident since 1990. He was a reporter and editor the for the Herald and News from 1990 to 2005, and has been manager of the Klamath County Museum since 2005. He enjoys volunteering at Crater Lake National Park, the OC&E Woods Line State Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also a founding member of the Klamath Tree League.