For thousands of years the Spokane River's lower falls have been a fishing spot for several Native American tribes. During annual runs, the salmon were so numerous here that it was difficult to see the rocks on the riverbed. Seasonal fishing villages and traditions were created around the salmon runs. The Salmon Chief provided a spiritual blessing over the catch, decided when and where to fish, and divided the salmon among the tribes to ensure everyone would have an ample supply for the winter months.
During the first few days of the run, only elders and children were allowed to eat the salmon. The Salmon Chief would hold prayer and singing ceremonies for up to five days before fishing commenced. The falls were also an area where tribes gathered for dancing, horse racing, gaming, and trading in addition to fishing.
When Huntington Park was renovated in 2014 the 12-foot Salmon Chief sculpture was installed as a reminder of the native heritage of the site. The chief raises a salmon over the river to bless it, while two Native American women on a nearby cliff hang salmon to dry.
Colville native Virgil "Smoker" Marchand created these sculptures. Marchand grew up on the Colville Eastside Reservation in Omak, Washington. Raised by his grandmother, she instilled in him a deep appreciation for Native American history and taught him the language of his people. His brother encouraged him to pursue his artistic gifts. Marchand followed his brother's advice and graduated from the Institute of American Indian Arts in 1971.
Despite his formal schooling, Marchand was largely self-taught when it came to working with steel. He only began working on steel sculptures in 1999. Commenting on his Sasquatch sculpture located on Disautel Summit between Nespelem and Omak he said, "It is our aspiration that the sculpture brings back the legends and experiences of our history and culture as it was once shared with us by elders and families." His works, including the Salmon Chief have done just that. Marchand's steel sculptures can be found throughout the region and the American West.