NRS Releases “River of Return” (Bonus Q&A with Producers!)


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As part of its ongoing efforts to educate paddlers about issues of importance to them, NRS is proud to release River of Return, highlighting a Shoshone-Bannock couple that bring tribal youth on the cherished Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho.

For the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, the Middle Fork has been their home since time immemorial. They and their people remain inextricably linked with its waters, even after a history of forced removal from the landscape and generations of disconnection.

NRS River of Return
Tribal youth enjoying the spoils of the Middle Fork.

Jessica and Sammy Matsaw, Shoshone-Bannock tribe members and co-founders of River Newe, further that cause in River of Return, bringing tribal youth on a raft rip down the river to reestablish their ties to the waterway.


The film follows the Matsaws as they help other tribal youth reconnect with Mother Earth through the Middle Fork, and work to reclaim their culture and heal amidst the memory traces left by their ancestors. The film is a love story — between tribal leaders and their youth, and all of them and their cherished Middle Fork — as they share their story about the power of hope and perseverance, resilience and resurgence, and the vitality of sharing these lands and waters with today’s tribal youth and the generations to come.

Tribal boundaries

Note: The Middle Fork lies within the state boundaries of Idaho, whose borders overlap the traditional lands of five tribes: the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, the Nez Perce Tribes, the Coeur d’Alene, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, and the Shoshone-Paiute.


Special Q&A with Filmmakers Jessica and Sammy Matsaw

PL: What prompted you to take tribal youth on the Middle Fork?

As part of both our graduate programs we were interested in education and outreach informed by our communities. We take youth to elders for an experience modeling our own Shoshone-Bannock Traditional Knowledge and Teachings. Within that is a seasonal calendar of when, where and what we are supposed to be doing on our homelands. Tribal peoples have been disconnected from our lands which is literally connections to our foundational knowledge much like reading books about Socrates, Aristotle and the like. Our places of knowing are deeply embedded into us and us into those places. The Middle Fork Salmon is a relic place of that knowledge and how our ancestors lived on the land where we can still see pit house depressions and villages. Along the river corridor are pictographs of our teachings and how we lived there, the PowerPoints of yesterday. To be facilitators for our tribal peoples to come back to our homelands is vital to us, to our organization and the work we do.

PL: What all did they get out of the trip? Did they like it? 

What they get out of the trip is a connection to a time and place, a memory of our ancestors on the land along the river. At first they seem a bit concerned about the trip, white water rafting, as a means to get to those places. But once that subsides then there is an ease into the place. They begin to notice the conversations, storytelling and observing the connections between themselves and our culture. They begin to see themselves as always being apart of those places. They find the love that binds them to homelands, and they don’t want to leave.

PL: What did they like most?

They seem to really enjoy the break away from internet/wifi/cell service to being with friends and family. They get such a break that they only want to be in the water fishing, swimming, playing.

PL: Do you think they gained a respect and love for rivers? 

We feel they gain a respect of themselves and rivers are part of that. They see themselves as land and rivers flow through them as they do across land. The self-respect is a respect of how vast, wonderful and beautiful our homelands once were. So a distinction between being on ancestral lands, relatively, unmodified to going back to the reservation where our lands and neighboring lands have been tilled, mined, urbanized, and so on. Knowing that the way the land is now is a destruction of us.

PL: Did everything go smoothly? 

Everything goes as it’s supposed to and we try our best to realize the reality of what that means. We are working towards being on the river with healthy bodies, strong minds, positive attitudes, and good spirits. If we have those aspects to us, to our group then we figure the rest will work out smoothly.

PL: What’s your respective paddling background?

No background, we didn’t grow up rafting. Beginning this whole process since 2016 has been challenging to say the least with no rafting experience. Learning how to rig, load, row, pack and unpack daily was the first big hurdle. We invited and started with professional guides; they taught and continue to teach us more and more each season. Once we were a bit more comfortable being on the river then we began to go with families involved. Since then we’ve been developing our curriculum and instruction involved with experts from our communities and how to better serve the experience for our tribal members.

PL: Are you planning it every year? 

Yes. We seek short-lived, small pots of funding every year that change from organization to organization with different requirements. The new processes and chasing funding makes for most of the work up to getting onto the river and then we deliver the best content for Indigenous learning on land with our youth. They love it and so do we!

Along the river corridor are pictographs of our teachings and how we lived there, the PowerPoints of yesterday.

Learn more at:

Watch River of Return film here:

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