Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day

Members of the Spokane Tribe and others from the community gathered by the river to observe Earth Day and to honor the water.

The people also gathered to meet with members of the Mother Earth Water Walk, a group of indigenous women and men who are raising awareness of water as a human right and of other environmental issues. Four separate groups set out from the shores of North America, each one representing a different cardinal direction. The western group started its journey in Aberdeen, Washington. The eastern group started from Machais, Maine, the southern group from Gulfport, Mississippi, and the northern group from Churchill, Manitoba, on the shores of Hudson's Bay. As their website indicates, "The walkers, journeying over 10,400,000 steps and carrying the healing and sacred salt water from the four directions will converge June 12 in Bad River, Wisconsin. The water will then be united in Lake Superior, where the first Water Walk began."

The Spokane community is fortunate that its meeting with the Mother Earth Water Walk happened to coincide with Earth Day.  

The water ceremony took place at the totem pole in the heart of Riverfront Park. The Spokane people gathered in this location for thousands of years, until the establishment of a city in the late 1800s. It was fitting that we should return to that place.

As a side note, the Plateau tribes did not use totem poles. Sometimes non-Indian people put up totem poles in the Spokane area as an attempt to respect the local indigenous people. It's ironic and discouraging that people try to honor us but don't take the time to learn about our culture. 

Most totem poles in the Spokane area are strongly out of place. However, the ones in Riverfront Park are perhaps more appropriate. In 1974, the island in the center of the river became the site of the Canadian Pavilion, and was renamed Canada Island. The totem poles were built to honor the tribes of Canada in general and the tribes of British Columbia in particular. Canada Island is a reminder of our cultural ties to the north.

One of the walkers was presented with a jar of water from the Spokane aquifer. She spoke of the sacredness of the water and the need of people to care for the earth.

People of all ages are walking thousands of miles as a show of reverence for the earth.

Deb Abrahamson directs the SHAWL Society and is a member of the Spokane Tribe of Indians. She helped to coordinate a meeting between the walkers on local indigenous people. In this photograph, she is holding a basket filled with smuk'ʷšn (arrow leaf balsam root). She presented these plants to the group, along with other traditional foods.

Francis Carson (pictured above with Deb Abrahamson) brought his drum and sang several songs in honor of the water and of the people.  

Pat Moses and Yvonne Swan spoke to the group.

Pat represented the Spokane Tribe.

Yvonne represented the Arrow Lakes Band of Canada.

Francis Cullooyah represented the Kalispel Tribe.

Spokane mayor Mary Verner also addressed the people.

The sun appeared during the ceremony and provided a welcome relief from the dreary, overcast skies. This marmot on Canada Island emerged to warm himself in the sun.

The old YMCA building in the park is being demolished. After the ceremony, I had the chance to speak with Mayor Verner and to ask what the city plans to do with this site. She explained that they are going to restore the site to its natural state, as much as possible. She also said that a channel of the Spokane River that once flowed under the building will be restored.

Various pictures from around Riverfront Park...

After everything, I had the chance to take a few pictures around town, like this one of the Spokesman Review Building (above) and of the horse statue outside PF Chang's (below).

Canada Island sits between two channels of the Spokane River.

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