For several years I have lived on the lands of Coast Salish peoples, learning to love and appreciate the sweet sweeping sound of rain descending on cedar fronds. I find hope in the tall, vibrant ferns who stand higher than many humans, plants whose jubilance speaks of health in the land. This short time has enabled the scratching of a surface: the immense and powerful vitality in this part of the world. Each striking landscape is rich with opportunities for healing: intricate and abundant waterways who glisten and teem with life and story, deep, shadowy forests of elderly trees, protective and stately mountains, joyful, mysterious and sprawling meadows, alchemical trails where saltwater and freshwater meet, and significantly: much healing is found existing among the people.
Each place where I travel, I am welcomed and gifted, and my cup is filled in the way of meeting the most basic human needs: delicious food, clean water to drink, shelter from the elements—yet also with the spiritual wealth of those who are still standing for the responsibility of their lands, waters and way of life. I have come to love and deeply connect with aspects of my own existence that I could not find anywhere else but among these people and places, and for that my spirit glows with endless gratitude.
When I was asked to participate in the environmental health series at the UW Center for Ecogenetics, I was pleased and also surprised. I have studied environmental health in an experiential way and also as an academic researcher, looking at aspects of how we relate to our surroundings and examining conditions of our related species. No one needs a reminder that much suffering has come to pass in recent years.
I have known suffering in the land and in the waters my whole life, and have embarked on a journey to understand the roots, effects and opportunities presented by contamination of lands and waters, those I am intimately familiar with as a descendent of the Anishinaabe and Onkwehonwe who walked them before me, and also those of other tribal people who follow their Original Instructions. Note that there is not a distinction made here between tribal and non-tribal lands; such a fallacy does not compute with me. All lands connect to tribal presence, historical and enduring, regardless of perceived ownership and claim.
At the time Valerie approached me, I was living on dxʷdɐwʔabʃ lands in Seattle, and I was asked to research and comment on perspectives among urban Indigenous individuals. I come from a reservation, but know that so many Anishinaabeg are in a similar position, moving, shifting, living in cities, away from the traditions that might be more common in the regions where we come from, in my case the Great Lakes. So many of us are scattered across the land and maintain Spiritual, physical and other practices from wherever we are, even if that land is not the home soil where our families come from.
History has tugged at foundations of families and nations, and some have relocated— often by forced, complicated circumstances of pain and displacement. The beautiful vision that has emerged for me, considering the city of Seattle, is an intricate web of layered connection among people. There is a force that exists amid all the concrete, the roots crossing and intersecting and braiding themselves, binding together to hold us in a way that is, unlike the breakable structures of modern industry and architecture, nested and held to the earth by the enduring voices of the ones who came before us.
Once I began to see from an infrastructural view how the city is set up, and how thoughtless the design is, I became saddened by the limitations and inevitability of negative environmental impact. The city slices its only river through the guts, diverting and polluting the water that has nourished families who lived on those waterways for so many thousands of years. And still there exists the desire and opportunity among the people to raise awareness and engage in discourse with those intersections, demand dialogue and action about how those situations must be improved and changed at the request of the ones who are still speaking for the land and water….to be continued next week.
–Kristi Leora Gansworth