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  • EcoArts Writer

The River People Are Talking

Updated: Feb 1, 2020

Having recently completed the EcoArts exhibit bringing together creative & ecological information around Wawawai Landing on the Snake River, I hear River People talking more and more. A recent newstory detailing reactions to the prohibition of salmon and steelhead trout fishing due to record-low runs on the Clearwater River in Idaho, which joins the Snake upstream of Wawawai Landing - then a celebration of “Schaenexw (Salmon) Run” by Lummi Nation artist Dan Friday in the atrium of WSU’s Terrell Library.

As Friday told the WSU Insider reporter, “Salmon and fishing have been a way of life for people of the Northwest since time immemorial. From the reef nets of the Salish Sea to the dip nets, traps and weirs of the Plateau, many tribes are known as the Salmon People.” In the library, where we enter the flow of information, we are reminded that we are always in the flow of water because it is life. We are reminded that our connections to other species and shared ecosystems are what ultimately sustain us. More and more, I hear words of relational flow, the language of River People, speaking back to the logics of settlement.

The Snake River & Settlement: Views from Wawawai Landing features Dennis DeHart’s photos – an inspired reworking of archival and contemporary images set in the canyon landscape – and pairs them with informational tags about the former floodplain and its currently altered ecology. The magenta map tags are written by independent writer and biologist Rachel Clark, author of The Blackfish Prophecy, which tells the story of three teens brought together by a pod of orcas that live in the Salish Sea, and whose existence depends on Chinook Salmon, who must swim up the Snake River and beyond to spawn.

If being near a river overwhelms you with feelings of love, you intuitively grasp how we humans belong to rivers, and how rivers connect us, one to another. The Snake River joins the Columbia River on its way to the Pacific. Each year, the Nimiipuu River Rendevous brings together Snake River allies. The orcas, and the salmon, and the river are bringing together stakeholders in many communities who are concerned about a sustainable future for both indigenous cultural practices, river tourism, and agriculture. Wang Ping brought her Kinship of Rivers project to the Snake River in 2018, bringing together Dennis, and myself, and others for a day of visiting sites sacred to the Nimiipuu along the river’s banks. That’s pretty much where it began for me, this desire to think more deeply, more listeningly, with this river


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