Yesterday was officially the last day of the People of the Big River Field Class trip! We wrapped everything up a day early so day thirteen marks the end of our road together. It does not, however, mark the end of our journey together. We have approached a crossroads: one that has a million different paths branching off from it. We have all chosen a different path, but I know that our lives will intersect again. And I know that our individual paths have been guided by the experiences that we all shared together. Looking back on day one, I know the amazing things that the tribes taught us have impacted us all.
I have made some fantastic friends, and I hope that these friendships will grow and flourish in the years to come. I will always love my Huckleberry Girls and cherish the moments that we shared. I encountered so many new things in my first month in the Northwest. Some were intimidating or even frightening, but my girls got me through it all. Thirteen days ago, I was a stranger, a foreigner, and the new girl. I felt uncomfortable around Native tribes, Washington residents, even people who had come from other states like I had. Now, I feel welcomed. There is no division between the people in my community and surroundings. I don’t feel homesick because Washington is my second home, not the place I happen to live in. I want to stay. I want to help. After all I have learned, how could I not want to?
For all the difficulties the People of the Big River Field Class has faced, I will never, not even for a second, regret coming on this trip. It was exhausting, exhilarating, amazing, and one of the most difficult things I have ever done, but it was also the most incredible thing I have ever done. And I am determined to find an experience that will top it.
Goodbye, my dear readers
Or two. Or three! The first activity of yesterday required us to drive over to the Two Rivers Casino & Resort. I have to say, it was a perfect day to do so. It was warm and breezy. The glistening water was simply beautiful. All in all, it was one of the most relaxing experiences of the trip. Anyway, we were there to enjoy some delicious salmon, but also to pray for the Columbia River. There were Native elders, representatives from a local Lutheran Church, and even a couple from Idaho (though, when I think about it, Idaho really isn’t that far from Two Rivers). Each person shared a story, prayer, or song from his or her personal religion or culture. It was a wonderful experience and a great opportunity to feel connected to the Columbia River. Afterward, we were treated to a really fantastic lunch! Below are a few pictures that I took as we were crossing the Spokane River.
Around 5pm or so we stopped off at Dry Falls for a bit of a break and some ice cream. I got myself a huckleberry ice cream cone. I had never even heard of huckleberries until this trip, but they are really good! Here are some pictures of Dry Falls so you can experience it too.
Thank goodness for short work days! Oh, and Fridays! Wowza, two good things wrapped up into one. Today was a relatively easy day as far as our workload. We all got to sleep in before driving back over to Wellpinit High School for some much needed showers. I grabbed some breakfast and a coffee so I was ready to tackle the day. We started with a few presentations from Twa-le Swan on the environmental concerns that the Spokane tribe is currently facing. For those of you who know me, this is one of my favorite topics to learn about! The main concern that this tribe is facing is the outrageous amount of pollution from the Midnite Uranium Mine on the reservation. Not only has it given radiation poisoning to countless mine workers, but it has also decreased the quality of life and health of all the people who live on the reservation. The pools of water near the mine are nearly void of life and the waste rock from the mine has contaminated groundwater with tons of heavy metals. Some plans are in motion to clean up the area, but nothing has been done yet.
Next, Twa-le gave us a presentation on Free, Prior, and Informed Consent or FPIC for short. This was very interesting to me because I really have no clue what sort of rights indigenous people have. I grew up in Southern California and I’m the daughter of an immigrant, so that’s a double whammy of ignorance. Now that I know a bit more about this, I’m very glad to know that Natives have quite a bit of control over what happens on their reservation. They have freedom from manipulation or coercion, and rights to be informed prior to any actions, informed thoroughly, and allowed to reject a project at any stage during its conception.
After the presentations were over, Warren took a group of us to go see the tribe’s lookout spot. They use this tower to spot wildfires or other problems on the reservation. Here is a picture to illustrate the height of this tower.
And here are some pictures that I took while I was on the top of the tower. The view was absolutely stunning and I only wish that the camera was able to do it justice.
Don’t look down!
Hanging on for dear life! Just kidding!
We returned to the school just in time for a presentation by one of the tribe’s artists, George Hill. He told us all about his past and how he came to be an artist. He explained that art calmed his wild spirit and that it keeps him relaxed. He uses different layouts, strokes, and layering within his paintings to keep them dynamic. All of his paintings represent cultural events from various Native tribes. Below are pictures of my two favorite of the paintings that he brought in.
You know, I’m absolutely amazed by how much I have been learning these past 12 days. Sure, the benefits of outdoor teaching have been spoken about for years now, but I hardly ever get a chance to experience it. Yesterday was another fun-packed learning day. I wonder if we have a word for that . . . fun-ing? fun-cational? edu-fun-tional? Anyway, the day’s theme was Wildlife management. We started off with a presentation from Jim Seyler on the history of the Spokane tribe. He taught us about the pit houses that were used in the winter, the stone ovens used for cooking, and the tools used for tanning hides. He also brought some stone tools for us to look at. I took pictures so you could see them for yourself.
Afterward, B.J. Kieffer taught us even more about the history of the tribe. His presentation really emphasized the negative effects of the dams along the Columbia River and what is trying to be done about them.
After lunch, it was time to hit the road again. We stopped three different places so that Warren could tell us about the different trees units and why they are in these locations. First we stopped at the Drum Road Logging Unit. Then we stopped at the Cottonwood Road Thinning Unit. Finally we stopped at the Cottonwood Road Clear Cut Area (or Even Age Management Area, as some prefer to call it).
Our last edu-fun-tional stop of the day was Anderson’s Ranch. There we learned about a wildlife mitigation project to realign McCoy creek. Back when this area was full of farms, the creek was redirected to the benefit of the farmers. However, this caused a local lake to nearly dry up. It took over a month to excavate the new-old path for the creek, which was 9,000 feet long in this area. While there, we also got a demonstration of how some of the wildlife traps work. The first two pictures below are of a functioning bear trap. The captured bears are transported, unharmed, far away in hopes that they won’t return to this area. The last picture is of a deer trap. Those are usually used to tag and keep track of deer in the area.
Which is why August 6th was simply awesome! Warren Seyler put together a great day of activities for us. We started off the day bright and early with a few presentations on the historical and ongoing issues revolving around the Spokane tribe’s fisheries. Spokane used to be a major salmon tribe (70 – 80% of their daily sustenance was provided by salmon) but they lost almost all their fish when the dams were put in. Now, the tribe relies manly on hunting big game on their reservation. We also learned about the executive order that created the Spokane Tribe Reservation. Another presentation was on the air quality standards of the tribe, which are the highest in the country.
Afterward, we all drove to Tshimikain Creek and collected hundreds of minnows. The species that we were targeting were redside shiners, speckled dace, and bridgelip suckers. The White Swan students got suited up to catch the minnows while us Heritage students helped whenever possible. Once all the minnows were collected, we transplanted them to three different sites along McCoy Creek. This will provide more food for the bigger fish and save the minnows since their creek will dry up in the next couple of months. Below are a few pictures that show us delivering the minnows to their new home.
That wasn’t the end of this grand day! We enjoyed a very early dinner of spaghetti and garlic bread before heading out again. This time, we split up into two groups. Seven of the Heritage students (including me!) and Jessica Black were given the opportunity to participate in some night fish shocking! We drove to Roosevelt Lake where two boats were waiting for us. One boat was doing the shocking while the boat we went on was simply supervising. I wish the experience could have been more hands-on, but I was so grateful to be on the water again. It was also a fantastic opportunity to speak with Warren and his interns. All in all, this day really perked up my spirits and gave me energy to power through the rest of the trip!
August the 5th was another travel day for the People of the Big River Field Class. We all got up bright and early in order to leave as soon as possible. After a quick stop for some much needed snacks, we were on our way to the Spokane Tribe Reservation! This drive was probably the most drawn-out one yet. Everyone in the van (besides our driver) kept dozing off along the way. The one bit of excitement we had was when we realized our van desperately needed a top-up on some of its fluids. That could have ended badly!
We arrived at the reservation in the afternoon and got to meet our host, Warren Seyler, before pitching up camp for the night. No work was done that day, but we were promised a full schedule for the rest of the week!
Here are a few photos that I took while we were driving through the reservation.
August the 4th was a very busy and fun-packed day! We all started off with breakfast at McDonalds and some absolutely wonderful showers. I keep underestimating the calming powers of a relaxing shower. For the first time since the trip started, every single person got enough privacy and time to really enjoy their shower. Sure, they cost seven dollars per person, but they were worth it!
After spending most of the morning relaxing, we drove over to the Tamastslikt Cultural Institute. That was a seriously fantastic experience. Since I used to live in Los Angeles, I have seen quite a few great museums and institutes. I would say that this institute rivals most of the ones in Los Angeles. The entire facility was engaging, entertaining, and educational. We spent a few hours there, but I could have spent even longer! I learned all sorts of things about the history of this tribe, including how they were impacted by the introduction of horses and white settlers. There were also some great exhibits on the customs of the tribe. My favorites included the wolf management and fisheries exhibit.
Sadly, it came time to move on to the next event, but I was not disappointed! We were greeted by Wenix Red Elk, and she gave us a fantastic presentation on the First Foods of the Umatilla tribe. Wenix has been working hard to protect and manage the foods that her tribe has been eating since it first began. These foods include water, salmon, deer, cous, and huckleberry. These are all extremely important in their diet as well as their cultural ceremonies. Below are a couple pictures of some of the foods that we got to see.
Our evening was spent relaxing, eating well, and preparing to leave the next morning.
August the 3rd marked our last day in the Deschutes National Forest. I was sad to leave but excited to see what our next destination had in store for us. The trip itself was relatively uneventful, but our arrival certainly wasn’t! I had no clue how much I had missed running toilets! After we all took a few minutes to get settled in, we were treated to an explanation of Biomimicry before being allowed to try our hand at some glasswork. I’ve never worked with glass before, so it was a very new experience for me. I wish I had gotten a picture of my piece before it went into the kiln, but I didn’t even think to do that! I was so enthralled with the process and getting mine to look just right. Some of us got to see our pieces the next day, but mine was in a later batch so I won’t get to see it until it gets mailed to Heritage. I’m very excited to see what it will look like!
If there is one thing I can relate to, it’s how wonderful and important fire can be. Benjamin Franklin once said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. I would add one more to the bunch: The only certainties in life are death, taxes, and extreme fires in California every summer. These fires can be extremely devastating, but they also help local plants and wildlife thrive. The same can be said for the forests of Oregon. While at Phil’s Trailhead, we all learned just how much time and effort goes into fire management. We discussed the methods used as well as all the different facets of making the decision to set an area on fire. This includes political boundaries, economic hardships, and a desperate need for manpower. According to Mr. McGuigan, the national forest would thrive the most if there were contained fires every twenty five to fifty years. At this point in time, the amount of moisture in the forest is somewhere between nine and thirteen percent. That makes for some extreme fire conditions!
After learning about this, we all had a delicious BBQ lunch before heading out to meet with Kevin Foss and Scott McBride. They both taught us about the benefits of using the national forest for recreation. This topic led perfectly into the next activity of the day: another hike! This one, to Benham Falls, was much more arduous than the last but definitely more rewarding. Here are some pictures for you to enjoy.