Consistent with the new park’s ‘coming home’ theme
The spirits of indigenous Methow People who were driven from the valley are being welcomed back to their ancestral homeland through a “spirit easement” at Homestream Park in Winthrop.
While the spirit easement is a symbolic action intended to honor the memory of the valley’s Native inhabitants, it also is codified in a legal document filed with Okanogan County — likely the first of its kind.
Part-time valley residents Phil and Cathy Davis created Homestream Park to honor the rivers, fish and the indigenous Methow people of the Methow Valley. They purchased the land on the Methow River, next to the Highway 20 bridge, and financed the park’s construction and features. With the assistance of many community volunteers, the park had its grand opening in October 2019.
The theme of the park, “Coming Home,” refers to both the salmon and the Methow people whose relatives fished, hunted, gathered and lived sustainably in the valley for thousands of years.
Noted Native American artist Smoker Marchand’s featured sculptures of spawning salmon and a family setting up a traditional fish camp encapsulate the idea of “coming home.” As the park became a reality, the Davises realized that one vital piece of the Methow Valley story remained to be told: the removal of Methow People ancestors from their homeland in the late 1800s by white settlers.
An idea emerges
Before the park’s grand opening, the Davises met with Mark Miller to invite him and his fellow Methow descendants to participate.
After a long discussion about their intentions surrounding the park, Miller indicated that the creation of this park would welcome home not only salmon, but also the spirits of people “who lost their home when we were driven from our homeland.”
That resonated with the Davises. Later, as Phil cleaned up the park after the grand opening, he thought about Miller’s words.
“This idea of honoring the past shaped how the easement came about in words,” he said. Davis envisioned a detailed easement attached to the property’s title that would serve as a historical record of what happened to the Methow people in the past while honoring their memory in the current time.
An easement, Davis explained, “grants access or use over one’s property. (The) literary definition of an easement is ‘the state or feeling of comfort or peace.’”
The Davises approached Miller with the idea. “Most important to us was how those who we were trying to honor felt about it,” Cathy Davis said.
Asked about the concept of a spirit easement, Miller explained in a letter that in Native spiritualism, the journey to the “other side” is not far away, but is “right here, around our daily lives.” He noted the importance of celebrating and honoring ancestors in Native American traditions and culture, including the spiritual energies of plants, soil, water and geological features. The spirit easement “represents a concept to recognize and acknowledge that our environment involves much more than our eyes see and recognize,” Miller said. He concluded: “Honoring past and current spiritual energies help us appreciate where and how we live.”
Miller supported the idea and suggested the Davises talk about the proposal with others. The Davises discussed the idea at length with Methow descendant and oral historian Randy Lewis, the Methow Valley Interpretive Center, the Methow Conservancy, friends and other community members, and found everyone to be supportive.
The Davises met with Jeannie White, land program manager for the Methow Conservancy, and Travis Thornton, an attorney familiar with easements. White and Thornton Travis agreed that an easement was appropriate, and stressed the importance of historical detail in the easement document.
Working with historian and author Richard Hart, the Davises used the historical record detailed in Hart’s book about the Methow people, “Lost Homeland.” They also worked with Methow descendants Miller and Lewis to formulate the wording of the Spirit Easement.
The spirit easement names the grantee: “The People Of The Methow Who Have Lost Their Spirit Homeland.” The easement recognizes Methow traditional territory from the tributaries and headwaters of the Methow River to the Columbia River confluence, and that the Methow People inhabited the Methow Valley for thousands of years. The easement also acknowledges white European trappers and settlers entered the Methow Valley in the 1700s and introduced diseases that led to, “large-scale loss of life among the Methow People.”
Further, “governing powers imposed private property laws over settled lands,” that had never before been confined by boundaries, and that those same governing powers, “ultimately removed the Methow People,” forcing them onto Reservation Land outside of the Methow Valley. The easement goes on to recognize painful truths about acts of assimilation designed to rid the Methow People of their culture and language, including removing children from their families.
In an act of reconciliation, the spirit easement recognizes, “some of the Methow People believe that the spirits of their deceased ancestors have equally lost their homeland as a result of this physical removal of the Methow People and the ensuing injustices they suffered.” Noting that the term “easement” defines the “right to use land for a specific purpose,” and has a literary definition as “the state or feeling of comfort or peace,” the easement welcomes “those spirits who access, inhabit, or use in any other way this property as part of their Spirit Homeland.” The spirit easement was filed with and notarized by Okanogan County.
“We feel these painful truths are important reminders,” said Phil Davis. “I think the more our valley moves toward a full recognition and celebration of our whole history, the stronger our community becomes and the more inspired and aware our visitors are when they leave.”
The Davises plan to file a spirit easement on their personal property and encourage others to do the same. “It is a symbolic granting but, more important, an easement memorializes the truth,” Cathy Davis said. “The educational value and awareness are ultimately the most important.”
“Think about it,” Phil Davis said. “One hundred years from now when a property with a spirit easement on it is sold, the story lives on because the easement will be part of the transaction.”
The Homestream Park spirit easement can be viewed at www.homestreampark.com/spirit. The Methow Conservancy will assist property owners in creating and filing a spirit easement with Okanogan County.