Restoring native plants part of effort
The Methow Valley Interpretive Center, the Methow Natives plant store and the River Warrior Society — a Native American organization devoted to revitalizing the canoe culture shared by many tribes — recently joined forces to help victims of the Cold Springs Fire and organize relief efforts.
Interpretive Center representatives traveled to the burn area in the early days of the fire to address immediate needs. They delivered generators, tools, food and cash, along with moral support.
Interpretive Center members also helped get water flowing for cows and horses, mended fences, and pulled on work gloves to work side-by-side with the River Warrior Society to clean up debris. The center also set up a fire relief fund to raise money for building materials, heat pumps, homesite preparation, debris removal and more.
Homes and family heirlooms were lost in the fire: baskets, beaded regalia, photos and written stories were reduced to ashes. Stores of traditional plants gathered the previous year were also destroyed. The plants would have been used in winter months to weave tule mats and baskets, and in medicines and food.
September is a traditional time to gather cedar roots and tules, but fire victims had to forego their seasonal gathering. Interpretive Center members gathered cedar roots and tules to replace the essential cultural materials lost in the fire, and delivered them along with tools and supplies. The center also provided stores of dried serviceberries, sweetgrass, honey and chokecherries and other plants to compensate for those lost in the fire.
Rob Crandall, the owner of Methow Natives, provided native plants and volunteer planting help to assist recovery efforts. He told the Tribal Tribune in late October that “It’s a way to get people out, a volunteer opportunity, to have people help do planting and help others get grounded back in their home sites. It’s a good, positive step toward re-inhabiting everybody’s places. … I’ve worked with native plants for a long time, and I’ve worked with reconciliation efforts for about five years through my work at the Methow Valley Interpretive Center. There is a real commonality between cultures and appreciation of native plants and recognizing that they really are what grounds us to these places.”
Interpretive Center and River Warrior Society members met at Homestream Park in Winthrop in late fall. Representing the River Warrior Society were Director Twa-le Swan, Faith Zacherle, Robert Tonasket and Cailona Bear Moritz. The group observed land recovery achieved by community volunteers planting native grasses and trees. Similar plantings will be established in burn areas after homes and utilities are in place.
The group then stopped along Witte Road to observe salmon protecting their redds. The tour continued at the Interpretive Center on the TwispWorks campus, where photos displayed images of family and friends, including pictures of people who either lost their homes, or were affected by the recent fires.
Gesturing toward the center and Native Plants Garden, Swan said, “The people who lost their homes — their pictures hang on those walls inside. Their hands, their knowledge, built these spaces.”
Crandall, who is also a board member of the Interpretive Center, prepared a picnic lunch in the Native Plants Garden: grilled deer meat over salad and quinoa with saskatoon berries.
After lunch, Independent Learning Center students gathered under a large oak tree and listened while Swan, Zacherle, Tonasket and Moritz discussed fire recovery efforts, the River Warrior Society, and how to sustain and nurture a healthy environment.
The mission of the River Warrior Society is to aid, support and facilitate the revitalization of canoe culture within Indigenous communities. That work provides opportunities for people to learn about themselves not from a museum, but from being active in their community. The organization works with schools and communities to provide hands-on, multi-faceted lessons in language, traditions and skills.
The River Warrior Society was formed in 2015 when the Upper Columbia United Tribes gave old-growth cedar logs from the Quinault Indian Nation to native communities in the upper Columbia region.
The gift of cedar logs opened doors for native communities to remember and share traditional craftmanship — bringing together experts, artists, builders and students. Under the guidance of skilled artisans, beautiful canoes emerged from logs carved by students. Canoe journeys, such as the 2016 Paddle to Kettle Falls, became regional educational opportunities.
The River Warrior Society serves tribes of the Upper Columbia region: Spokane, Kalispell, Coeur d’Alene, Kootenai, and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville reservation. The 12 tribes of the Colville reservation are the Wenatchi, Entiat, Chelan, Methow, Okanogan, Moses-Columbia, Lakes, Colville, Sanpoil, Nespelem, Palus, and the Chief Joseph band of the Nez Perce.
When the COVID pandemic struck, the organization jumped into action to protect rural communities and the elders who share and teach their culture. So, when the fires destroyed homes and sources of livelihoods, the River Warrior Society was already engaged with affected communities and in position to respond quickly to immediate needs. Ten of the organization’s 13 board members are from the Colville reservation.
On the day of the fires, Zacherle reached out to Swan to help organize a response. Zacherle secured funding from different organizations, including the Interpretive Center, to pay for hotel rooms for people displaced by fires.
The River Warrior Society works to provide a holistic approach to fire response that focuses first on addressing immediate needs for people and animals, followed by a plan for sustainable models of energy efficient rebuilds. The group organized delivery of food and supplies, and helped people care for pets, domestic animals and displaced wildlife. Jacob Byl, owner of Shady Pines Resort in Conconully, provided rooms for families and volunteers. The team connected people to organizations that could meet immediate needs.
Mental health issues
A critical immediate need was to address mental health. Swan reached out to Moritz to provide training for suicide prevention and awareness. Moritz said, “People are afraid to plant a seed (by talking about suicide) — but it’s not. You care enough to ask how they are doing and help them find ways to cope.” Moritz has a personal mission to make it normal to talk about mental health. “It’s not easy being vulnerable,” she said.
The River Warrior Society organized ongoing cleanup efforts, cutting up burned-out house frames and hauling loads to the Okanogan County Central Landfill — which waived fees and stayed open for cleanup crews. The organization secured permits for rebuilds and mobile home placements, and organized a donation of tiny homes, the first of which were delivered in mid-October.
Moritz, as a member of Carpenters Union Local 59, recruited contractors for repairs and rebuilds. The youth community of the society is leading the way in designing homes with sustainable, renewable resources using traditional teachings and building styles from different tribes familiar with cold winters and deep snows.
“River Warriors put our traditional values to work and help people,” Swan said.
During all this activity, The River Warrior Society found the greatest relief to people was the simple comfort of someone reaching out. “Just being there to help people process,” Swan said. “We may not have the money or resources, but being there — helping people, making phone calls, and navigating websites to sign up for help,” made the most-comforting impact.
Volunteers are still needed to help with post fire-recovery. To learn more about opportunities to help, visit the River Warrior Society Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/RiverWarriorSociety, or email email@example.com. Monetary donations can be made to the Methow Valley Interpretive Center, designated “for fire recovery.”
Updates on fire recovery efforts and opportunities to volunteer can found on the Interpretive Center website and Facebook page. All fire recovery donations to center go directly to assist people affected by the fires. Learn more at http://www.methowvalleyinterpretivecenter.com.