By David LaFever
The ways that our lives entwine with this place are as varied as the people who call it home, and yet something common flows through us all. What is it that holds us all together? A deep and powerful connection to the land and waters, mountains and rivers? Many of us are new, nearly as new as the cloud formations in the sky, while some have lived here for generations and have seen their loved ones go back into the earth. Settled here. Meanwhile there are those that have been here for a very long time, so long in fact that they’ve been here since before time. Since time immemorial. Some may say at least 11,000 years, which is what local archaeological evidence supports, which is a long time (approximately 440 generations), however we’d be making a mistake if we believed these numbers alone and did not listen to the Methow People. “We’ve been here since before time, we are from here, we are the Methow,” they tell us. Are we listening?
The Methow Valley was and is still considered the Methow People’s pharmacy, market and hardware store. From deer to bear, salmon to serviceberry and balsamroot to bitterroots, this place has always taken care of the People, and the People have taken care of this place. It was and continues to be their responsibility to do so, in reciprocity. Commitments made must be honored for life to continue in a good way. What would it feel like to know that the entire Valley is a grocery store, not only Hank’s, Thriftway, Glover Street Market or the Mazama Store? And that it was your duty to take care of as if it were a part of your family?
As written in a recent Methow Valley News Article titled “Methow Conservancy to purchase Wagner Ranch,” we have an opportunity to support land being returned to its original stewards in honor of the Methow People. The fact that the Colville Tribal Fisheries Program asked the Methow Conservancy to help with this land acquisition is no small thing. It speaks of trust, relationship and reciprocity. Can we too step up for land return when being asked? Here is one opportunity to do so.
During a recent conversation with a Methow elder, I asked about the importance of the Wagner Ranch and the Chewuch River. Rather than talk about the fish and wildlife values, which are immense, she began naming each riffle, run and pool from Winthrop upriver past the Wagner Ranch. To have that intimacy with this place is something that I yearn for, and she expressed it in a way as natural as breathing. These places weren’t objects, rather they were subjects, like relatives that have their own right to exist. Her words expressed a living relationship with the river — profound, deep and intimate. Can we imagine what this kind of connection to place would feel like?
This land which we call home is so much more than lands and waters, mountains and rivers, sagebrush and ponderosa pine. It carries stories that are older than we can imagine, passed down from generation to generation, grandparent to grandchild. And it is a gift given, to be lived with, not inanimate property to be owned and taken from. Seeing this place as a gift and remembering the stories, both ancient and recent, is what is occupying my thoughts these days. What stories do we want to tell, to be a part of? How do we keep this gift going?
We are fortunate that there are still living recipients of land that was once theirs, that there are still descendants who know the oldest and deepest stories of this place. But the return of land is something new, something they gave up hoping for. We have the opportunity to make this gifting happen, which is a way to honor this place and to trust one another. The Wagner Ranch gifting also gives our valley the opportunity to shift from knowing that we live in a place stolen from kind Indian people to a place where indigenous people feel welcomed, honored and trusted. And perhaps this will help to answer some of the questions on our hearts and minds, some of the questions I pose here today. Are we listening to all inhabitants of this valley? Do we hear the deeper stories? Can we trust one another? What are the gifts we are being given and how do we keep them going? What are the stories that we want to be a part of? Questions may be more important than answers but there is one thing that I do know — keeping the gift going opens the door of trust and relationship. One question remains: will you walk through it with me?
To learn more about this project, go to methowconservancy.org/news/entry/faq_land_justice
David LaFever is Executive Director of the Methow Valley Interpretive Center, Twisp