A ritual Native American blessing and purification ceremony was conducted in front of an estimated 25 attendees at the Edmonds Waterfront Center construction site Tuesday afternoon.
The event was a solemn acknowledgment of Edmonds’ heritage as occupying the traditional lands of the Coast Salish people — and in particular the significance to these original inhabitants of the beaches, waterfront and intertidal zones directly adjacent to the new Community Waterfront Center.
On hand were Waterfront Center Executive Director Farrell Fleming, Board President Bob Rinehart, and Edmonds School Board President Diana White, herself a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi tribe.
“I am so gratified that we are having this ritual here, at this place and this time,” White said. “The new center will be full of happy memories, events and celebrations, and this cleansing ceremony sets the stage for safety, good luck and health for all that will happen here. It also ritually acknowledges and asks the blessing of our elders for what we’re doing here, part of which is providing opportunities for young people and elders to interact and enrich each other’s lives.
“Another beautiful thing about this project is opening up the beach and harmoniously embracing our natural environment, a key ingredient of Coast Salish culture,” White continued. “I know I speak for the community in expressing gratitude to all involved in planning the Waterfront Center, and their awareness of the need to honor our past and present, including the Native American connection.”
White was followed by Fleming.
“We sometimes forget that Edmonds’ history and heritage does not start with George Brackett, but goes back millennia with the people who cared for this land and understood the many integral processes that make it whole,” he said. “They created a culture we have much to learn from.”
Fleming then introduced Chief William Depoe of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, who began the ceremony with a reading emphasizing the interconnectedness of all things, and that all beings and objects in the world are our relatives.
“The smudging ceremony has been a sacred ritual for the Native American and for many other tribal peoples for thousands of years,” he read. “It is a ritual of cleansing and purification for the physical and spiritual bodies. We are not separate from our environment, but are interconnected. While we are all individuals, in every moment of our existence we are in relationship with something. The gardener with his vegetables, the violinist with his violin, the hunter with that which he pursues.”
Depoe then lit the ritual sage leaves and branches in a ceremonial smudge pot made from abalone shell, proceeding through the crowd wafting smoke with an eagle feather, giving all the opportunity to inhale and anoint themselves. This was followed by playing recorded Native American ceremonial music as the smudge pot continued to fill the air with the heady aroma of sage.
In his closing remarks, Depoe told the audience of how he grew up in Seattle and for 50 years worked as a boat builder at Delta Marine on the Duwamish waterway. “I’m retired now,” he added, “and it’s time for me to go back to my cultural past. Many are concerned that our culture is in danger of being lost. I’m here to teach it again.”