It was a moment when the lines between the past, the present, and the future blurred. When what matters is now, a moment witnessed by the ancestors’ descendants and the spirits of all who came before and who are still present.
In a May 21 dedication ceremony celebrating and blessing the opening of the Orcas Landing Marine Interpretive Area on a sunny breezy afternoon, Samish Tribal Elder Rosie Cayou reminded those who gathered of the significance of place, and of the reverence in protecting environmental history.
“They’re all here,” she said, invoking those of the Lummi, Swinomish, Tulalip, Stillaguamish, and Suquamish families who came before. “The Water Spirits, the Land Spirits. They’re all here. All our ancestors are here.”
San Juan County Council members Christine Minney and Jaime Stephens attended the event. Stephens opened the dedication with an appreciation for the collaborative efforts of all involved and a brief history of the project.
The area’s state Representative, Debra Lekanoff, herself a member of Alaska’s Tlingit Tribe, lauded San Juan County’s impressive track record with marine protection and preservation.
“Whenever my fellow legislators and I speak of the need for effective collaboration for environmental sustainability,” she said, “I look to the example of San Juan County and the work of the Marine Environmental Resources team, including Kendra Smith and Dr. Frances Robertson.” Smith and Robertson spearheaded the project with help from Public Works and Facilities.
A large crab and wall-hugging kelp forest and eelgrass metal sculpture by Orcas native and blacksmith, Zackaraya Leck guides visitors to the new Interpretive area. At its head, a former fueling station transformed into a way station for environmental education and awareness. One side holds an interpretive bulletin board; the other, a vibrant mural that tells the story of the Coast Salish Nations and their journeys through the surrounding waters, the very waters the mural faces. Three canoes painted in silhouette carry the original names of three villages on Orcas.
Painting a visual history of the people who have always been here was a labor of cultural and community love. Over eight days on Guemes Island, artists, friends, and family painted a poignant history of the Coast Salish Nations and their relationship to the sea, and especially Orcas Island. Designed by lead artist Sarah Folden and entitled “Preservation: For those before us and those to come,” the six 4-foot-by-8-foot panels blend the traditional and contemporary in a tribute to harmony and history.
A walkway to the viewing area features a stone and granite garden designed by sculptor Bruce Myers. Colorful panels, overlooking the sea, explain the delicate ecosystem that surrounds the landing, reminding visitors of their inherent responsibility to protect and preserve this sacred land, this special place.
Minney was among the many who expressed gratitude at being able to attend the dedication, adding that she was privileged to “have witnessed the powerful impact of Wisdom, Words, and Waves that flowed through the gathering as we acknowledged our local heritage and stewardship of the Salish Sea.”