Thursday, February 22, 2024

A Weekend of Celebrating Indigenous Culture thanks to the intersecting efforts of Icicle Creek, IRRF and WRI

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Icicle Creek Center for the Arts (ICCA) hosted Indigenous Enterprise (IE), an acclaimed Indigenous dance and storytelling company with representatives from multiple western tribes, for five days of performance and engagement, reaching over 1200 students and 500 community members.

The weekend performances in Snowy Owl Theater, showcasing champion dancers performing the grass dance, jingle dance, hoop dance and more, were stunning and ended with standing ovations. Another, quieter but equally important part of the weekend was the collaboration of Icicle Creek with the nonprofits Wenatchee River Institute (WRI) and Indigenous Roots and Reparation Foundation (IRRF).

Tina Polzin, ICCA Director of Artistic Engagement, helped create an opportunity for ticket holders to deepen their experience. Close to twenty people showed up before each IE performance to attend a pre-show talk and walk with WRI naturalist Kyra Ballas and IRRF representatives.

On Friday evening, Mary Big Bull Lewis, the chair of IRRF, shared about the history, issues, and cultural resurgence of Indigenous people (many of whom are p’squosa or Wenatchi) in north central Washington. IRRF is an Indigenous-led nonprofit, established in 2021 to “preserve history, culture, traditions and language through education and advocacy,” and to work toward “providing a space on the ancestral homelands for all tribes to practice cultural traditions, ceremony and fellowship.”

IRRF has been hosting events that connect people to traditions, stories, and places. In the fall, over one hundred adults and children attended an annual huckleberry camp, there have been spring camas harvesting trips, and an online nxaʔamxčín language class will occur this summer.

Next, the group of patrons ambled in the afternoon warmth as Ballas identified native plants like arrowleaf balsamroot, serviceberry, thimbleberry, fireweed, and yarrow on the Icicle Creek campus. She shared edible or other uses for every single plant, many of which could be derived from how Indigenous people in the past drew from the bounty of the land.

On Saturday, patrons had the treat of hearing Randy Lewis speak. Lewis is an elder and IRRF board member, and a storyteller, teacher, civil rights organizer, and historian.

He explained how the land in the Wenatchee River watershed home was for thousands of years to a mixture of people from eastern Plateau tribes and coastal Salish tribes. Geography caused pockets of distinct groups and dialects, but through trade and intermarriage, bonds solidified between peoples spread from Montana to the Pacific Ocean. Along the Columbia south of Wenatchee were summer camps of tens of thousands of people. Later, due to cumulative oppression and hardship, those numbers shrank to about 150 tribe members in the 50’s.

Lewis spoke of the sacred hoop, which has been broken. To heal it requires deep listening and remembering. He and Big Bull Lewis both spoke of the importance of connecting to the land and the cycles of nature, like knowing the right time to harvest camas. The attendees absorbed the knowledge shared by Big Bull Lewis, Lewis and Ballas, for its practical and spiritual benefit. It was a great preface to the powerful IE dances, which are also rooted in nature. The hoop dance, for instance, shares the perspective of a long-lived willow tree, with the eight hoops, originally made from willow, transforming as the dancer manipulates them into shapes of a flower, bird, rabbit, and butterfly.

ICCA hopes to continue collaborations like these to educate and enrich our community. Ballas said, “It was a beautiful experience having all these different people, from locals to international visitors, come together and connect through their own relationship with nature and learn from IRRF about the P'squosa and their deep heritage connection to the lands we are on.”

And Polzin explained, that, for Icicle Creek, “Fostering local artists and organizations doing important work continues the legacy of Harriet Bullitt and the sleeping lady who overlooks us, reminding us that the planet and people are intertwined and, through helping each other, we thrive.”

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