By Kate Vanskike
It’s almost dark and I’m trekking down a riverside path I do not know, anxious to get to the water’s edge at a clearing – a spot close to the horrors that took place 163 years ago as the U.S. army battled to claim the land already inhabited by Native Spokans. In my haste, I leave my phone in my car, and decide I don’t care, although I know I will want it for taking photos. A brown post in the trail through riparian bushes and low-hanging trees has a ripped notice posted from the Sherriff’s office: “Be alert of suspicious activity. Watch out for one another.” I contemplate returning to get my phone, but the full moon is rising and I don’t want to waste time.
The opening in the trees yields to a horseshoe bend in the river. A wide section of dry riverbed is covered by rocks scattered across a cracking earth, thirsty plants dotting the otherwise brown and gray landscape with sage-green accents. Across the river, the other bank is treelined, and beyond that is a steady flow of traffic on the interstate, and semi-trucks pulling in to the weigh station. Above it all, the full moon rises still, over purplish hills, peeking over the trees and dancing on the water.
I can’t properly pronoun Spokane in Salish (“Sp’q’n’i”) but I try. “Spo-kah-NEE,” I whisper at first. Louder, “Spo-kah-NEE.” Then yelling, “Spo-kah-NEE.”
I find myself talking to the spirits of dead Indians, and I’m wishing for some mystical connection, knowing that I simply look and sound like some crazy white woman who needs to go home. I thought about how the Spokans came to this spot to protect their land and way of life, and here they watched the brutal torture and slaughter of their horses by white men, some of whom were repulsed by carrying out the orders. How long must they have heard the cries and moans of suffering as they tried to sleep? A sign saying “Be alert of suspicious activity,” – had it been posted in Salish as a warning of the white man’s ways – couldn’t have prevented what ultimately took place.
With that realization, I begin the trek away from the water, back through the brush, picking up the pace.
“Watch out for one another,” the poster also said.
Yes, I say to the Spokan spirits, “Watch out for one another.”
This reflection is part of a walking meditation project for a graduate course, “Contemporary Strategies to Counter Hate,” at Gonzaga University. Other walking meditations include: