Growing Old: Tales from an Urban Canopy

Sing the Old Songs: Part 2 (episode 4)

Episode Summary

Picture what it would look like for Seattle's housing and hospital infrastructure to reflect Coast Salish culture. Consider the role that forced sterilization of Native women has played in creating today’s high rates of Native infant mortality. Travel to the heart of SODO, where the Chief Seattle Club is turning concrete into a Medicine Garden. This is Growing Old.

Episode Notes

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This series was created in collaboration. 

Created by:
Lylianna Allala, Colleen Echohawk, and Tamara Power-Drutis

Produced by:
Katie Mosehauer

Written by:
Tamara Power-Drutis

Narrated by:
Zoey Echohawk-Hayashi, Collen Echohawk, Lylianna Allala, Tamara Power-Drutis along with various members of the Growing Old team.

Music for the series by:
Black Stax, Glass Heart String Choir, Lacey Warrior, and Talaya Logan Marque Studios with engineering and mixing by Katie Mosehauer and Greg Fields and mixing and mastering by Pierre Ferguson.

Music in Episode 4 part 2 by:
Kai Engel and Tamara Power-Drutis

Recording by:
Katie Mosehauer, Tamara Power-Drutis, and Katie Myers

In Partnership With:
Chief Seattle Club and Earth Day Northwest 2020

Promotion and Community Engagement by:
The Vida Agency

Fiscal sponsorship provided by:
Earth Day Northwest 2020 and Forterra

Episode Transcription


This is the kind of story that begins in a forest, on the traditional lands of the Duwamish, Suquamish, Muckleshoot, and Coast Salish People, past and present. It’s a story about Seattle’s urban forest and the humans that live within it. It’s told with gratitude, to honor the trees who care for us, and those who care for this land. To learn, or to remember, the medicines that have been a part of this place since time immemorial. 

We start in the year 2070, imagining what our City might look like if we planted the right seeds today. We follow the story of Chief Seattle Club, as they turn concrete into a Medicine Garden at Eagle Village. And we end each episode with you. You. And me. And how we might work together so that the humans and trees in our community can grow old. 

This is Growing Old, from Seattle Washington. 

In this episode, you’ll continue to hear from members of the Growing Old Project team: 

Colleen Echohawk. 

Lacey Warrior. 

Lylianna Allala.  

Tamara Power-Drutis. 

Zoey Echohawk-Hayashi


In Part one of Sing the Old Songs, we explored the systems of assimilation that aimed to eliminate Native culture from our country. We heard first-hand accounts of individuals and families reawakening the Indigenous traditions and songs of their ancestors. And we gathered insight on how to begin embracing the full history of this place we call home. 


If you haven’t yet listened to part one of this episode, we highly recommend that you hit pause and go back to do so. If you’re joining us after Part One, let’s take a moment to remember the principles we discussed:


Move beyond our comfort level. 

Recognize past harms. 

Work in solidarity with those directly impacted. 

Work across difference.  

Lift up Indigenous knowledge systems. 

Recognize and support Tribal Sovereignty. 

Plant native foods. 

Celebrate and bring joy to the work. 

Perhaps this is how we’ll reach our vision for the year 2070. 

We spoke with food sovereignty strategist Valerie Segrest of the Muckleshoot Tribe, to see how Seattle might better reflect Coast Salish culture. How can we know our role as an ally, while also being mindful of the historical protocols of the First People of this land?



I see Native America all over the City of Seattle. Is it always culturally specific to this area? No,  that's not the case. But because there is such a large population of Native people representing all over the country in this city, that I think is pretty cool. And I see the reason to encourage representation of those Tribal nations in the city of Seattle.

And as our protocols always teach us, you always honor the First People of the lands that were on. And so it would be great if the City had a little bit more inclusive mindset around the members of the Suquamish and Muckleshoot Tribes, who are the descendants of the original inhabitants of that land. 

I also think that they're trying, we're in a time where this conversation wouldn't have happened a decade ago, probably wouldn't have happened a couple years ago. 100 years ago I probably would have been put in jail for talking like this. 

And so we really are in an era of opportunity where people are honestly attempting and trying to be more inclusive and mindful of the lands that they are living on. And not just romanticizing Chief Seattle, but making sure to infuse that beautiful culture into everyday life all around it.



We asked Valerie how Seattle might better reflect and support our Native community without appropriating culture.



I think that this city is trying for the first time in history, trying, and that's good. Could we do more and could we be better at it? Sure. And from a Tribal perspective, could we be better at it? Of course.

There are some rights of Indigenous people that are held within Treaties, they're held within agreements in negotiations with the federal government. And we live in a time where we've got a lot of seemingly unending issues with our healthcare system and climate change and conservation.

And the irony of it all is that upholding Indigenous rights will address all those other issues. It's really simple. What we need to begin with doing is honoring the first food policy of this land, and that's the Treaties. And then build from there an existence that honors all living things on this land. And that also involves people I think being active in the system, honoring the first people of this land and also not appropriating that knowledge, but helping to create space where it can be shared appropriately.



In recent years, many Seattle-area meetings and events have begun featuring a land recognition, acknowledging that we are here on the ancestral lands of the Coast Salish people, who have cared for this place since time immemorial. Indigenous leaders often find themselves asked to begin such sessions, or to serve as the sole-Native representative on a board or workgroup. 



We live in a world where we are inundated with a buffet of injustices to deal with on a daily basis and do not have the bandwidth or the human capital to be in the city, showing up to every land acknowledgement and saying a prayer for every function and then being with the mayor and then, and then also fighting for environmental justice and, and food sovereignty and pleasing our people. And then, you know, showing up to a lot of cultural events and funerals because we have a high rate of mortality happening at all times. There's constant trauma going on.

There's a lot of things going on in our lives, and we don't live like the broader society does, where we can pick and choose to be a part of these causes, we are born into it. 


Oh, well, you know, in Seattle, we have a lot of very well intentioned, progressive people, progressive white people because this is a very white space and White City. What we have, and we see in the outcomes is that we have we don't have a lot of folks were really willing to, to step back and allow POC people to leave. We have a lot of talk about, oh, let's bring everyone to the table. But we have to remember that that table was made by white folks to succeed. And so we have to dismantle those tables. 

This is not my idea, but we have to dismantle those tables and build sweat lodges, and bring people into those spaces, right? Because every time I go  to a policymaking table, I have to remember that this was not set up for me to succeed. And I have to battle the feeling sometimes of inferiority, the feelings of like, my ideas are not going to be listened to and that is a very real thing that happens. Because the white majority has been in charge for so long. When someone like myself, a Native woman is speaking, people don't know how to take it. And so often, it's not as successful as other people's ideas. Be not because it's not a good idea, but because people don't know how to respond. 



As we work toward our vision for 2070, toward becoming a truly equitable and anti racist city, we have to create policies that are specifically designed to address those inequities. 



One example that I think about all the time and it is directly related to the lack of trees, and lack of architecture and design that makes sense for Native people. 

Eleven percent of native babies born in this city will die. Eleven percent infant mortality rate in one of the most progressive cities in the world, with some of the most incredible Western medical systems in the world. Eleven percent of Native babies, the highest rate, will die in the city. If we're going to be an equitable city, then we have to respond to that. 

That means that we have to be ultra focused, we have to think about how we tear dow these systems that have made Native women not want to go into hospitals now. Not that we don’t have really good reason for Native women not to want to go into hospitals. 

Through the late 70s, Native women were being sterilized and sometimes forcibly sterilized by the Federal government. So if you have gone through that kind of processes, and you've heard those stories from your grandmas and your aunties, and you see the history, you know, there you will have fear about a Western medical system. 



In the 1960s and 70s, about one out of every four American Indian women were sterilized without her consent, in many cases without her knowledge. They went to the doctor for tonsillectomies or appendicitis, and instead had their uterus removed, their tubes tied or severed. 

The Indian Health Service was promoted as a method of delivering more quality health care to Reservations, but instead it worked for decades to stem Native birth rates. Some doctors believed that Native women couldn’t use birth control effectively, some believed that people of color in general were a problem. 

Whatever the reason, the outcome of their actions is now known, and Native women were not allowed a say in the matter. At the same time as their children were being forcibly taken away to assimilation boarding schools, Native women were being forcibly sterilized.

Even after legislation was passed in 1974 to protect women from forced sterilization, law enforcement remained lax, and doctors used inaccurate descriptions of medical procedures to cover up their brutality.

It’s estimated that between 25 and 50 percent of Native American women were sterilized between 1970 and 1976 alone, many through federally funded programs. And they weren’t alone, many women of color and low-income women faced similar procedures against their will. 

When doctors were polled on their attitudes regarding birth control policies, 94% said they would approve of forced sterilization for a mother on welfare with three or more children. 

Western Medicine helped to create a Native infant mortality crisis in our city. But it also has a role to play in solving it. Native women have good reason to fear any non-Native hospital, and medical facilities and staff are going to need more than business as usual to change that. 



We have to think about the designs of our hospitals, which are all designed by white men to look the same. What if we had hospitals that said hey, our maternity wards are going to look like Native places. Our OBGYN  is going to be full of, Indigenous art, culture, design, so that feels not just ok but really good for Native people to go in.

And I'm not just talking about for, you know, something like an agency like the Seattle Indian Health Board or the Chief Seattle Club, which I lead, I'm talking about, you know, Swedish Medical Center. If they truly want to be equitable, then they should create these spaces where Native people feel like they can they can be okay in. 

And what is good for Native people is also good for everyone, right? We've had dominant white culture and architecture everywhere for so long. And we've all had to like be in it. But what I want to constantly remind us is that there is something really good about Native space that’s good not just for Native people, but for everyone.



Seattle is already a Native city, and there are 29 federally recognized Tribes located in the geographic area that is now known as Washington State. 

In addition to the widespread habitat restoration that Tribes have led the way on, Tribal governments and their enterprises generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues for local and state government, and are responsible for over 30,000 jobs in our state alone. 

We all benefit from the strong Native American culture in Washington State. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we as a city, and as a community, reflect and respect Coast Salish culture appropriately. If, by the year 2070, we want Seattle to not just be a Native city, but to feel and look like one, then some things are going to need to change. 

Luckily, we’re already changing anyway. Seattle will be different whether we set a new course or not. And while change on a massive scale seems daunting or perhaps unwelcome, some of the most transformational changes happen within a single square block. 


Imagine that you’re driving down Seattle’s 6th avenue through the “south of downtown” industrial corridor, or SODO as we call it. Your eyes glaze over the warehouses and the Greyhound bus station, the Metro transit base and the parking garages, until suddenly something catches your eye, bright colors, giant murals, native plants. 

Eagle Village sits on a parcel of concrete, with a view of metal fencing and warehouses. But as the City’s first Native-led rehousing effort, it’s not going to stay that way much longer. Indigenous painters are turning FEMA-style housing units into enormous murals. A community is convening to turn concrete into a Medicine Garden. And soon, residents at Eagle Village will look out upon a Native oasis in the middle of an industrial corridor. 



The Chief Seattle Club is a human service agency and a housing provider. We do that because there are incredible rates of homelessness amongst our relatives. We know that. If you're American Indian, Alaska Native and you live in King County, you're 10 times more likely to be homeless. 



American Indian and Alaska Natives make up less than 1% of King County’s population, but about 10% of our homeless population. The Chief Seattle Club is working to change that. 



It is my passion. It is my joy. It is my favorite thing to get to support my relatives who have been experiencing homelessness for a really long time. The Chief Seattle Club does everything from food, showers, and laundry to rapid rehousing, to eviction prevention. 

We have an amazing new project called Eagle Village which we're helping out 31 people right now. These are some folks who've been outside for years and years and years. And they felt so uncomfortable in mainstream shelters and now they have their own bedroom and their own bathroom. 



Immediately upon launching the effort, Chief Seattle Club got to work making the space feel and look more Native. 



We are creating a space for our relatives that that looks and feels like them. It looks like a Native place. I think the other thing that's really beautiful about these spaces that that have been created for Native people, is that before anyone ever moved in, we asked some traditional medicine people to come. And so they came in and they blessed every room there was sage and sweet grass and and and we went with the staff that's there into every space and it was a wonderful blessing. 



Eagle Village is the first project of it’s kind in Seattle, where a Native-led organization is taking the lead on a housing project specifically for Native people. 



We need housing. Our relatives need housing, bad. And it would only make sense that Chief Seattle Club be at the forefront of providing that housing. 



We are as Native people taking back our right to house our relatives like this has been, government action after government action that did not allow us to take care of each other. So part of our healing as a community is to be able to, to prepare the way for our relatives and create these beautiful spaces for them to live in. It was incredibly powerful and important work for us to prepare these spaces for our folks who have been outside for so long. 

It's an incredibly joyous place. You go into the community room and people are just happy and excited to eat and excited to be with each other. And so it's just a really wonderful space.



We as a community always supported each other and always made sure that everybody had food, everybody had clothing, everybody had housing. And so I think that's really where Eagle Village came from, was just out of necessity. It’s just a super exciting project. It's a very comforting place for people to stabilize themselves.

Our members need that housing stability to safety to be able to get in a place of like, “Oh yeah, I could go back to work because I'm safe now. I don't have to worry about my safety every single night. I have food every day so I don't have to worry about where my next meal is gonna come from now.”



Through the Native Works program, Lacey and the Chief Seattle Club team work to honor Native tradition while fostering a healthier Native future. Since opening Eagle Village, Native Works has been involved to ensure that residents have a creative cultural outlet. During COVID-19, they’ve also been mass producing “Art Survival Kits” to keep folks healthy and sane through their isolation. 



We have a couple of Native Works apprentices who are at Eagle Village right now. It’s really helpful in being able to just holistically help our members and not just “okay, here's housing, you're good now.” No, here's housing, here's a job, here's food every day. Here's a garden that you can hang out in. Here's some art supplies. Here's some legal assistance. Here's some financial literacy assistance.

We really want to make sure that our relatives are not just housed but like that they are getting to a place where they can start actually taking care of themselves and actually start thriving, instead of just surviving. 



So what made Eagle Village possible?  Who stepped back or chose to listen, so that Chief Seattle Club could care for their community in this way? 



Eagle Village was experimental, it is. And I really wanted to emphasize that  it was such wonderful bravery from the Executive of King County and his team, Dow Constantine. They said, “let's try this, let's let's put a Native organization in charge of Native housing.” 

One of the first things we saw was just how we felt we, you know, we know our relatives, right. You know, one thing I loved about it is that we have one relative who's quite young, has a lot of issues. And we held a space for her until we could find her. And I think that's the beautiful thing about culturally responsive housing is because we know our community and we know the ones who are most vulnerable. And we will like go out there and find you and bring you in so that you can you can come to your home. 

And so I think the most wonderful thing about it is just how joyous it is. Like I was just there yesterday, and I saw some people and we were just like hugging each other. 



Don’t worry -- this interview with Colleen was recorded prior to COVID-19’s arrival in Seattle, prior to social distancing measures.  



We're just like so excited that that they were inside and that they that they look so good and healthy and stable. You know when you sleep outside. It's hard to take care of yourself, right? Your worried about a lot of other things. So there's just a tremendous amount of love and appreciation down there at Eagle Village, we're also really excited in April, we're in the middle of design right now, we'll be creating a Medicine Garden. 



Eagle Village’s Medicine Garden will help play an important role in connecting residents with their traditional foods and medicines. 



There's a lot of stories about when Native people were moved off of traditional homelands, one of the things that they that they would take with them would be our traditional medicine. So maybe it was sweet grass, or Sage, or cedar, nettle in this area, whatever it might be. 

And and those have always been, despite the genocide of Native people, those have remained. And so we're going to be creating this this garden what will grow our own sweetgrass, will grow our own Sage, will grow cedar, and we'll like be able to experience that together. 



Food sovereignty strategist Valerie Segrest is one of the collaborators helping to plant a Medicine Garden at Eagle Village. We asked her about why it’s important to plant a Medicine Garden at Eagle Village.



It provides an opportunity for people to rekindle and re energize and begin relationships with plants. The plant people are our greatest teachers.

So many times in my career, I have been working with vulnerable populations where we go out and harvest a medicine and you witnessed this light come on inside of people where they begin to remember how their grandmother used that plant, what they might have called it, how they would use it. And that that memory was medicine, and is medicine for people. Remembering our teachings. 

Plants are our greatest teacher. And when you can have them growing right outside the door, it makes sense to make sure that that access is available.



We asked Valerie what plants she hopes to see growing at Eagle Village, and what medicine they would provide to residents. 



I really hope that the Eagle Village garden can grow native plants to the Northwest of course, and also some medicine plants from other places. 

Sweet grass grows really well and is big medicine all over the place. 

Wild strawberry can really actually be neglected and is incorporated in almost every Tribe’s creation stories across this country. 

And then there are plants like St. John's wort that are not native here, but are powerful remedies for depression and nerve pain topically. 

There are plants like Arnica that grow in high mountain meadows, but also there are varieties from Montana that grow here very well and can be used for trauma on the body and helping to heal sore muscles. 

They are plants like calendula that are antifungal antimicrobial and totally safe for babies and elders and can be used topically to heal the skin or internally to treat infections.

I think about Yarrow, which is one of my favorite plant teachers of all time, and how it grows all over the lands here in America and all over the world actually. And everywhere it grows, it's used for the same thing. It's warrior medicine. It's used to heal the wounds where the light is entering and it helps clean wounds. It actually baffles scientists because when I think about it, I think about just putting the blood back where it belongs. So if you use Yarrow externally, like topically on the skin, it'll stop bleeding, it'll clean the wound, it'll help speed up the wound healing process, it's anti-inflammatory. 

But then when you take it internally, it actually pushes the blood to the surface of the skin and increases sweating, which is why we call it a diaphoretic, and can actually be used to break a fever. But it also helps clean out sort of clogged up arteries and open up space where blood needs to move. 

So it's a really powerful medicine and it's known as a common weed. It's also known as an ornamental plant. 

I think of plants like echinacea that are native to The Montana region and are powerful medicine that turn on our immune system so that we can fight infections. It's also called Snake Bite plant because it was used for people who had experienced snake bites. It's got like a tingly, numbing flavor to it. So if you were to just bite the root, it kind of numbs your tongue, which is fun. 

But it also helps if you have a sore throat, you could drink echinacea will help soothe your sore throat. 

So there are so many things to grow, and these are all plants by the way that you don't need to reseed every year they reseed themselves. You know, I recommend only watering them for maybe the first year and then after that the more neglected the stronger the medicine.

It's sort of brilliant to plant gardens that are growing medicines like that.



Can you picture it? 

Instead of concrete, a neglected but thriving medicine garden?

Instead of ornamental plants, native species that provide big medicine? 

Instead of high rates of Native homelessness, culturally appropriate housing led by Native organizations? 

Instead of cultural appropriation, allyship and the reflection of Coast Salish culture across Seattle.

Now that’s a 2070 we can get behind. 

For the hummingbirds out there interested in supporting Chief Seattle Club and the Medicine Garden at Eagle Village, there are ways you can support. Check out to learn more. 

In our next episode, we’ll explore what it means for humans and trees to live in reciprocity: The life-enabling services that trees provide for us, and how we, particularly in an urban forest, can care for them in return. 

Join the conversation on Instagram at Growing Old Project. Learn more at Growing Old Project dot com. 


This series was developed in collaboration. 

It was co-created by Colleen Echohawk, Lylilanna Allala, and Tamara Power-Drutis. 

It was produced by Katie Mosehauer. 

Music for the series was created by Lacey Warrior, Glass Heart String Choir, and Black Stax.

Promotion and marketing was provided by Katie Myers and The Vida Agency. 

Support for this project is provided by the Henry M. Jackson Foundation and Arts in the Parks, a partnership between the City of Seattle Office of Arts & Culture and Seattle Parks and Recreation. 

This is Growing Old.