Portland’s World Environment Celebration kicks off: the Foster Natural Area is dedicated
Last Thursday, Kerri Garfield and I photographed the dedication of the Foster Natural Area…. the new name of the East Lents flood plain restoration project.
Designated the United Nation’s host city for World Environment Day, Portland picked this location to launch a six week long cultural celebration of one of its most important core values- sustainability. On April 25, Dean Marriott, Director of Environmental Services, and Amy Fraenkel, Regional Director of UNEP Regional Office for North America, led a host of speakers, a Native American Blessing, performances by Kelly Elementary School students, a tree planting, and site tour.
It was an honor to be there as project photographer. For me, the event marked the culmination of more than two years of work, documenting the reclamation of about sixty acres of original Johnson Creek flood plain just east of the I-205 freeway. Much has been written about the transformational economics of the project- its power to knock out many of the two year flooding cycles that have devastated Foster Road, the resulting positive impact on East Lents businesses, and a seeding of community pride in a vibrant habitat and natural area. All were acknowledged by speakers at the ceremony.
Perhaps less has been said and written about the role of this celebration as an agent and symbol of community healing. During the celebration, I had a chance to talk with Donita Sue Fry, Portland Youth and Elders Council Organizer and member of the Shoshone-Bannock tribe. Like Donita, many of the Native Americans participating in the Blessing Ceremony, as drummers, dancers and interpreters, did not come from local tribes, but participated together in a healing ceremony shared by generations of Native Americans parted from their indigenous soil, wherever it may have been.
The inclusion of the Blessing Ceremony struck a sympathetic note with the flood plain project, for the project required the relocation of 60 families whose homes originally lined 106th, 108th and 110th streets- a neighborhood in the heart of Johnson Creek’s historic flood plain. The City of Portland guaranteed a generous buy-out plan for all residents of the neighborhood. The last family was relocated in 2010, and all homes were razed, or moved. But in the end, the money did not equate with some residents’ long-time attachment to the land, their sense of its value as homestead. For these residents, the personal loss of relocation was real.
To which Donita Sue Fry spoke eloquently.
As we spoke, Donita held the traditional smudging vessel- an abalone shell containing burning sage- from which the rich-smelling smoke provided a path of escape for bad feelings, negative thoughts, and dark spirits. Through the path of the smoke, Donita believes the healing process follows the path of each of our personal connections to the land, back in time, to a point where the land represented a refuge, a symbol and in many cases the reality of home.
The flood plain project, now called the Foster Natural Area, has provided a chance to imagine what each personal connection is, and as the Blessing Ceremony unfolded on the banks of the renewed flood plain, to feel that connection made over again, even if we are physically separated from the place itself.
As the ceremony progressed, a hawk circled above the creek, in that present moment very much at home in, and connected to, the new flood plain.