By Julia Magsombol
Local Journalism Initiative
Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network (CBEEN) presents a workshop offering a celebration of all rivers for World Rivers Day — where the ‘I am Elwha’ book will be read and discussed by the creators.
World Rivers Day occurs on the fourth Sunday of September, which is the 24th of this month. It celebrates the world’s waterways and presents the values and importance of rivers and their relationship to people.
This free workshop will take place on Sept. 20 at 4 p.m. PT and 7 p.m. ET on Zoom. It’s an online workshop, so anyone can attend.
The creators of the book, as well as the speakers are: Tribal Elder Robert Elofson, a member of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, Lori Peelen, co-author of the book, and Laura Timmermans, the illustrator. Elofson served the Elwha River restoration project as its director for 15 years.
CBEEN has a partnership with Strong Nations, an Indigenous-owned and publishing company who published the book.
Jade Berrill, director of learning at CBEEN, when connecting with the creators for the book launch, proposed to host an event, which they readily agreed to.
“It’s an amazing book that shows the importance of our relationships to rivers, bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous ways of knowing and being. The book is a powerful educational tool for many cross-curricular subjects,” said Berrill. “We read it and thought, these are beautiful messages. This is important knowledge that should be shared.”
Berrill added that three creators of the book will read part of the story live and will participate in a Q&A from participants. This workshop offers an opportunity to celebrate where we live and how we use the water.
“We see [rivers] and interact with them every day. It’s important for building not only our connection to our place, but also the rivers where we are, and how [water] flows into other places and impacts oceans and other parts of the world’s global water cycle.”
The Elwha River flows 45 miles from the Olympic Mountains to the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the Pacific Northwest. It contains many salmon species as well as some trout. Dams were built in the river by 1911, blocking the migration of salmon and ruining its ecosystem for over 100 years. However, in 2012, the dams were removed, with this becoming one of the world’s largest habitat restoration projects.
‘I am Elwha’ follows the history of Elwha River. The book is narrated by different plants and animal voices that inhabit the river.
Berrill added that what she has learned from different Indigenous elders and mentors, like Mara Nelson and Chief Alfred Joseph of the Ktunaxa First Nation, is that water is life and everything. It is a gift, and it is sacred.
“[As a member of CBEEN], we are making sure that these incredible ways of knowing and being which are deeply rooted in relationship with the environment, that place us not separate, but as part of nature. These are the beautiful lessons that I am fortunate enough to have shared with me. We must share these diverse perspectives.”
Berrill feels exceptionally proud of the kind of events she has led with CBEEN, explaining that it is a true honour when people choose to work and share their knowledge with them.
“It’s both uplifting to learn from Indigenous and other diverse perspectives. I’m grateful,” she added.
“People care. They’re taking the time and energy to write and to create beautiful things for people — and supporting further sharing of that message is pure joy. It’s incredibly empowering to know that the work in ‘I am the Elwha’ that they have done is really about caring for rivers, caring for the world around us.”
Berrill hopes to keep supporting the World Rivers Day event in the coming years. With CBEEN, she is working to continue highlighting Indigenous perspectives and their relationship to the land. For more information about the event, visit: https://outdoorlearningstore.com/2023/08/22/i-am-the-elwha-world-rivers-day-celebration-workshop/