Jun 20, 2013 - Sacred Sites, Sacred Rites: Saving Licton Springs by Matt Remle

Nestled away in a North Seattle residential and commercial district lays the remnants of one of the last remaining sacred sites of the Duwamish peoples, Licton Springs.  Licton (pronounced LEE’kteed) is derived from the Duwamish word le?qtid meaning red-paint, a connotation of the reddish colored mud from the springs.

The springs, a sacred site since time immemorial for the Duwamish peoples and other area tribes, now faces the threat of increased damage, or even possible loss, because of the Seattle public schools plan to demolish a near-by school and construct what is dubbed a mega-school.

Licton Springs, located on the South Fork of Thornton Creek, was home to the Tu’húbedabsh (Creek People) a group of the Duwamish.  This area hosted numerous natural mineral springs where high concentrations of iron oxide would flow to the surface giving the mud its distinct reddish color.

The springs served as a location for spiritual gatherings for the Duwamish peoples where they would gather annually to build sweat-lodges for cleansings.  The red ochre pigment was also collected from the springs and used as a paint for different ceremonies and to decorate longhouses and other items with spiritual imagery.  The reddish-mud was also utilized as an ointment by traditional healers.

Generations of colonial settlement to the region has drastically impacted the once vast network of healing springs.  Licton Springs, itself, exist today as a mere trickle of its once prominent self.  Urban sprawl has wiped away the diverse forests, creeks, and natural springs that once dominated this region.  And now, the Seattle public schools, could drastically impact the future of Licton Springs.

Recently, Seattle voters approved Prop 2, a multimillion dollar capital school levy, which will demolish existing neighborhood schools and replace them with what it dubs mega-schools.  One of the schools designated for demolition is the Wilson-Pacific school, home to Seattle’s Indian heritage high school, which is located one block away from Licton Springs.

The mega-schools project threatens the flow Licton Springs in both the demolition and construction phases by its potential impact on the underground water table; a proper Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has yet to be conducted.  The potential impact from such a massive project could render the springs from its already current state of a mere trickle to non-existent.

In cruel irony, not only does the mega-school project threaten the flow of Licton Springs, but all the programs at the current Wilson-Pacific school are slated for relocation once the new school is built including Indian heritage high school.  The other programs at the current school include a high school re-entry program, a program for teens caught in the districts disciplinary system and comprised mostly of African American students, and the Cascade k-12 parent partnership program, a program comprised mostly of Muslims, immigrants and other low-income families.

Seattle’s Indian heritage program at the Wilson-Pacific school site has long been a destination for Seattle’s urban Indian population for not only students seeking culturally relevant curriculum, but also hosts numerous powwows, cultural events, Native youth leadership and basketball programs, and is home to perhaps the cities most iconic murals painted by Andrew Morrison (Apache/Haida).  His collection of murals too would be demolished.

The power emanating from Licton Springs is undeniable.  My children and I have spent much time at Licton Springs attracted by its beauty and energy.  As guests in the lands of the Duwamish we stand behind them in their efforts to protect what was given to them by Wakan Tanka.

Members of the Duwamish, along with many from Seattle’s Urban Indian population have been actively protesting the Seattle school district’s mega-school plan for its potential impact on Licton Springs, as well as, the demolition of Andrew Morrison’s murals and the relocation of the Indian heritage high school program.  Talks with district officials to protect Liston Springs, the murals and the Indian heritage program are currently underway.

A little over a century ago, European colonizers moved into the lands of the Duwamish pushing them out in sometimes violent fashion, Duwamish long houses were set ablaze by white settlers, destroying sacred lands and sites in the process.

History truly seems to be repeating itself as descendants of those colonizers are set to once again push out Native families with a project that could eliminate one of the last remaining Duwamish sacred sites to make room for a school designed to benefit the areas non-Native and affluent children and families.

Perhaps it would serve the areas non-Native population well to go re-listen to the words of the great Duwamish Chief for whom the city was named before it proceeds to destroy Licton Springs and further desecrate the lands of his descendants.

“Every part of the Earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clear and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memory and experience of my people. The sap which courses through the trees carries the memories of the red man.

The white man’s dead forget the country of their birth when they go to walk among the stars. Our dead never forget this beautiful Earth, for it is the mother of the red man. We are part of the Earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters, the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and the man, all belong to the same family.

This shining water that moves in streams and rivers is not just water but the blood of our ancestors. If we sell you land, you must remember that it is sacred blood of our ancestors. If we sell you land, you must remember that it is sacred, and you must teach your children that it is sacred and that each ghostly reflection in the clear water of the lakes tells of events in the life of my people. The waters murmur is the voice of my father’s father.”

Mitakuye oyasin

Wakinyan Waanatan

*Historical information in this article provided by: Thomas R. Speer (Duwamish)

Last Real Indians