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Tuesday, June 21, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

Lost in translation: a connection to the sacred

Special to The Times

My mother, the late Emma Sweet, and I are from a long line of spiritual stewards of Snoqualmie Falls, going back to the time of the creation of the Valley of the Moon as a home for The People.

Our homeland is along the watershed of the Snoqualmie River, but our people traveled the many rivers and waters of the Puget Sound region and beyond — as my mother said, "to the big waters."

Water is universally sacred, and in the Pacific Northwest the cycles of water are very prominent in our native culture, where long-held teaching is that water, salmon and cedar are all sacred.

My mother was born in Fall City in another time. In that time, it was illegal to practice the ceremonies that were born of our Northwest Indian culture, with its intimate tie to the natural, sacred cycles of the water, salmon and cedar.

Her childhood home was filled with the sounds of Whulshootseed, the Snoqualmie native language. Yet, at school, it was English only.

How I've wondered what that does to a child: to say that in this land — filled with, and responsive to, the words, songs and prayers of the ancestors — you must now only speak something that was born of a foreign culture on a different continent across the big waters.

As a testament to the forced assimilation policies of the federal government, my children and I now take classes to relearn the sounds, words and songs our bodies were born to make. As a stronger testament to the power of the Spirit, those who will not allow it to be extinguished champion our language.

In observing what has happened to the living landscape of the Northwest, it is apparent that the introduced culture did not recognize the intimate Spirit connections — did not honor the natural environment as having spirit and a right to exist.

So much was lost in the forced transition of cultures. Lost, in translation, too, was what is so intrinsic in the teachings of the ancestors — respect for another human being, and the importance of finding and expressing your connection to the sacred.

In our time, every Indian has a direct connection to those who were forced to leave their homeland and sacred connections, and to relocate to a new, smaller and often unfamiliar area.

I sometimes marvel that we Snoqualmie still live within 25 miles of the place of our creation history, Snoqualmie Falls. We gather together at the falls to pray for the Sacred Spirit of Snoqualmie Falls — that it will not die and, along with it, the people who share its name.

We Snoqualmie feel intimately connected to Snoqualmie Falls. We have the sacred responsibility to be the spiritual stewards for this great gift of the Creator to The People. The power of the Spirit is strong.

In that sacred task, I have, over the past 15 years, participated in the efforts of my tribe to preserve, protect, restore and celebrate the inherent sacredness of Snoqualmie Falls, for all people, for all time.

We work to restore the natural flow of water over the falls, to restore the sacred cycle that for thousands of years has produced legendary mists that, when hitting the plunge pool 268 feet below the lip, transform into a connection of worlds, uplifting the prayers and delivering blessings — an interaction of spirit.

Snoqualmie Falls is an inherently sacred place that is visited by an estimated 1.5 million visitors annually. I would say in my native understanding that the Spirit of Snoqualmie Falls draws them there. These visitors go away uplifted, feeling better for having made their journey.

In my understanding, they carry that spirit and inspiration from this sacred place and share it with others they encounter. In that way, we all are uplifted.

The place my ancestors revered, the place I gather with my family, the place where my children may someday teach their young ones about the meaning of spirit and interconnectedness with all that is again calls out, reminding us to honor Spirit.

Today, we will gather together at Snoqualmie Falls to strengthen the prayers being uplifted by the native people who honor sacred places across the continent — joined in spirit to observe the National Day of Prayer for the Protection of Sacred Places, each of us in our own way strengthening that sacred connection to the Creator.

We pray that we will all live, learn and teach each other. All are welcome to join us.

Lois Sweet Dorman is Snoqualmie Falls ambassador and acting chairwoman of the Snoqualmie Falls Preservation Project, a coalition of the Snoqualmie Tribe, Church Council of Greater Seattle, Washington Association of Churches and other religious, environmental, recreational and Native American organizations and individuals from across the region.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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