An Independent School • Grades 5-12

by Shannon D. '21

After their 8th-grade GSL experiences, students wrote reflections as part of their life skills class; this reflection has been slightly condensed for length.

I had only visited the Elwha River and the Port Angeles town once before I went on my GSL trip and I was very pleasantly surprised and fascinated about what I discovered about the communities and culture.

On the day before the first day of school, we watched the beginning of a documentary "Return of the River," [about] the removal and restoration projects on the Elwha River. [It] featured clips of members of the native Klallam tribe talking about the stories revolving around the Elwha River and the background of the Elwha and the dams. ... It showed the pros and cons of the dam. The dams meant power, which meant more jobs and industry. But building the dams cause reservoirs to build behind them – flooding the surrounding forest and blocking the path for salmon to spawn. Most were excited to build the dams however the native communities (Klallam tribe) knew that salmon wouldn't be able to spawn and they are vital to the healthy environment. The dams were built and remained up for around 100 years, causing the tribe, along with other factors, to lose most of its culture and the Elwha's ecosystem to collapse. ...

The dam-removing process ended in 2014, so this subject is very new. Although they are in the second year of restoration I was very impressed on how far they came. All throughout the trip we did lots of "yard work" which consisted of weeding and gardening trying to push the process of recreating a healthy forest where there once was a reservoir along. We visited a native plant farm, where they take native plants, trees, and shrubs and use them for seeds, then planting them in the Elwha. I usually don't particularly enjoy yard work, but because I knew so much about what I was working for I had lots of motivation to do my best....

I think the part that had the most effect on me was spending time with the Kallam tribe. ... My group ended up being invited to have dinner with a group of people at the community center on the reservation, where typically visitors are not allowed to go. They served us dinner and sang prayer songs while they beat drums. After dinner the girls were invited to dance with the girls from the tribe. It was a pretty simple dance, mostly hopping on one foot in a line. ... I didn't realize until I was dancing that the Klallam tribe was a very close knit community. It felt like a family, and there was something about how sharing common ancestors and history brought the group together somehow. I was really in awe of this community and how they were able to overcome so much in the last 100 or maybe even 200 years. ...

During westward expansion Native American tribes were denied their rights in multiple ways. ... The Klallam people lost their language, nobody speaks it fluently anymore. However with the restoration of the river, came the restoration of their culture. The tribe started working with a linguist who helped with some of the elders who were last fluent speakers. The last fluent speaker died a few years ago which usually means the language is dead but I am happy to say it's far from it. They were able to publish a dictionary and a grammar book. Klallam language is now a class at the local high school, which I had the privilege to observe. There are now programs helping to revive the language but unfortunately there is an estimated 30% language loss.

Overall, I think the trip had a huge effect on me. I compare myself to before the trip and myself now, and I find that I am more aware and alert about my actions and everyday things that I do.... I learned more about myself – how I act around others that I haven't met, how I respond to new situations, but I also learned a lot about things that are bigger than myself. I learned the value of community (Klallam tribe) and also the value of patience. One hundred years is a long time. It also showed me what it felt like to really use your hands to make a difference. Like I said earlier, I have always done volunteer yard work without really knowing how I was making the world a better place. But as I was planting baby goat's beard, a native plant to the area, I could visualize it growing up and being planted right beside the Elwha River. Although I didn't have that much of a "single story" or assumption of what it was going to be like, I think I kept an open mind and tried to be conscious of my maybe implicit bias and I was really moved and fascinated of what I found out.