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Mural Tells the Story of the Duwamish

April 19, 2019

A new mural in the South Park community pays tribute to the Duwamish River and represents the past, present, and future of the community. The mural stretches along a wall in Duwamish Waterway Park and the fresh paint depicts the transformation of Seattle’s only river over time. 

This winter, the Port sponsored a series of educational workshops with the Duwamish Valley Youth Corps to connect near-Port community members with a greater understanding of the ecological and cultural history of the river, local industries, and the Port. Port staff, local historians, and Native American community leaders participated in panel discussions and workshops to help inspire the youth’s vision for creating this public art piece.

The workshops, led by renowned artist and storyteller, Roger Fernandes, helped Duwamish Valley Youth Corps members learn history as a way of changing the future. The Duwamish Valley Youth Corps is a leadership development program for youth ages 13 to 18 to take action on issues of health, environmental justice, and racial equity in their community. 

Fernandes said the storytelling workshops were an important part of the Youth Corps’ creative process. It helped students visualize the transformation the Duwamish River has undergone over the years and allowed them to look at the river in past, present, and future terms. The storytelling process also helped them examine the Native American tribal history and connection to the area, and the river’s transformation from a wild, meandering river that built its own course to a river straightened and dredged to make way for industry. The youth’s vision for the river is one that is clean and healthy once again. 

Lopez said it’s amazing to see how the experience of the Youth Corps impacts the students. “They see the difference they make by planting trees, making a change for better communities,” she said.

Duwamish mural participants

She said this project shows the power of art and stories. “They learned how crucial it is to tell their stories and elevate their voice,” she said. Fernandes said using storytelling helped students connect to the history and see themselves as part of the story.

“A story gives meaning, rather than just a report which simply gives information,” he said. “Storytelling includes transformation and change rather than a history book report of who was there and what happened.”

“[Through the storytelling workshops] I learned a lot about the environment and pollution, how it affects the community, and how we can change that. I learned that there are lots of organizations dedicated to helping and the Port is one of them,” said Danny Viles, 14, Duwamish Valley Youth Corps member. 

The unveiling event for the mural on March 30th coincided with the annual graduation ceremony for the Duwamish Valley Youth Corps cohort.  Port Commissioner Ryan Calkins joined in the graduation ceremony of 40 youth who have completed the leadership program and contributed to the mural. 

Port Commissioner Calkins talks with mural participants
Commissioner Calkins and Duwamish mural participants

“This beautiful mural is a result of each of these incredible young people sharing the stories of their community. A special thank you and congratulations to each of the graduates for creating such an impressive mural and community asset that connects us to our history as well as our clean and healthy future,” said Commissioner Calkins. 

“This is a wonderful collaboration that our work with the Port allows us to do,” said Paulina Lopez, executive director of Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition. “It shows the importance of telling the river’s story and the importance of highlighting the history of the tribes as we created a wonderful piece of native art.”

Commissioner Calkins acknowledged the long-standing stewardship of the river by the Duwamish people throughout time. “We have learned that we can’t bend nature to our will any longer — that this is not the way to grow our communities sustainably. We are working to clean up the river and partner with the community to be better stewards.”

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