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'We are all honorable and noble children of this Earth.'

Community joins Swinomish cleanup to honor the Earth

By Richard Walker -- Today correspondent

SWINOMISH, Wash. - Earth Day was the catalyst, but people had different reasons for participating in the annual cleanup on the Swinomish Reservation.

Students participated to fulfill graduation project requirements at their schools. Employees helped their companies fulfill community service goals. Others felt a spiritual tug. A woman who helped carry away a derelict crab pot said she liked participating in Earth Day activities on the reservation because ''the Indians always make it so special.''

But by the end of the day, organizers hoped all participants went home with this message ingrained in their minds: No matter our culture or geography, we are one people inhabiting the same Earth and we all have an obligation to care for the environment that sustains us every day. Climate change and pollution know no boundaries. We survive or fall together.

Swinomish hosted its annual Earth Enhancement Celebration April 21. Volunteers removed blackberry bushes, planted native plants and cleaned the beach at Lone Tree Point on Kiket Bay; removed Scotch broom and cleaned a beach on Swinomish Channel; and removed invasive plants from an elder's yard.

This year's co-sponsors were Skagit County, People for Puget Sound and Puget Sound Energy.

Swinomish Sen. Kevin Paul thanked participants for ''taking time out to rejoice in Mother Earth'' and opened the day with a stirring honor song.

Special guests included Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Bellingham, who spoke about legislation before Congress to slow the effects of climate change. He also announced the House's passage of the Wild Sky Wilderness Act, now before the Sentae, which would permanently protect more than 100,000 acres of wild country in the central Cascades. The Wild Sky wilderness features imposing mountain peaks, pristine alpine lakes, vast flower meadows and ancient forest stands with 8-foot-diameter Douglas firs and cedars. Streams in the lowland valleys offer some of the best remaining salmon and steelhead habitat in the region.

Then the work began.

At Lone Tree Beach, volunteers removed a derelict dinghy and abandoned fishing gear from the beach. Derelict gear is dangerous to marine animals because they can get trapped in it and die. A live juvenile crab was freed from the muck of a derelict crab pot.

A student from Mountlake Terrace High School began tugging on the edge of a fishing net that was buried under tons of sand. As she pulled, supervisor Eric Day, Swinomish, warned, half-kidding, ''I don't know if you want to do that.''

What ensued was an hour of labor, as adults and students dug and pulled to free what turned out to be a 50-fathom net. Day estimated the net could have been buried for about 20 years.

Meanwhile, back at the Swinomish Community Center, volunteers prepared about 200 pounds of salmon for the post-cleanup lunch. It took ''about three hours [to prepare],'' one cook said.

Vi Hilbert, Upper Skagit, opened the luncheon with a Shaker prayer in Lushootseed, ''the most beautiful language in the world,'' she said.

''This is a wonderful reason to gather. We have a responsibility to the Earth, to respect what the world has given us and what it continues to teach us,'' Hilbert said. ''We have taken for granted that the Earth will always provide for us. It will provide if we take care of it. We have to take care of it for the generations to come. Earth Day is a wake-up call.''

Tlingit actor Gene Tagaban (''The Business of Fancydancing'') recruited children and adults from the audience to play musical instruments to accompany him in his Raven Dance. He recruited the impromptu multicultural band to illustrate a point: that we are all inhabitants of the same Earth and share the responsibility to care for the environment that sustains us.

''We are all honorable and noble children of this Earth,'' he said. ''When we recognize each other as honorable, noble children of this land, we treat each other differently and we treat the earth differently.''

He added, ''Every day is Earth Day.''

Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at