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Writers and readers explore the history of the Spokane River

UPDATED: Wed., July 11, 2018, 11:03 p.m.

A few hundred people gathered at the The Spokesman-Review to hear an avid sportsman, authors and a tribal representative share their contributions to an anthology documenting the history of the Spokane River.

Paul Lindholdt, editor of the anthology and an English professor at Eastern Washington University, said “The Spokane River” incorporates scientific and literary voices, documenting the way people look and interact with the river on a personal level, and scientific and historical contributions from a research and policy perspective. He said the anthology is the first historical, policy and creative take on the river in decades.

The event was hosted by Northwest Passages Book Club, which is a program of The Spokesman-Review. The monthly forums feature literature of the West, including works by Spokane-area authors and nationally acclaimed writers.

Eli Francovich, the outdoors editor for The Spokesman-Review, discussed details of the anthology with Lindholdt. The event also featured contributors to the book.

Former state poet laureate Tod Marshall shared a dramatized version of how the Spokane River began more than 10,000 years ago. Formed in a flood caused by a melting glacier, the river was created through catastrophic violence, a characteristic that plagued it for many years after.

Beyond just the creation of the river, Marshall also discussed the philosophy of Spokane’s founder, one of the first to ramp up industry and production along its shores. People like James Glover saw the river for it’s usefulness, a trait Marshall questions.

He retells the story of one of Glover’s earliest experiences with the Spokane River, staying outside at night, listening to the falls.

“He found himself moved,” Marshall read from the book, “toward rapture, by beauty? No. He decided that the puny mule-drive sawmill on the river was wasting energy, cash and possibilities.”

That realization, Marshall said, brought a flood of settlers and soldiers to the Spokane River, turning it into the city it is today.

Lindholdt said when he was researching the Spokane River, he was amazed to find that communities have been settling along the river’s banks for 8,000 years. He said most people think of Western Washington as the cultural hub of the state, but people have lived in communities in Eastern Washington for longer.

Lindholt said one important aspect of the book and the river itself is the salmon population. Salmon, which was once a staple of life for the native communities that lived along the river’s shores, should be protected from dams and pollution.

Margo Hill, a contributor to the anthology, a Spokane Tribe member and lawyer, told the crowd that her tribe once harvested salmon by the bushel. Their culture and livelihood has always been intertwined with the river and despite legal and literal battles with the United States government and now corporations, she said the tribe still prays for it.

Hill said the rivers connecting to Spokane and the Columbia River, are a part of a larger whole and past and current actions affect the salmon in Spokane and the orca populations depend on them in the Puget Sound. The impacts of mining, sewage dumping and damming have polluted the river, and government agencies like the EPA haven’t done enough to stop it, she said.

“Today, we do not battle the United States Cavalry,” she said. “Instead, we battle the white man’s corporations.”


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