Redmond resident Paul Wagner, whose Native American name is Che oke’ ten, will be among featured performers at the Talking Trees Conference, a fundraiser for guardians of the Amazon Rain Forest.
The event on Saturday, June 19 begins with a silent auction at 6:30 p.m., followed by the 7:30 p.m. concert at St. Mark’s Cathedral, 1245 Tenth Ave. in Seattle. General admission is $15.
Wagner is a musician and storyteller who has presented the culture of his Saanich tribe ancestors to audiences from the Redmond Historical Society and area schools and libraries.
On a very local level, he likes to tell stories about his great-grandma traveling up and down the Sammamish Slough to get around the greater Seattle area, back when roads were few.
In those rustic times, life was challenging but natural resources were plentiful, Wagner pointed out.
The Talking Trees event “is for people interested in healthy lungs for Mother Earth. Without those, we have a very threatened lifestyle. … It’s also for people who love music. There are some very talented artists, such as Lili Haydin,” he said.
Along with dwindling trees and wildlife, the language and traditions of his people have also fallen into danger of disappearing forever.
He said that in his mother’s generation, many of his family members were physically and emotionally abused by others who wanted them to forget their roots.
“It was cultural genocide,” said Wagner. “They learned, ‘That’s what going to happen if you speak the language.'”
Elders who wanted to preserve their native culture had to be very careful, he said.
“They would go to the most remote places and gather in secret.”
There were camps called ‘memorizer villages,’ where oral histories were shared, as well as camps where basket weavers or carvers would teach their skills to others, said Wagner.
“Some have made recordings,” he noted. “It’s important because so many people have left or died.”
When he goes to schools to share Native American stories, especially those about respect for nature, it can often be tied in to students’ learning about the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Wagner noted how the famous explorers’ writings described the wonderful abundance of salmon.
“We have a lot of work to do to make sure we have lots of salmon, trying to clean up all the mercury and PCP and create natural energy. Someday maybe we can bring back that abundance,” he said.
Yet when sharing his ancestors’ stories, “We never tell people what to learn. We encourage them to find their own meaning. I’ve learned to respect that I am no less or no greater than the things around me,” said Wagner. “I encourage young people to get in touch with their own wisdom, the wisdom that comes from their heart.”
To learn more about Paul Wagner or Che oke’ ten, visit www.sacredbreath.cc/.
For more information about the Talking Trees Conference, visit www.talkingtreesconference.com.