One afternoon in mid-October, I took a walk through Gas Works Park. The sun was glinting off of the water, children were playing on the Gas Works playground and some were taking the afternoon for some leisure time, either by laying out on a blanket or flying a kite. It truly felt picturesque. As I walked, I heard the voice of Warren King George, oral historian for the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, tell a story of fishing in Lake Union for sockeye salmon with his sister.

“Most people who visit the park,” he said, “I don’t think they have any idea of the traditional history and the traditional value of that area.”

So often, taking time with members of the Seattle community and listening to their stories feels like a special perk of being a reporter. But this opportunity came as part of “Saltwater Soundwalk,” a new site-specific audio experience created by local artists Rachel Lam (Anigiduwagi enrolled Cherokee Nation) and Jenny Asarnow as part of FLOW: Art Along the Ship Canal, a commission from Seattle Public Utilities in partnership with the Office of Arts & Culture, funded through the city’s public art program that utilizes 1% of the city’s capital improvement project funds for the commission, purchase and installation of art.

For their contribution, Asarnow and Lam have put together a 55-minute listening experience that uplifts the stories and voices of Indigenous Coast Salish peoples as they immerse listeners in their language and encourage a deeper understanding, appreciation and sense of responsibility around the Salish Sea and connecting waters.

The audio experience can technically be listened to anywhere. But if you have the time, it also lines up perfectly with a walking path that takes you from the parking lot at Gas Works Park, along the water to the entrance of the Ship Canal at the Fremont Bridge and back. While they weren’t installed quite yet during my walk, Asarnow and Lam said there are plans for QR codes to be placed along the walk for folks to access the stories and recordings by scanning with their phones. For now, the entire experience — which features local voices like Ken Workman (Duwamish), artist RYAN! Feddersen (Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation — Okanogan/Arrow Lakes) and Seattle Public Utilities’ Eric Autry — is available to stream directly from Soundcloud’s website and smartphone app.

“You can hear the Native language,” said “Saltwater Soundwalk” participant Owen Oliver (Quinault/Isleta Pueblo) in an interview. “You can hear how the authors and speakers are putting that intentionality into really grabbing the listeners and showcasing the beauty of this place and how places are important to us as Indigenous people. It ties together our sacred history, our traditions.”

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Talking prior to my walk, Lam and Asarnow said they allowed the project to almost have a mind of its own. They both have previous podcasting and audio experience, with both of them having work featured on KUOW over the years. Some of the audio here comes from interviews they conducted, others from submitted audio responses and still others from tribal members interviewing each other. They then listened to drafts, rearranging the audio segments, and challenged themselves to create the best listening experience while layering in a soundscape featuring moments like water crashing along the shore.

“It’s a very special experience,” Lam said, “to be able to hear a Native person whose land this has been for thousands of years talking about the land and you being able to see it while they’re talking to you about it.”

Core threads throughout the piece include discussing our relationship to the local waterways and our responsibility to learn from and listen to the Indigenous peoples who continue to steward these lands. One of the most powerful sections features Autry and Feddersen bringing to life the way water moves through the urban landscape and out to the Salish Sea, with one voice in your left ear and the other in your right following a raindrop out to the sea.

As I walked, I listened to stories of oil spills while smelling the unmistakable fumes of gasoline from the cars passing by. As I strolled by the carefully planned-out campuses of Adobe and Google, with their dedicated green areas alongside their idyllic buildings, I listened to stories of the beauty that nature could and should provide. I wanted to peel back the curtain of time to see the city before the buildings and infrastructure that currently dominate the landscape.

Oliver, who created the University of Washington’s Indigenous Walking Tour reflecting on Indigenous knowledge on the university’s campus, pointed out that many of the names involved in “Saltwater Soundwalk” were already friends, part of a small group working on Native American knowledge revitalization within the city. For him, one of the cooler aspects of “Saltwater Soundwalk” was the weaving together of different languages and words, showcasing the diversity within our region.

“It makes it seem like, at any time, you can be there and be guided by an Indigenous person,” Oliver said, “without the labor of Indigenous people actually being present there and guiding you.”

Whether you’re listening at home, from a bench in Gas Works Park or as you walk along the waterfront, “Saltwater Soundwalk” is ultimately a learning experience. The hope is that listeners take a moment to think deeper about their individual relationship to and responsibility toward the local waterways, and it does so through the voices and stories of some of those who have watched the city evolve for generations and seen the waterways change with it.

“This city has been overly manufactured and rerouted,” Oliver said, “but we as Coast Salish people are still so tied to how these rivers and oceans interact with each other. I want to showcase that beauty and that care to continue to protect these systems.”