ONE AFTERNOON IN August, around 100 people gathered at Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, on the northern edge of Discovery Park, for a memorial service.
Two weeks earlier, artist, author and activist Lawney Reyes — an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Sinixt band — had passed away, at the age of 91.
The eulogists remembered Reyes as one of the community’s quieter, more stalwart activists — he was, in many ways, responsible for the building we were sitting in, but didn’t attract the spotlight like his brother Bernie Whitebear, who became the face of the 1970 protests securing the land for Daybreak Star. (In 1970, that area was U.S. Army base Fort Lawton, but the military was declaring hundreds of its acres surplus. The City of Seattle wanted them for a park — and would get most of them — but Native activists fought, and won a parcel that would become Daybreak Star.)
“Bernie was the bulldog,” friend and fellow activist Randy Lewis, a Wenatchi/Methow elder from the Colville Confederated Tribes, said during his eulogy. “Lawney was the silent warrior.”
Reyes had been there for those protests. He helped design the Daybreak Star building. He was the corporate art director for Seattle First National Bank (now Bank of America) and quietly provided financial support when the cultural center hit rough patches. He’d also made the gorgeous, enormous “Blue Jay” — a sculpture of pine, leather and copper — hanging at Daybreak Star, looking down on the eulogists and the rest of us.
People talked for hours about Reyes, who was clearly well-loved and respected, known for hanging in there when things got tough. One night during the 1970 protests, which involved a weekslong occupation camp, everybody left for the Eagles Auditorium (now ACT Theatre) to see a protest-benefit concert by Redbone, the Native American/Mexican American band whose single “Come and Get Your Love” would become a hit.
Lewis, who’d been off on an errand, returned to find the camp unprotected. (Detractors periodically showed up, throwing rocks and bottles.) Soon, Reyes joined him, and they kept watch together. That seemed typical — eulogists kept using the word “steadfast.” His presence wasn’t the loudest or most visible, but it was absolutely necessary.
I’d attended the memorial while reporting two stories about the land we now call Discovery Park. One article, part of the newspaper’s A1 Revisited project, examines the Fort Lawton protests, what precipitated them, and where and how the Seattle Times coverage fell short. That story will run later. The other story, in this week’s magazine, is a wider-angle history of that land and its fraught past — undetectable to most folks today as they walk through its forests and meadows.
The Reyes memorial service, and the eulogists’ stories, crystallized a thought that had been congealing around the reporting: So much is unknown. We take a walk in a park and associate that landscape with tranquility. We look at an old photograph, not noticing the key individual standing in the background, toward the edge of the frame.
The eye of “Blue Jay,” suspended in the atrium at Daybreak Star, contains a little joke Reyes carved for his brother. It’s an image of a bear gripping a mustached white man — a nod to Bernie Whitebear, and white people’s sometimes-vexed relationship with his activist work.
Unless you know what you’re looking for, that detail is hard to see.
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