This land runs through Katherine Paul’s blood. And it called to her. In dreams she saw the river, her ancestors, and her home. When the land calls, you listen. And KP found herself far from her ancestral lands during a time of collective trauma, when the world was wounded and in need of healing. In 2020 she made the journey from Portland back to the Skagit River, back to the cedar trees that stand tall and shrouded in fog, back to the tide flats and the mountains, back to Swinomish.
It is a powerful thing to return to our ancestral lands and often times the journey is not easy. Like the salmon through the currents, like the tide as it crawls to shore this is a story of return. It is the call and response. It is the outstretched arms of the people who came before, welcoming her home. The Land, The Water, The Sky is a celebration of lineage and strength. Even in its deepest moments of loneliness and grief, of frustration over a world wrought with colonial violence and pain, the songs remind us that if we slow down, if we listen to the waves and the wind through the trees, we will remember to breathe.
There is a throughline of story in every song, a remembrance of knowledge and teachings, a gratitude of wisdom passed down and carried. There is a reimagining of Sedna who was offered to the sea, and a beautiful rumination on sacrifice and humanity, and what it means to hold the stories that work to teach us something.
Chord progressions born out of moments of sadness and solitude transform into the islands that sit blue along the horizon. The Salish Sea curves along her homelands, and when the singer is close to this water she is reminded of her grandmother, how she looked out at these same islands, and she’s held by spirit and memory.
The Land, The Water, The Sky rises and falls, in darkness and in light, but even in its most melancholy moments it is never despairing. That is the beauty of returning home. When you stand on ancestral lands it is impossible to be alone. You feel the arms and hands that hold you up, unwilling to let you fall into sorrow or abandonment. In her songs Katherine Paul has channeled that feeling of being held. In every note she has written a love letter to indigenous strength and healing.
There is a joy present here, a fierce blissfulness that comes with walking the trails along the river, feeling the sand and the stones beneath her feet. It is the pride and the certainty that comes with knowing her ancestors walked along the same land, dipped their hands into the water, and ran their fingertips along the same bark of cedar trees.
This is a story of hope, as it details the joy of returning. Katherine Paul’s journey home wasn’t made alone, and the songs are crowded with loved ones and relatives, like a really good party. And as the songs walk us through the land it is important we hover over the images and the beauty, the moments that mark this album as site specific. The power of this land is woven throughout, telling the story of narrow waterways, brush strokes, salmon stinta, and above all healing.
Let it take you. Move through the story and see the land through her eyes, because it is a gift, a welcomed sʔabadəb.*
*The word “gift” in Lushootseed, the language of the Coast Salish people“