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Environmental groups honor watershed heroes

To underscore the importance of the region’s watershed, which touches everyone’s lives, John and Rachael Osborn started an annual tradition to honor “watershed heroes” at a gathering of and benefit for the Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Sierra Club Upper Columbia Group.


Mary Verner, John and Rachael Osborn, and Deb Abrahamson

For 2012, they recently recognized as “watershed heroes,” Deb Abrahamson, founder and director of the SHAWL Society, and Mary Verner, former mayor who now teaches a class at Whitworth University and works with the Spokane Tribe.

“The Spokane Indian people, who love the trees, waters and land, now suffer cancers from uranium with a half life of 4.4 billion years.  Countering that, Deb’s love for the tribe, the water and the earth has an eternal half life,” said author and climber John Roskelly.

He said her action is a witness that people can defeat hate, inertia and money.  The SHAWL Society (Sovereignty, Health, Air, Water and Land) promotes community education and strategies to reduce radiation from mining waste on the reservation.  Current efforts are described in an article "SHAWL Society maintains vigilance as Superfun cleanup begins"in this issue of The Fig Tree. 

“Our people have been subjected to environmental toxins most of our lives, interfering with our food gathering,” she said.  “My father worked in the mine.  He and many others have passed away.  I was born into the toxins and seek to protect the water, our people and future generations. Water is sacred.  Water is life.  It’s important to protect water.”

John introduced Mary, saying that “as mayor, she advocated for the Spokane watershed.”

Mary, who has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Davidson College, a master’s in environmental management from Yale University and a law degree from Gonzaga university, came to Spokane in 1992.  She founded the Spokane Tribe’s Natural Resources Department and directed the regional tribal consortium, Upper Columbia United Tribes.  In 2003, she was appointed to the City Council.  She was mayor from 2007 through 2011.

With the city, she worked to protect the aquifer, advocate for the river and establish the Sustainability Task Force.

“I love the river,” said Mary, telling of first driving into the area from Montana and seeing Lake Coeur d’Alene.  “The water grabbed me and said this is home.  I did not know then the water needed me, that it was so contaminated and there were so many permits for people to poke holes into the aquifer,” said Mary.

“When we turn on the tap, we are drinking the same water our great, great, great, grandchildren need,” she said, telling of helping Deb prepare a technical report on the contamination of Blue Creek.

For information, call 209-2899.