Children of the Sun Trail Celebrates a Deeper Understanding

A paved trail with sun signs along the side
Children of the Sun Trail (photo by Zack Berlat)

July 08, 2024
Center for Community Engagement

For those who walk or bike ride along Northeast Spokane’s new Children of the Sun trail, the pathway now provides more than just an excursion. It is a technologically enhanced journey through the region’s history, culture, and ecology.

The “Finding Our Way” project, a collaboration between Gonzaga University and local organizations, aims to create a rich tapestry of narratives centered around the Children of the Sun trail running parallel to the new US 395 highway.

Gonzaga professors Katey Roden and Greg Gordon partnered with local organizations such as the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and Spokane Parks & Recreation to develop physical installations and digital access points via QR codes along the trail that link to the project’s website. While the original scope of the project was a website for sharing local stories, the project has expanded in scope since.

Gordon and Roden recognized the need for a more impactful focal point beyond just storytelling. This realization led to the development of a multimodal project, including the future creation of a Discovery Garden at Wild Horse Park.

The Discovery Garden aims to reflect the region's indigenous heritage and educate visitors about native plant species and their uses. This garden is not just a collection of local plants, but a living classroom where students and community members alike can learn about the interconnectedness of cultural practices and environmental stewardship.

“The idea is that the human relationship with the plant world is something that is important to all of us. Our health and very existence depends upon our understanding and our relationship to plants, both historically and contemporarily. We need to know more about plants to apply changes in the ecosystem,” explained Gordon.

“We're part of our environments. In the modern and post-modern world, we tend to pave over the environment, modify and change it, and with climate change we're increasingly seeing the results of that. [This project] advises a more integrated model of human interaction with the ecosystems around us,” added Roden.

Deep mapping, a methodology within digital humanities, plays a central role in this project. Roden described deep mapping as a way to "think about the ways in which physical space on a map also interacts with the deepness of time, human history, and human experience.” This process includes narrative mapping, which allows the project to capture the complex layers of history and personal narratives in the neighborhoods surrounding the trail, offering a more nuanced understanding of the region.

Allowing communities to tell their own stories is a crucial element of this project.

“So often, marginalized communities with lower socioeconomic status don't have access to the kinds of resources to tell their stories publicly. Those communities so often get overlooked,” said Roden. “Making these communities visible is essential in helping them to tell their own story, and to have resources to think about how climate change affects their areas more than ours… [That knowledge] is crucial in giving them a platform to advocate for change in their neighborhoods.”

Ultimately the “Finding our Way” project showcases how community-driven initiatives can blend technology, education, and cultural preservation. By empowering local voices and integrating diverse narratives, this project aims to create a broader and deeper understanding of Northeast Spokane's unique heritage.

“Essentially, we're providing the framework. The community is providing the content and the direction and everything,” said Gordon. “One interesting note about the trail itself is it bisects so many neighborhoods; it's a really interesting cross section of Spokane, and each of these neighborhoods is distinctly different.”

“Western knowledge systems have overwhelmed indigenous knowledge systems and suggested that those ways of knowing and understanding the world aren't legitimate in an authorized way. This project is an opportunity to think about decolonization in highlighting a different kind of knowledge system,” said Roden.

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