Many immigrant and indigenous communities in Seattle have fishing traditions, histories, and connections to the Duwamish River. The river is home to lots of marine life, but unfortunately is also heavily polluted, an EPA superfund site, making the fish unhealthy for human consumption. Salmon are the only fish that are safe to catch and eat from the Duwamish since they are migratory and do not solely reside in the river. Other species such as shellfish however, should not be consumed since they process large volumes of polluted water through their gills each day and can accumulate levels of bacteria that are dangerous for humans. In 2019, ECOSS partnered with the EPA and King County Public Health’s Community Health Advocacy teams to support communities and empower them with knowledge about the Duwamish to promote safe fishing practices. 

In 2023, ECOSS is revisiting this project through a new partnership with Public Health – Seattle & King County, this time focusing on a program for youth who live near the river. This after-school youth program will consist of educational as well as immersive experiences centering the health of our waterways and communities. Cindy Anh Thu Nguyen, ECOSS Program Manager, shared more about her vision for the project with us.  

I am excited about developing the curriculum for this program, because ECOSS has never really had a youth program like this before, and, in a way, I get to start from scratch and build something really unique and specific to this community. I also just came out of grad school and am looking forward to this opportunity to apply my own skills in environmental education, and practicing culturally sustaining pedagogy and sustaining cultural fishing practices within the community.  

 – Cindy Anh Thu Nguyen, ECOSS Program Manager 
The ECOSS team at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery

The program will center the idea of forming connections to the land where the youth live and place-based learning. Field trips to immersive learning spaces like the Wing Luke Museum, as well as fishing trips, and other activities, will create opportunities for the youth to explore places they may have not been before. There is an emphasis on shared learning outside of the classroom, conversations with peers, and thinking about how they could play a part in promoting environmental change in their communities.  

Environmental Justice education is not currently the most accessible to marginalized youth and a program like this is really oriented to being open for, particularly, the youth who are living in these communities and living near the river. It not only provides an opportunity for them to earn a stipend and get community organizing experience, but it’s also a program that is about developing their leadership skills through the approach of helping them understand their connections to the river and the place in which they live on a deeper level. It’s very much about maintaining the sustainability and health of the Duwamish River, but also the well-being of their communities. 
In the end, the target audience for this project are people who are already fishing and pregnant mothers or youth who would be the most impacted in health if they were consuming contaminated seafood. I think youth involvement in this is really important because they’re really influential in their family and could educate their parents or their other family members. Oftentimes, they’re the ones that are sharing this information with their family first, so we, at ECOSS, are hoping to be the providers of that education.  

 – Cindy Anh Thu Nguyen, ECOSS Program Manager
View of the Duwamish River from Duwamish River People’s Park and Shoreline Habitat with Mt. Tahoma in the distance. Photo by Meagan Dwyer

We want to hear from youth about how we can develop a program that is relevant and empowering. ECOSS will be holding two focus groups on February 15 and February 21 at the Duwamish River Community Hub (8600 14th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98108) For more information and to view eligibility, visit this link.

This program was featured in the International Examiner! Read more here.

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