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August 12 Words, Writers, and Southwest Stories: The River That Made Seattle

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‘Words, Writers & Southwest Stories,’ a speaker series of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society, is excited to announce that it is hosting BJ Cummings for a live Zoom presentation on Thursday, August 12 at 6:00 PM. Cummings will deliver a presentation on her book The River That Made Seattle: A Human and Natural History of the Duwamish. Registration is required.

With bountiful salmon and fertile plains, the Duwamish River has drawn people to its shores over the centuries for trading, transport, and sustenance. Chief Se’alth and his allies fished and lived in villages here and white settlers established their first settlements nearby. Industrialists later straightened the river’s natural turns and built factories on its banks, floating in raw materials and shipping out airplane parts, cement, and steel. Unfortunately, the very utility of the river has been its undoing, as decades of dumping led to the river being declared a Superfund cleanup site.

Using previously unpublished accounts by Indigenous people and settlers, BJ Cummings’s compelling narrative restores the Duwamish River to its central place in Seattle and Pacific Northwest history. Writing from the perspective of environmental justice—and herself a key figure in river restoration efforts—Cummings vividly portrays the people and conflicts that shaped the region’s culture and natural environment. She conducted research with members of the Duwamish Tribe, with whom she has long worked as an advocate. Cummings shares the river’s story as a call for action in aligning decisions about the river and its future with values of collaboration, respect, and justice.

BJ Cummings is the author of The River That Made Seattle: A Human and Natural History of the Duwamish (UW Press 2020), winner of the Association of King County Historical Association’s 2021 Virginia Marie Folkins Award for outstanding historical publication. Cummings founded the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition in 2001, served as the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance’s “Soundkeeper” from 1994–99, and as Sustainable Seattle’s Executive Director from 2016–18. She is currently the Community Engagement Manager for the University of Washington’s EDGE and Superfund Research Programs in the Environmental and Occupational Health Department in the School of Public Health, and is the co-author of several community health studies, including the Duwamish Valley Cumulative Health Impacts Analysis and Duwamish River Superfund Cleanup Plan Health Impact Assessment

Cummings holds a Masters Degree in Environmental Geography from UCLA, and is the author and producer of numerous articles, books and documentary films on environment and development issues locally and throughout the Americas, including her 1990 book, Dam the Rivers, Damn the People: Resistance and Survival in Amazonian Brazil(Earthscan/WWF UK), and 2000 documentary film, Ecosanctuary Belize (Outside Television). Her work has been featured in Outside Television’s documentary film, The Waterkeepers and PBS Frontline’s Poisoned Waters, as well as numerous regional news outlets. Over the past two decades, Cummings has been recognized as a National River Network “River Hero,” Sustainable Seattle’s “Sustainability Hero,” King County’s Green Globe winner for Environmental Activism, recipient of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance’s “Inspiration Award,” and one of Seattle Magazine’s “10 most influential leaders.” 

Registration is required. Registered participants will be emailed a link to the presentation on the date of the event. Please register for this event by filling out the form below:

This program is part of of the Humanities Washington Speakers Bureau The Historical Society is grateful to Humanities Washington for their support.

This talk is also made possible by the support of our partner The Seattle Public Library and our sponsors 4Culture, Luna Park Cafe, and HomeStreet Bank.

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