Dozens of Lawrence community members visited the remnant prairie behind Prairie Park Nature Center Monday evening for a healing gathering, following the city’s use of herbicide spray that is killing millions of wildflowers.
City staff members said Monday that all the people who knew how to care for the prairie — which has grown in place for thousands of years and never been plowed — have retired or resigned in the past few years, and there was no firm plan in place to share that knowledge with newer staff. (Read more of the background in the articles at this link.)
Dan Wildcat, longtime Lawrence resident and professor at Haskell Indian Nations University, said Monday’s event was about beginning to heal the damage that had been done to the prairie and the ecosystem we’re all part of, and the “damage that some of you feel; the pain that some of you feel.”
He encouraged people to take a walk around the prairie, on the paths that were already visible in order to avoid further damage.
“Make peace with this place as you walk around this prairie,” Wildcat said.
Several people spoke, sang or read poetry.
Jimmy Beason II, from the Osage Nation and an Eagle Clan member, is a professor at Haskell’s Indigenous Studies Department.
Beason spoke about how he was always told that when something dies, whether it be human, animal or plant life, there’s always going to be something to correct that balance. He said the healing gathering was needed to help restore that balance.
“It’s not just here that these kinds of things happen,” he said. “It’s all over the world. And we’re always having to contend with this kind of energy that destroys and makes it hard for everyone.”
Courtney Masterson, ecologist and executive director of Native Lands Restoration Collaborative, said some of “our strongest plant friends” are taking the herbicide spray a little bit better than others, and the grasses will be OK, but some plants will not recover.
She said she thinks the wild indigo, bastard toadflax and rattlesnake master are taking the damage the hardest.
“All of these plants have many thousands of years of relationships with people,” she said. “And this action should wake us all up to the great strength that we carry, that we possess as stewards of this land, how quickly we can make a mistake that can cause a great deal of harm to our plant friends and the animals that depend on them.”
Rev. Shelley Page, minister for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Lawrence, said she lives “just steps away from this ancient prairie.” She said it was a sacred space; an ecosystem with complexities far beyond our knowing.
“What was destroyed cannot be replaced as it was,” she said. “We will work to save what we can … and nurture the ones that are can still make it. But what was here cannot be replicated.”
She then sang a slight variation of “Keepers of the Earth,” by Joyce Poley:
“We are blessed by ev’ry prairie,
Ev’ry prairie makes us whole.
With its riches and its beauty,
Ev’ry prairie feeds our soul.”
Ken Lassman, ecological writer and and curator of the Kaw Valley Almanac, said that we as humans are hardwired to care for others, and that we can be healed by helping others who are sick.
He said the prairie is sick, and it needs love, healing and attention.
“This is a time where we can expand our circle of healing from our families and our friends to the larger kin of friends and family that lay before us right here,” Lassman said. “… I personally have been healed by this field many times in my life. It has brought love, it has brought beauty, it has brought things that I didn’t know I needed.”
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Molly Adams (she/her), photographer for The Lawrence Times, is a Haskell alum with a passion for photojournalism. She strives to create authentic images that portray the true lives of Lawrence community members.