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Healing Water:

A Project for Salt Spring Island


The Healing Water Project – designed to integrate art with environmental issues –  culminated in a lakeside solstice ceremony and a dance performance to live cello music on solstice, Sunday, June 20th, 2010. The event was focused on St. Mary Lake and “healing” this vital ecosystem.

Dancers in the Rushes, Healing Water Project, St. Mary Lake from Karolle Wall on Vimeo.

The June 20th event began at 2pm with a ceremonial blessing by local Peneluxuuth' elder Florence James. Two short dances were performed beside the lake to the live music of local cellist Irving Levin, and the event included songs about water and the interconnectedness of all life from local choir, “Women of Note.” Those attending brought flowers to help build a flower labyrinth.

© Karolle Wall,   Photo of Florence James blessing St. Mary Lake

Dr. Seónagh Odhiambo initiated this project, which involved two generations of dancers in a year-long workshop process. Originally from British Columbia, Odhiambo now works as Assistant Professor of Dance at California State University, Los Angeles. The project involved several community members, including Caffyn Kelley of the Islands Institute, along with local dancers Robbyn Scott, Anna Haltrecht, Isabel Ma, and Wendy Judith Cutler during workshops held between August 2009-June 2010. Odhiambo also worked with students from the Gulf Islands School of Performing Arts, and their teacher Sonia Langer helped students choreograph with movement derived from the workshops. Dr. Odhiambo says, “I consider the creation of dance to be an opportunity for community building and education around issues. The Healing Water Project is about developing a ‘change of heart’ in terms of how we think about water. The movement we created is derived from the study of environmental issues as well as the aesthetic qualities of water and its healing properties. The dancers’ movements are fluid, and we considered water as a primal source for this aesthetic inspiration.”

As this event helps raise awareness in our community about problems with the water supply, the loss of biodiversity, and the impacts on human, fish and wildlife, it simultaneously offers solutions. Caffyn Kelley says, “I see the problem of contaminated lake water as a cultural problem with cultural solutions. We have a culture that wastes, and so we dispose of sewage by sending it downstream, or ship garbage off to contaminate another area. Because of our ideas about what is beautiful, we replace diverse lakeside vegetation with monocultural lawns. This project suggests that we can invent and practice a culture of balance, sufficiency, pleasure, appreciation, beauty and craft. We can redesign culture as permaculture.”



A dance was  developed through a community process on Salt Spring Island from November 2009 through June 2010 under the direction of choreographer Seónagh Odhiambo. This dance was about water, focused through examinations of environmental impacts on St. Mary Lake and acts of healing this delicate ecosystem on Salt Spring Island.




We collected words about Salt Spring Island water to share in our lakeside solstice ceremony. Gentle exercises encouraged participants to walk in the watersheds, experiencing rhymes between their bodies and the world around them.




Pacific willow saplings were available for all who wished to make a gesture towards restoring water quality by planting a tree.




image of dance from Sand and Bone, Seónagh Odhiambo choreographer, image of restoration planting from Trout Lake Community Mapping Project, Caffyn Kelley artist/coordinator, image of 10th century palimpsest from the Internet.

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