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The Leschi Dreamcatcher

Updated: Apr 24, 2021

Two Native Americans are memorialized in our community. The Dreamcatcher at the intersections of and 32nd Avenue and East Yesler Way is a tribute to Bernie Whitebear and his sister Luana Reyes. In building this tribute, Lawney Reyes, their brother, and well known artist wanted to capture something of their spirit—“ a lot of people thought Bernie was a dreamer—and he was. But he and Luana also lived to see many of their dreams fulfilled.” (interview Seattle Times, Sept 23, 2002)

(Dreamcatcher Sculpture at 32nd and Yesler, near the Leschi Elementary School.)

During a lifetime devoted to advocacy for Indian Civil Rights and the preservation of Indian Culture, Bernie Whitebear was well known throughout the region and the nation. For 30 years he was the executive director of United Indians of All Tribes Foundation. He led the invasion of Fort Lawton in 1970 which resulted in land being set aside for an Indian Cultural Center and the building of the Daybreak Star Center at Discovery Park. He received numerous honors including Citizen of the Decade from Governor Gary Locke and Seattle’s Distinguished Citizen Award. Bernie died on July 16, 2000 in Seattle.

As Executive Director of the Seattle Indian Health Board in Seattle and later as Director of Headquarters Operations at the Indian Health Service in Rockville, Maryland, Luana Reyes was a tireless advocate for Indian health and all who had limited access to health care. She received numerous awards for her service including the 2011 Presidential Rank Meritorious Award, presented by President Bush to top federal managers for exceptional performance. Luana died on November 5, 2001.

On March 6, 2002, after a very moving presentation made to the Leschi Community Council by Lawney Reyes, Jill Marsden and Ros Bond the Council voted to support their proposal to build the “Dreamcatcher at Yesler and 32nd Avenue to replace the deteriorating Native American representative of a Thunderbird, that existed on that site."

When Leschi Community Council launched a fund raising campaign, Bernie and Luana’s reputation as community leaders was evident as contributions, large and small poured in from the local Indian Tribes, current and former politicians, family and friends.

Aided by a Seattle Neighborhood grant of $5000.00 it didn’t take long for the Whitebear/Reyes Memorial fund to reach the goal of $40,000.00. The names of those who helped to make the Dreamcatcher a reality are listed on the plaque at the base of the memorial.

The small garden of plants and flowers at the base of the Dreamcatcher proved to be a bit more challenging. Lawney and a landscaper designed the original plan including stones from the Colville Reservation in Eastern Washington, local plants and flowers. Despite the neighboring caretaker’s attempts to keep the garden going many plants were lost. With direct light and heat from sun up to sun down it was apparent these plants and the succeeding second planting could not survive. Finally drought resistance plants purchased here and those Lawney added from the dry soil of the Reservation proved to be what was needed to complete the memorial.

On July 19, 2003, just a year and a half after the project began, a traditional Native American dedication ceremony took place. Laura Wong-Whitebear, Bernie and Luana’s sister opened the celebration. Lawney explained the meaning of the Dreamcatcher, followed by a County Proclamation read by Councilman Larry Gossett. Margaret Pageler represented the city council and additional remarks were given on Bernie and Luana’s work by former Governor Mike Lowry. A family made cedar ribbon was cut by Luana’s daughter. The Sitting Horse Drum Group accompanied singers and Native Dancers in full regalia. The ceremony was closed with a special prayer by Alexandra Tu, in the language of her Aleutian Tribe.

In addition to recognition as an artist, Lawney Reyes is also the author of three books that include not only Bernie’s story but the history of this amazing family.

Reyes' 2002 memoir White Grizzly Bear's Legacy: Learning to be Indian combines his own memories and research with notes from library and field research (including taped interviews) done by his mother before her death in a traffic accident in May 1978.[21]

His second book—Bernie Whitebear: An Urban Indian's Quest for Justice (2006)—is a biography of his brother Bernie Whitebear (1937–2000),

Reyes' third book, B Street: A Gathering of Saints and Sinners, about the Grand Coulee area between 1933 and 1941, during the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam, was published in 2008 by the University of Washington Press.[

For details of the life and work of Bernie Whitebear see:

For details of the life and work of Luana Reyes see her obituary in the Seattle Times.

In Native American culture, a dreamcatcher (or dream catcher; Lakota: iháŋbla gmunka, Ojibwe: asabikeshiinh, the inanimate form of the word for "spider"[1][2] or Ojibwe: bawaajige nagwaagan meaning "dream snare"[2]) is a handmade object based on a willow hoop, on which is woven a loose net or web. The dreamcatcher is then decorated with personal and sacred items such as feathers and beads.

The Ojibwa believe that a dreamcatcher changes a person's dreams. According to Konrad J. Kaweczynski, "Only good dreams would be allowed to filter through… Bad dreams would stay in the net, disappearing with the light of day."[4] Good dreams would pass through and slide down the feathers to the sleeper. Another explanation of Lakota origin, "Nightmares pass through the holes and out of the window. The good dreams are trapped in the web, and then slide down the feathers to the sleeping person."[4]

These conflicting accounts about how a dreamcatcher works may be proof of its antiquity. While this traditional symbol has survived, its original meaning has been lost and subsequently reinterpreted in many different ways.

~Joan Singler

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