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The Film
The Story
In the fall of 1999, Glen Schmekel was taking a walk on his property in Washington State. “As I was in this contemplative mode, I felt like I heard a word in my heart that was asking two questions,” recalls the school district executive.  “The first question was, ‘Have you considered my host people?’  And the second question was, ‘Have you been planting any seeds that would grow up to a harvest?’”

Schmekel was living with his wife, Carolyn, an interior designer, in the small, upscale, predominantly white town of Twisp, located at the confluence of the Twisp and Methow rivers in Washington. Schmekel knew right away that the first question referred to the original inhabitants of the valley where Twisp lay: The Methow Indians, a Plateau Indian tribe who had been largely decimated by historical white policies and practices.  The few Methows who had survived had been shut out of their valley for decades, shunted onto the nearby Colville reservation, and forbidden to fish, hunt, or harvest their sacred food and medicinal plants.  The second question, Glen thought, referred to a feeling he and Carolyn had that something was missing from life in their community.  “Are you doing anything [to create] the harvest in our society?,” he asked himself.  “Or just wishing and hoping, thinking, planning, dreaming?” 

The idea of initiating something that might expand and enrich community life in Twisp was exciting to the Schmekels, but they were uncertain how to proceed.  They began to look for someone who could help them locate the Methows and teach them how to “connect” with these “host people.”  Through a series of coincidences, the couple met John GrosVenor, a Cherokee Nazarene minister living on the Colville reservation, and Spencer Martin, a spiritual leader of Methow, Squaxin, and Colville Indian descent.  As these four came together and drew in other Native and European Americans from the Methow Valley area, a remarkable journey unfolded.  “TWO RIVERS,” a 60-minute documentary, traces this moving journey of unexpected discovery, connection, reconciliation, and lasting social change.
The Structure
“TWO RIVERS” tells two parallel, interrelated stories. At its base is the historical tale of the American North West, a land once revered by its Native inhabitants, and eventually taken over by European American settlers.  Layered over this history is the present-day story of a group of ordinary Native and European American individuals who come together by chance, and end up examining, grappling with, and healing centuries-old wounds, forming lifelong friendships in the process.

Flowing through three acts, “TWO RIVERS” dips back and forth between these two story lines, showing how history impacts contemporary lives and demonstrating the power of reconciliation methods drawn from Native American spiritual and cultural practices.
Act 1

In the beginning Creator created all life, so all life was sacred.  All living things were an important part of the whole. In one particularly beautiful valley were the Methow. They were given an abundance of all they needed: Fresh water, bear, deer, salmon, and berries.  They lived in harmony with all of these things, taking only what they needed, always respecting and being grateful for them, and teaching their children to honor them as well. The Methow knew how to train their people, how to teach them the importance of respect, of family, of community.

But this life was not to last. A strange people came with strange ways. They took Creators gifts without respect or reverence. They brought disease and famine. They said Methow ways had no value, though the Methow never needed soldiers, or jails, or policemen. They put up fences, and kept them from hunting, fishing, and gathering what the Creator provided. They took their land, rounded them up, and sent them far away. 

Fast forward almost two centuries later.  It’s 1999 in the small town of Twisp, an upscale white community in north central Washington, at the confluence of the Twisp and Methow rivers.  While taking a contemplative walk one day, a school district executive named Glen Schmekel hears an inner voice ask: “Have you considered my host people?” and “Have you been planting any seeds that would grow up to a harvest?” Although Glen and his wife, Carolyn, are on the verge of retiring and taking a trip around the world, they feel an urgency about heeding these questions and opt instead to stay. 

The Schmekels decide to seek out Methow Indians, descendants of the original Native inhabitants of the valley where Twisp is located.  Through a series of remarkable coincidences, they quickly meet two Natives who will change their lives:  John GrosVenor, a Cherokee Nazarene minister who is adept at moving between the worlds of Natives and whites, and Spencer Martin, once a teen delinquent and now a spiritual leader, of Methow, Squaxin, and Colville Indian descent.

GrosVenor and Martin agree to help the Schmekels connect with other Natives, but only under certain conditions.  The whites must be willing to set aside instincts toward rigid, goal-driven agendas.  They must consider using Native ways, which are non-linear, more open hearted, and spiritually grounded.  They must be willing to accept Native leadership, listen to the Natives’ stories with open minds and hearts, and respond honestly from their own hearts, instead of with their intellects or egos. 

The Schmekels accept the challenge and are joined by two other white couples:   Ron and Cheryl Race, who, while also looking for ways to positively impact their community, will be forced to confront their own prejudices, and Marge and Phil Downey, who have begun to have contact with Native Americans, and have been seeking more. Rounding out the group are Steve and George Iukes, a couple in their 80s of Wenatchee and Palouse descent, who are respected elders of the Colville reservation.

And now, the journey begins.
Act 2

As Spencer Martin points out in “TWO RIVERS”:  “What you learn in the history books isn’t actually what happened.”  The Twisp reconciliation meetings begin with John GrosVenor screening a series of documentaries for the whites, showing the values of their culture and the near-genocide of their race from the Native perspective.  Historically the Plateau Indians were a proud, culturally rich, people. Initially they welcomed the whites, as hospitality was a part of their culture. In the 1820s, Plateau peoples and European Americans created mutually beneficial relationships centered around trade; Natives and whites often intermarried, their offspring accepted by both cultures. But by the mid-1800s, the policy of Manifest Destiny had taken hold, and European American soldiers, politicians, and settlers were flooding the west.  Many of these whites viewed the Natives as little more than animals, to be tamed by forced Christian conversion, driven off their lands, or altogether decimated.  The result was a legacy of pain, mistrust, and betrayal that endures to this day.

As this history emerges through the documentary screenings and the white Twisp couples truly listen and learn, the Native Americans begin to feel confident enough to share what being an Indian in America means from their personal perspectives.  They express the depth of their rage and grief because their culture has been disrespected, their values trivialized, their spiritual beliefs demonized.  We hear their first-hand stories of being torn from families to attend white-run boarding schools, of enduring racist abuse, of living in grinding poverty, of witnessing loved ones descend into alcoholism and suicide. 

In a series of meetings over a period of five years, the Indians follow their tradition of “speaking from the heart”—a concept with which the whites are initially unfamiliar and uncomfortable.  But as the Schmekels, Races, and Downeys practice listening without judgment, their own feelings of empathy, personal responsibility, and sorrow emerge.  The two groups gradually form bridges of understanding and then deeper emotional ties.  By operating from their hearts, these ordinary people set in motion a profound, unexpected healing.

Act 3
By 2003, the two groups feel it’s time to bring their private reconciliation process into the larger community, and the community seems excited to receive it.  The first Two Rivers Powwow, held that August at the confluence of the Twisp and Methow rivers, is a public reconciliation ceremony acknowledging the changes that have occurred between the local Native and European Americans.  A ripple effect begins as other white townspeople and reservation Natives are drawn to the ceremony.

Suddenly, following the Powwow, there is a spontaneous upsurge of grassroots efforts to address historic Native grievances in the Methow Valley. Two and a half acres of land are donated for a Methow cultural museum. Local ranchers and farmers respond positively to a petition asking them to open their properties to Indians so they can harvest their sacred medicine plants and foods. A plan is made to integrate Methow cultural teachings into the school curriculum.

So powerful is the transformation taking place that Powwows are planned as future annual events. All agree that this is not a culmination but a beginning.  An effective method of reconciling differences and healing wounds has been found.  Relations between Native and European Americans continue to deepen… There is healing in the valley, and its spreading into the wider world…