Black Belt Eagle Scout learns you can go home again

With ‘The Land, The Water, The Sky,’ Katherine Paul, who opens for Sleater-Kinney at the Newport on Wednesday, March 20, reconciled with a decision to return to her childhood stomping grounds.
Katherine Paul, aka Black Belt Eagle Scout
Katherine Paul, aka Black Belt Eagle ScoutCourtesy the musician

Early in the pandemic, Katherine Paul moved back home to help take care of her parents, returning to the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community following a number of years spent living in Portland, Oregon.

The singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, who goes by KP and plays under the name Black Belt Eagle Scout, said in mid-March that the experience caused her to reflect on her younger self and the type of person she was prior to first leaving home. “And I feel like maybe that’s a natural thing that happens with everybody,” said KP, who opens for Sleater-Kinney at Newport Music Hall on Wednesday, March 20. “When you leave someplace and then return home, you have a different perspective on who you are as a person and how you’ve grown.”

This growth is reflected throughout Black Belt Eagle Scout full-length The Land, The Water, The Sky, from 2023, an album on which the musician surveys her native stomping grounds and gradually emerges with a newfound sense of connection. 

Opening track “My Blood Runs Through This Land” sets the tone, with KP absorbing the sound of the waves (Swinomish rests on the Skagit Bay in Western Washington State) and the feel of the rock-dotted shoreline upon which her ancestors have long tread. The song is raw and visceral, crackling with heat lightning-like energy and layering on fierce squalls of electric guitar. “I know you’re watching me,” KP sings, casting her eye not only out at her surroundings but upon the spirits of those who came before.

The album is bookended by “Don’t Give Up,” which in comparison with the stormy "My Blood Runs..." serves as the sound of the weather breaking, KP delivering lines about finding healing beneath newly cleared skies. “With the ending, I wanted something that was more uplifting,” she said, “where you’re in this higher vibrational space.”

The journey to reach this point is both beautiful and hard-won – a dichotomy reflected in songs such as “Salmon Stinta,” which wrangles with the frustrations that can be surfaced by a return to one’s childhood home and the challenge of trying to figure out where this current version of yourself might fit in that landscape.

Later, on “Spaces,” KP carves out a more purposeful clearing from which to address these types of questions, allowing a bit of healing to take root and stepping more fully into her own. “Give in, give in, give in,” she repeats, accompanied on the track by her parents, whose voices both buoy the singer and propel her forward.

Nature is a constant presence throughout, with KP writing of gray and white salmon swimming upstream, rustling leaves and endless galaxies of stars – a connection the musician traced to her Indigenous heritage but also to the realities that accompanied moving from a city to a more rural environment at a point in time when outdoor activities were often the only available escape. 

“My people have always had a connection to the natural world,” she said. “But before I moved back home, I lived in a city, so actually being back in our territory, there’s more space to do things like go on hikes. And it’s something I would do intentionally every day rather than being like, ‘Maybe this weekend I’ll go on a hike.’ It was much more intentional, where each day I would be like, ‘I’m going to do the same thing I did yesterday, but I’m going to veer off a little bit and get to know this place a little more.’ … It was developing a different kind of relationship with my homelands, with the place I’m from.”

These day hikes would often take place along Sčičudᶻ, a forested path near the Salish Sea, where KP would take time to absorb the changing seasons, recalling how she would watch the salmon berries blossom and gradually ripen into fruit. In this process, the musician said, she began to feel a more deeply rooted connection to the community in which she was forged, and which has found a renewed voice in her music.

“My parents, my community, I grew up singing with them and dancing and everything,” KP said. “It’s just a daily part of our lives. It’s an element of who I am, almost like a body part. It radiates through my whole self.”

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