Many moons ago, anthropologists were wandering the land. They plotted maps of village sites from Waluula to Pasco WA, up the Snake River, where Walla Walla people had lived. They recorded native place names to help the Tribes document their aboriginal territories. Verne Ray relied on tribal informants such as Isaac Patrick, Art Motanic, and Vera Jones. The importance of their source work increased as time went on, as memories and language usage waned–Umatilla, Walla Walla, Nez Perce–dialects of our tribes after the Cayuse Weyiiletpuan died out.
Our local Mission area is known as Nixyáawi, ‘aspen springs’ in the Nez Perce language. This is one of thousands of place names that will appear in the upcoming tribal place names atlas, Chaw Pawa Laakní. The Tribe amassed a database of sources, etymologies, linguistic verification, and historic use sketches, linked with GPS digital maps of the tribal homelands, ceded and reservation.
Because of the cultural sensitivity of sites, the atlas won’t pinpoint locations but will indicate the general area. There are undoubtedly obscure mysterious stories that won’t be published. Wouldn’t I like to be a fly on the wall to listen to the editing of the atlas. It all began in the fall of 2000 when Tamástslikt first convened a meeting of scholars and elders. In the subsequent 2001 convocation, they focused on native names, places and peoples.
Many have stirred the pot—Jennifer Karson, Modesta Minthorn, Philip CashCash, Noel Rude, Dan Haug, to name a few. Eugene Hunn who authored N’chi Wana will soon leave Washington state and move to San Francisco. He’s pictured below with Bobbie Conner, John Chess, and Thomas Morning Owl.
There’s no projected date when the atlas will be released, but stay tuned.