BIRD STORIES

Iskuulpte Creek

Our Waluula Country

Remember the mysterious deaths of thousands of birds in the midwest this past winter when dead birds were falling  from the sky?  Last week naturalist Mike Denny dispelled the wonderings that arose out of those massive die-offs.  Whenever those bird flocks start pooping on livestock feed, it’s reported to the Department of Agriculture.  Then a poisoning program is rapidly launched to kill millions of the undesirables, because the production of hamburger must not be hindered. 

Mike Denny, Walla Walla resident and co-author of the Birds of the Inland Northwest and Northern Rockies, gave an awesome slide show presentation about ‘kakya’– birds of the inland Columbia basin at the recent Pendleton bird club meeting. 

He said although we may think of the bald eagle as a fish-eater, its main food is waterfowl that it picks off with ease.  This he has witnessed many times at the McNary wildlife refuge and other sites.  This might change our idea of the bald eagle as just passing through.  There is a “blood pit” in the Wallula area where animal offal is disposed that breeds a lot of delicious insects.  It’s a popular attraction for a variety of surprising alien bird species that we wouldn’t expect to see in our Walúulapam country. 

In identifying waterfowl, Mike Denny pointed out a sighting of the long tailed duck, a sea bird formerly known as “oldsquaw” because of its harsh gabbling chatter.  What the–?  Try googling oldsquaw and compare with hits for “long-tailed duck” and you may find there’s no “formerly” about it.  Of course, it’s the male duck that actually makes all the noise.  Besides their showy long black tails, the males’ bills are pink, black and blue.  The females are quiet and drably colored, just minding their own business.

Linguist Noel Rude has said the word ‘squaw’ derives from the Algonquin tongue and simply means female, not female genitalia.  When the issue of renaming Squaw Creek on the reservation first came up, I asked an original allottee in the Squaw Creek zone what she thought about it.  Her first reaction was that she was not afraid of the word “squaw.”  “Indians endured worse,” she said.  She thought the name should stand because of the history associated with the area–that is, the story about the resourceful women defending  themselves from an attacking enemy.  To erase the name is to revise history, so she thought. 

Tamástslikt and the Tribes are committed to redubbing “s-name” places.  Our own Malissa Minthorn-Winks, archivist, sits on the Oregon state geographical names board.  It’s quite a huge effort they are mounting to accomplish the renaming of all squaw place names.

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