About the significance of Indian basketweaving, the Burke Museum intoned,“While it is an ancient art, basketry is a tradition which continues to thrive today.  In the past, basket making was the domain of women.  Today, both men and women practice basketry, although it remains a predominantly female art.  Contemporary weavers, like their mothers and grandmothers before them, often achieve positions of great respect in their communities. …No longer viewed solely as ethnographic specimens or souvenir art, Native-made basketry has entered the realm of fine art.”

One such weaver of the Northwest Coast was the late Bruce (subiyay) Miller of the Skokomish Indian Reservation.   “Subiyay used the metaphors or concepts of the umbilical cord, the living breath, and tree rings to describe the process …. The ‘umbilical’ metaphor stands for the intimate connections … creat[ed] through the weaving – connection to the cedar, to the creative process, to the other participants, and to the teacher. The ‘living breath’ is the spirit or the essence of each person, which is left behind in their work and their interactions with others. As tree rings tell the natural history of the environment (rainfall, drought, sunlight, chronological age) and of the tree itself, the practice of Native traditions from one generation to the next creates a human history. If humans are in synch with their environment, their histories (or their ‘tree rings’) overlap and are integrated.” (Seattle Art Museum, Tree People film documentary)

The following account, entitled Creation of the Yakima World, was related to Major J.W. MacMurray in 1884 or 1885 by Coteeakun, son of Kamiakin. Coteeaukun was a friend and assistant of Smohalla, the prophet of the dreamers.

“In the beginning of the world, all was water.  Whee-me-me-ow-ah, the Great Chief above, lived in the sky, above the water, all alone. When he decided to make the world, he went down to the shallow places and began to throw up great handfuls of mud. Thus he made the land.

He piled some of the mud up so high that it froze hard and made the mountains. The rain when it came was turned into ice and snow on top of the high mountains….

The Great Chief above made trees grow on the earth, and also roots and berries. He made a man out of a ball of mud and told him what he should do.  He should get fish from the waters, and deer and other game in the forests.  When the man became lonely the Great Chief above made a woman to be a companion to him and told her what she should do.  He taught her how to dress skins, and how to make baskets out of bark and roots which he showed her how to find.  He taught her which berries to gather for food and how to pick them and dry them. He showed her how to cook the salmon and the game which the man brought.

One time when she was asleep, she had a dream. In her dream she wondered what more she could do to please the man. She prayed to the Great Chief above for help. He answered her prayer by blowing his breath on her and giving her something which she could not see or hear, smell or touch. This invisible something was preserved in a basket.  Through it, the first woman taught her daughters and granddaughters the designs sand skills which had been taught her.”

(Excerpted from T.E. Sanders, W.W. Peek, Eds., Literature of the American Indian,  Encino:  Glencoe Publishing, Inc.,1973.)

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I have only one heart and one tongue—Howlish Wampo, June 1877

The pow-wow world of modern Native American singing and dance competition is said to be ‘pan-Indian.’  Pow-wow is like a broad cross-cultural theater.  Specialized powwow dances and songs originated in specific tribes but became generalized in practice among many tribes.  For example, it’s said the jingle dance originated in the eastern woodlands as a women’s medicine dance for healing.  Grass dance came from the plains tribes for the preparation of the ceremonial grounds.  Both have become popular forms of dance on the pow-wow scene.  Plains Indian culture, styles, songs, and regalia seem to have been co-opted as the most accessible social intercourse among many Tribes.  All the way from the coast to the southwest, plains style pow wows are held. 

Among Plateau tribes, the paaxam or war dance was to honor the battle participants and formally witness their stories.  Females didn’t join in war dances unless they were veterans.  On the pow-wow grounds, such taboos are lifted, and it’s encouraged for everybody to join in.  The powwow is a time for celebration when people are released from everyday restrictions.  In the old days, powwow season followed the harvest time.  It was a reward for a season of hard work to be able to go out among the people.

Some things stay the same, such as the ceremonial whip man and whip woman who regulate the dancers.  Dancers generally hold eagle feathers up, whereas dancers from elsewhere may mimic sweeping the floor with their eagle feather fans.  Plateau Indians use the golden eagle feathers.  There used to be rock stands out and about where men would hide and pluck out feathers when eagles landed for a scavenger snack.

Dancers used to get ‘initiated’ on the dance floor.  It was not automatic that someone could just start publically dancing but they would make a formal entry with the sponsorship of their family.   Then when mourning families had sat out for a year, they would hold a rejoining and pay for the right to rejoin the community and get back on the dance floor.

Not only is there pan-Indianism in the powwow world, but there has also been a regional blending of cultures even among inland Plateau tribes.  Singers used to sing in more natural voices, but it became popular on the pow-wow circuit for high voices.  Singers must strain their voices hitting unnatural ranges unless they know how to take care of their voices.  More often than not, they’re probably soothing their throats with cigarettes.  The singing is the main attraction.  The very best singers create that watery liquid quality, an unearthly sound.  It’s polyrhythmic, several voices singing the same song in their own way.

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Throughout the museum, you may have noticed the series of lit panels with coyote silhouettes and paw prints that display excerpts from stories.  Most panels contain coyote-themed excerpts but there is an exception.  The panel at the Oregon Trail exhibit reads, “white people with hair on their faces will come from the rising sun, you people must be careful.”  It resembles a source in the Wishram Texts, an early 1900s ethnography.  According to Franz Boas, an elderly woman named Sophia Klickitat related such an event in ‘A Prophecy of the Coming of the Whites,’ that she claimed happened at the Cascades long before the coming of the whites.

“Long ago, I believe, the people learned that now whites would soon come.  One old man, I believe, learned of it at night.  Then he dreamt; he saw strange people, they spoke to him, and showed him everything– and he heard something like three or four Indian songs.  In the morning he spoke to all the people.  And then everybody gathered together to hear him,–women, men, children, old men—everybody.  He told the people what he had seen in his sleep at night.  And then they gathered together to hear him; they danced every day and every night.  They were made glad because of his story.

He said:  ‘Soon all sorts of strange things will come.  No longer as before; no longer, as will soon happen, shall we use these things of ours.  They will bring to us everything strange; they will bring to us (something which) you just have to point at anything moving way yonder, and it will fall right down and die.’  As it turned out, it was a gun of which he spoke.  ‘There will be brought to us a bucket for boiling-purposes; no longer will you use your old-fashioned bucket made out of stone.’  As it turned out, they really brought to us what he told the people of.  ‘No longer will you make fire by drilling with sticks as before.’  Still more were they made glad, they danced with energy.  ‘Certain small pieces of wood will be brought to us with which you will make a fire.’  As it turned out, it was matches whereof he spoke.

For days and nights they danced.  They were not at all hungry, truly they did their best.  Everything they saw—ax, hatchet, knife, stove.  ‘Strange people will bring us such things.  White people with mustaches on their faces will come from the east.  Do you people be careful.’  Then indeed they would again jump up and down; they did their best strongly.  And truly things are just so to-day ; now surely the old man dreamt  just that way.  Up to that time there were no cattle at all.  Presently white people brought  them; only farther up there were buffaloes.  Nor were there any horses either, only dogs. Thus long ago did it happen to the people dwelling along the river.”

Since it’s said that horses arrived about 1730, this story must be old, old.  It’s a wonderful story to read in its original rendering.  The flavor is quite different.  As Tessie Williams has said, ‘our people welcomed change.’


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Suzette Lavadour

Pardon the use of the s—word that is no longer politically correct.  The following is an excerpt from J.H. Horner who associated with the Indians of the Wallowa Valley at the turn of the 20th century.  He captured some beautiful and funny remembrances of our people in the ceded territories, interpreted in the colloquialisms of that era.  He was friends with Otis Halfmoon, Nez Perce patriarch, whose descendants belong to our tribes.  Here is his bio from the Oregon Historical Society which has given Tamástslikt permission to quote J.H. Horner’s writing. 

John Harland Horner (1870-1953) was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and moved to Enterprise, Oregon, in 1911. A life-long bachelor, he served as Wallowa County’s deputy assessor from 1918 to 1924, before being elected county assessor in 1924. Horner also had a long-standing interest in the history of Wallowa County. For more than thirty years, he collected historical information and interviewed most of the area’s early settlers and local Native Americans. His research resulted in an unpublished manuscript of more than 1,500 pages titled Wallowa River and Valley. Horner committed suicide on July 13, 1953, at the age of 83. (Oregon Historical Society)

“One noticeable thing in the early days among the Squaws, especially, the younger ones among the Nez Perces and Umitillas, was their adeptness in using their paint on their faces. The Base of this paint was a red mineral substance or soft red rock Which when exposed to the weather, became hard. But would dissolve to a red sand in water. Several old Indians told me they got it at a certain place in the higher mountains South of the Valley. Which they mixed with some kind of coloring vegetable matter and deer, bear or elk grease and roasted it in a solid mass and scraped off as they needed it. As I have been told by several Indians it was a secret process in making. And those that had mirrors would sit on a stone, log or flat on the ground and with a piece of Buckskin, well tanned, dip it in the paint and rub it on their cheeks, temples and over their eyes. Then they would begin gradually, working the paint out around their cheeks and temples, till it blended almost perfectly, with its duskey surroundings.  In fact, one could not tell whether it was a natural blush or not. The blend was so gradually connected with the duskey skin, that it resembled the blending of colors on the pedals of flowers..And had a velvety appearance. The older Squaws did not go to so much trouble. But daubed it on profuse; as some of the White sisters do at the present day. Those that didn’t have Mirrors, went to the creek, where there was a calm unruffled patch of water and use it for a Mirror. And it was astonishing how perfectly, they painted from this. I have seen young Squaws, painting their lovers faces, taking a great deal of pains in it.  As they would turn their faces different ways to see the effect of the rays of sunlight on it.”


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Miyanashmaamí , Kid Stuff

Tribal Head Start at Tamastslikt Groundbreaking

When the Cascade Academy  of Bend, OR, visited Tamástslikt, I found myself trying to explain the bygone custom of the whipman who disciplined the guilty and innocent alike.  Sometimes the tradition of the whipman is as incomprehensible to me as it is to anyone.  I was of the generation that could still get whipped but somehow missed out on ever getting whipped by the whipman.  I am familiar with the custom of sending the kid outside to pick out his or her own willow switch.  That was chilling because anticipation is far more tortuous than the actual whipping.  

Tamástslikt exhibits feature the video in which Rod Cowapoo said, “if you cried out, the person next to you would get extra.”  In trying to rationalize it for myself, I told the kids something like–of course the parents never wanted to strike the kids or treat them harshly, but they knew the world would be mean and tough, so they were trying to prepare their kids to meet the world head on while not breaking their spirit.  Anyway that’s my understanding of the whip man, why corporeal punishment was delivered by a third party, not the parents.   A Yakama friend told me one time everybody got whipped because of something she did, then later the kids got together and they all beat her up.  Yet she told the story with a laugh because she was an extra feisty person.  Then my mother and her cousin were teens when the cousin got whipped because someone smoked cigarettes in the July grounds restroom and it burnt down. 

At the July grounds, they were always trying to make us kids run footraces.  Then the chief would hand out dimes and quarters,  which amounted to real money in those days.  Early on, I could outrace all the boys.  Then as they grew,  I started coming in closer to last.  Where’s the fun in that?  I remember the old ladies held a walking contest, and Mollie Hayes would win.  She was a great walker, indefatigable.  But it wasn’t the kind of contest that had you on the edge of your chair.  I remember the Patrick brothers talking about how they would roast frogs and eat them there, until the July grounds turned into a frog desert.  Talk about unsupervised.  Little did I realize how formative those early experiences were.

“Play is a serious and deep subject,” said Scott Eberle, vice president for play studies at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. 

“Our good memories remind us that we have value, that we are happy (or, at least, can be), and that life does in fact have meaning.  In ‘Once Upon a Time,’ I tried to convey much the same thing–that the time we spend playing as children can be crucial to our later ability to manage aspects of our adulthood successfully.  A core of happiness forms in each of us during our early years and quite unknowingly becomes a pillar upon which we can later lean and from which we can draw considerable strength when the road gets a little rocky.”  –Rick Sherin, Conservator, Strong National Museum of Play, Rochester, NY, as quoted in, April 2012.

Tamástslikt is still working on the children’s exhibits, Miyanashmaamí (children’s), getting them ready, some with audio, lights, labels, etc.,  so kids can have some fun and make some memories here.

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Ratinlixul Vase, Guatemala

Today the last complement of 60 sixth graders from the Sunridge Middle School visited Tamástslikt and the Painted Metaphors Maya exhibit.  Teacher Paul Nolan led the classes in an exercise, analyzing the rollout painting of the Ratinlixul vase.  Mr. Nolan is very talented young teacher who apparently does indepth preparation, then dispensed knowledge at the sixth grade level.  I know I learned something!  Then I looked at the Painted Metaphors exhibit with new eyes. 

The students sat quietly for a few minutes analyzing the image of the Ratinlixul vase rollout in their minds.  Then they spent a few more minutes consulting with neighbors about their conclusions.  Then Mr. Nolan queried the room and each group gave their take on what the scene meant.  Everybody agreed that the man being carried on the litter is a ruler, bearing a fan that denotes his status. 

Mr. Nolan pointed out the ‘smoke flare’ that falls above the ruler’s forehead from his headdress.  The  smoke flare would emanate either from a person who has passed away or from a deity.  In this case, the deity would have been God ‘K’, the god of dynasty and lightning.  Since the smoke flare is originating from the headdress and not the person’s mouth, it indicates that he was a live person impersonating a deity.  While the ruler wore the transformational headdress, he was to be treated as if he were God K.

From left to right, there are two bearers carrying the ruler’s litter or palanquin.  There is an attendant carrying a jaguar skin mat, and several musicians carrying long trumpets and another attendant. 

Pity the poor pooch under the litter who is marching to ritual sacrifice to God K.  The dog bears a black spot on his back, indicating death.  The depiction of animals in Maya art show the extra or supernatural aspects of the animal.  The dog is not merely a dog but could be a diviner.    Lines coming from the dog’s mouth indicate either the breath as the essence of one’s soul or communication. 

The biggest mystery of all is why were the highland Maya producing polychrome pottery when they lived way out in the boonies far from the centers of power in lowland Petén?  Mr. Nolan said this type of pottery was only produced for a short period by not more than two or three generations of highland potters during the Late Classic (AD 600-800). 

The National Geographic documentary Tamástslikt had screened on the kingdom of Palenque also showed an image of a ruler wearing a God K headdress.  It was Pacal in an image that for years was construed as him descending into the afterlife, but has recently been interpreted as his birth.  Archaeologist David Stuart then showed other images from Pacal’s monument of his parents transmogrifying into plant deities.  That’s only in the movie, not in Painted Metaphors exhibit.

Come see Painted Metaphors before it closes June 3rd.  First Friday is June 1st, last opportunity to see it free of charge.    

Next Exhibit:  Transitions, Joey Lavadour, One-Man Show, opens June 15.

Pacal, Ruler of Palenque

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Allergies are causing me to think about the environment.  I’m wondering, did the old ancestors have allergies ?  I know they weren’t killing trees to wipe their noses.  Was it only with the proliferation of all kinds of vegetation that allergies were precipitated in Indian people?  Arizona used to be a very good place for allergy sufferers, but people could not help themselves, they imported all the air-pollinators for landscaping. 

I thought I outgrew my childish hay fevers, but they are back with a vengeance.  It’s those cottonwood trees and their bitter outputs that are toasting my sinuses.  Worsening allergies are yet another symptom of global warming so it’s said.  But they also say cottonwoods are beneficial to the ecology of the riparian ecosystem.  Cottonwoods help cool the river for salmon and stabilize riparian land.  Cottonwoods grow fast, die young and become organic fodder for many living things.  Cottonwoods do grow delicious mushrooms, hípaw.  As the bugs kill off the conifers, perhaps the cottonwood will become our main tree, besides the black locust tree. 

Pioneers used to benefit from planting locust trees on their land claim, as trees of any kind increased the value of the land.  The locusts nativized.  That’s how the Umatilla Indian Reservation came to be full of thorny locust trees.

I try to be complacent about the environment.  We are downwind from the Hanford nuclear reservation and downwind from the Boardman coal-fired plant.  I try to put it out of my mind as much as possible.  As I have grown to old age, I figure it’s more of a concern to young people and people of childbearing age.  There are folks of my generation who had their thyroids excised.  That could possibly have been the consequence of Cesium 127 leaking into the Columbia River back in the mid-20th century.  We are a small population, too small for epidemiological measures.

By July 2012, the Boardman plant will knock its mercury emissions down by 90 percent.  We will be grateful for that.  In 2020, Boardman will stop burning coal, the main source of mercury emissions.  The mercury mainly affects humans who eat fish.  It’s said that mercury exposure can make us stupider and stupider.  No one has noticed anything like that, have they?  Then there’s the cement plant down south of us, but I don’t know if it blows this way, or if it’s still operating. 

Have you noticed how few aspen trees are on the reservation?  I see a few sad patches of aspen toward Weston and up on Kanine Ridge.  It’s blamed on the elk herds that the aspen has declined as well as other factors like climate change.  The aspen is a sensitive tree.  Because the elk have become bigger populations, they literally eat themselves out of house and home.  It’s only with the comeback of the wolf, that elk numbers may drop, and aspen survival may improve.   I don’t know what kind of trade-off that might be–wolves, elk, aspen trees.  The sheepherders have complained that wolves kill, kill, and kill, whereas the bear says, “I’ll just take one [sheep], thank you.”  I read that at OPB’s Earth Fix.

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