Crawling out of the teepee at first light, my spirit is buoyed with excitement of the salmon run on the Big River (the Columbia). The echoing roar of Celilo Falls in the background is a symphony, welcoming back the tribes once again.
Rubbing my eyes and taking a cool breath of morning air, there is a light laugh beside me followed by several pieces of salmon pemmican pushed into my hand reminding me while I may not have been born into the Umatilla tribe, I am treated as family.
I spot a friend from the Nimi’ipuu (Nez Perce) tribe across the way, and remember the spring day long ago in 1838 sitting down with Chief Tuekakas (Joseph the Elder) and a group of men from the Hudson’s Bay Company out of Fort Vancouver.
I was a young kid responsible for translation, fascinated by these leaders discussing the impact of the first party of Cherokees to resist removal to a reservation, not yet knowing their brave march westward would one day be known as the Trail of Tears.
The impact of Chief Tuekakas’ words that day led me to take the opportunity to travel with his people, the Nimi’ipuu.
The wisdom I collected over those years I hold with gratitude, but my most cherished moment came the day when we stumbled onto a camp of the Umatilla people at the base of the Blue Mountains. All it took was one look and I realized I had found the destiny I had been searching.
Over the past 20 years since those early days, I have lived with the Walla Walla, rode with the Cayuse and shared many a meal with the Palouse, Tenino and Chinook – learning a culture and a land far removed from my birth home in Scotland.
My memory is faint, but I understand while the climate, terrain and traditions of my homeland are quite different; the love of Mother Earth is the same.
It is with this thought I can rest my head, my mind drifting off to dreams of the past. Crossing the Atlantic with family and friends in the year 1828 to reach the New World only to watch in horror as disease ripped through our cramped tenement housing, wiping out everything I held dear.
Broke and alone by the end of the year, I snuck aboard a wagon train with a dream to arrive in the Oregon Country to make my destiny. Discovered by the wagon master early on the trail, my skills as a fisherman and hunter proved valuable, and at a young age I had my first job.
The journey through the free country of the west taught me the land, accepting the beauty it offered. The berries and roots kept us fed. The buffalo, elk and deer honored us with their great bravery as we matched them with our hunting skills.
Not a day goes by where I do not thank the animals, plants and spirit of this land for all they provide, and acknowledge the tacit agreement where we will take care of Mother Earth in return.
Sitting here today along the banks of the Big River, the current mood of the Umatilla people is of sorrow. During the previous night, a tense meeting with the tribal leaders signaled the inevitable signing of a treaty with Washington D.C. to give up 6.4 million acres of land.
A treaty threatening to strangle the freedom and culture built over thousands of years. When the tribes sign the Treaty of 1855 they will receive in exchange, land designated at the Umatilla Indian Reservation to become a permanent homeland.
My mind clears as I gaze off into the distant waters of Celilo Falls. My wife Awendela silently sings as she ponders the future of her people, repairing the fishing nets needed for another day’s work.
Biting into my pemmican, I retell an old folktale from the past, drawing a parallel with the clash of cultures we are experiencing today, an emphasis to remain strong and positive.
“An old man spoke to his grandson. “My child,” he said. “Inside everyone there is a battle between two wolves. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, inferiority, lies and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth.”
The boy thought for a moment. Then he asked, “Which wolf wins?”
A moment of silence passed before the old man replied, “The one you feed…” ”
Thinking of the world today, I wonder, which wolf is winning?
With the endless cycle of greed that sweeps through men and their politics, I fear the more things change, the more they stay the same.
I feel for the children of this land. The change in lifestyle will be difficult and clashes of culture will create an opportunity for the Evil Wolf to gain traction in the minds of the young.
Turing around, I watch the children of the Cayuse with their ponies teaching the other kids the essence of the magnificent Cayuse horse dominating the plateau. I smile. We can learn much from the children, for their hearts are pure.
Succeed in educating children well and we ensure a way of life and culture forever.
Teach as well as learn the way of the world, and we can all sleep better at night listening to the howling of the Good Wolf, sharing its “joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth” with us all.
Yes, feed the Good Wolf. I sigh and take another bite of pemmican…even with the sadness, I believe this shall be a very good season indeed.
NOTE: The photos above are from the Pendleton Round-Up and Happy Canyon pageant taking place every September in Pendleton, Oregon. A communion of sorts for the farmers and ranchers of the area along with the gathering of Native American Indian tribes of the Northwest, with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation hosting a teepee village of over 300 teepees.
A weeklong experience every one should experience once in life ~ Let’er Buck ~