The Wolf You Feed ~ A Native American Story

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…”  

Native American Proverb

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 ~

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197 Comments on “The Wolf You Feed ~ A Native American Story

  1. Another of you mystical stories woven with love Randall. The photography as always is awesome, made glorious by the colors of the native costumes. But the sepia shot is perhaps even more powerful (altho the last is my favorite–how do you actually capture the twinkle of an eye?!) love the way you used the quote to make the tale so meaningful. Beautifully done.

    • My original thought was to have all the photographs in the antique/sepia tone as it would fit the time period and tone of the story, but color always tend to win-out with me. Thank you Tina – this is one of my favorite stories, my mood matching the eyes of the last photo.

  2. Wonderful photos, excellent writeup of a really great event.

    • It is always nice to dream about times of the past – until I’m able to do so, stories will have to do 🙂

  3. I’ve always had a keen interest of the various Native American cultures and lifestyle. This is amazing. And while I love sepia, I’m glad you kept the colour shots too 🙂

    • Thank you Takami, there is so much to Native American culture – a way of life that is serene and so in tune with Mother Nature.

  4. This is a beautiful post Randall. Love how you weave the story and photos together for a mystic and compassionate journey. It sounds like you have learned and connected with the Native Americans on a deep level. Thank You! May we feed the Good Wolf and teach the children love.

    • This proverb is one of my favorites, the good wolf is always there as is the evil one, and it seems every day we have a choice of which one to feed. A good day is a day for the good wolf 🙂 I think you capture such as well in your writing & poetry Brad. Cheers and wish you a great week ahead.

  5. I love how you’ve set these images – the first sepia drew me in, fitting the context of the story perfectly while the waking, celebrative colors of the rest are fantastically arrayed …but I have to say, my favorite image is the last – those colors, those eyes, that smile! … btw I love this narrative too!!

    • Thank you very much Wendy, the sepia worked very well for the intro, a feeling of the past and it made it a bit easier for me to transition into the story ~ the narrative tough to do as I’m not a Native American, so I had to walk around that a bit. The colors, emotions and seeing all the tribes in the Pacific Northwest come together is always a sight to see, so much pride there. Wish you well.

  6. Reblogged this on Arrow of life and commented:
    We, wonderful beings we are and some stunning beautiful photos…

  7. What bold colors in the photographs ! Love it.

  8. I like the Native American Proverb you wrote there, so true and it applies to each and everyone of us. Gorgeous photos, and so lucky you got to experience the pageant. Have a fantastic week Randy!

    • Agree with you Sofia, this proverb is insightful to consider each day and deciding which wolf to feed. This pageant and the whole week in Pendleton is simply one of the best weeks of the year…always lucky to be able to attend. Cheers to a great weekend (and coming week) ~

  9. Succeed in educating children well and we ensure a way of life and culture forever – so much truth in these words! Fascinating post as always! You are such a wonderful writer and your photos always make my day!
    Wish you the best,
    Dana

    • Thank you Dana ~ I think you would very much connect with the ideas of educating the young, the one key to a happier and successful future. Wishing you a continued happy autumn.

  10. The one you feed.

    Like you Randy I wonder which wolf won indeed, or still wins. Ours is a world of greed, and of humans stricken with amnesia. History is an awesome thing, as it holds credence to events that took place in our life time past and present. Though there are factions who would rather
    rewrite these facts to suit their purposes; it never negates the reality of what occurred.
    The rich history of these lands we dwell in will ever be remembered, and appreciated; and my personal consolation, is choosing to hold on to the positives of an all too overwhelming negative history. Accounts of these things are readily verifiable, of the treatment of the real owners of these lands.
    That said, when there are men and women who would never forget, people who continue to endeavor to make sure the coming generation acquaint themselves with these histories, and see past the hate and injustice the land has mated out to them, but believe that the good wolf won after all. Yes the good wolf won. We are all evidence to that victory, else you would not give such a moving glorious and dignified account of the men of old. Those who sacrificed lands and pride, in order that life may continue for them and theirs.
    As always, a beautiful collection of heart warming photographs. Fantastic narrative Randy 🙂

    • So true Dotta, this proverb does so much to see where the world is failing as a society (and as individuals) ~ focusing on the young and understanding what is important. I think society is starting to come back to the philosophies of the Native Americans and understand how taking a true look at the past will help set up a strong and positive future. I agree with you, the good wolf is winning ~ still a battle, but definitely winning. Wishing you a great day ~

  11. All we can do is make sure to feed the right wolf within us and hope to inspire those we connect with to do the same. A wonderful story and gorgeous capture of land and spirit.

    • Thank you, and I like the idea of asking ourselves about the wolves every morning – it can put the right thought in our mind as we go through the day 🙂

  12. Randall that must have been an amazing experience, it is good to be reminded that we should gracefully thank mother earth for all that she provides us. Love the quote it is one of my favourites. One day I would love to experience a ceremony such as this. I can imagine it would be quite an emotional day. Thank you for sharing it as living so far from the States I may never see one. Your art as always captures more than just images. I really felt like I was there.
    Kath.

    • Hi Kath, the Pendleton Round-Up and all the cultural and coming together of Native Americans (as well as cowboys, ranchers and farmers) is always one of the highlights of the year for me. It is impossible not to feel great about the day and about such a great group of people. Wish you do have the chance one day for a visit ~ would definitely welcome you. We have had many Australian cowboys over the years!

  13. My understanding and love for the indigenous has grown over the years. My sister works with Aborginal children and their culture, and together we have gained so much wisdom from them about our land and life. Your story is beautiful and heartfelt Randall, and it is so important we keep these traditions alive. As white people, we have taken so much from them, and must continue to learn from their immense wisdom and knowledge. Your photos capture this truth.

    • There is something incredible about the philosophies of the indigenous people around the world, it fits the land and eventually the best way to live is via such philosophies. While things look pretty chaotic in our modern world, it does seem that more people are reflecting back ~ and I think that is a very good thing. Wish you well Karen and enjoy the coming week.

  14. Randall, what a great post in every way, stories, photos, and the emotions and thought you have conveyed to us. Unforgettable!

  15. I love this story from the past with images from today! It really brings home which wolf we are feeding and the choices we all can make.
    Thanks Randall for bringing together old and new and making us think anew. xo

    • I like your thought about the story of the past moving along with the images of today. It says a lot about how proverbs of yesterday can have so much significance today (and tomorrow). Thank you very much Val.

  16. Great pictures and the story telling about the pictures. I love that gun shot picture. You captured the smoke and the spiral fiery trail so well!

    • Thank you ~ as I prepared to take the photo I was just hoping that I’d be able to capture the moment of the firing…and as they say, sometimes it is better to be lucky. Cheers ~

  17. Beautiful story — beautiful expressions. I love the vivid colors! And I leave your post pensive, reflecting on my own earthbound teepee-living past. I made one — cutting down saplings and stripping the bark, sewing canvass by machine and by hand. And I pitched it and lived in it in a cow pasture near a small, singing stream in Wilkeson Washington — population 317 — on the road to the Carbonado entrance to Mt. Rainier. And the air flowed through and connected me to the outdoors . . . and when a cow or horse tore into it, I threaded my needle and laced the sleek fabric lines back into beauty, and function, and form. Thank you, Randall :))

    Aloha! On my way to Oahu and Molokai soon — got some great rides in recently up on Mt. Pinos, center of the Chumash Indian world. I hope you got to see my latest post about Starboy: https://soulhorseride.wordpress.com/2015/09/18/my-horse-my-airplane/

    • As a kid, we had a teepee set up in our backyard and it was always such a great experience to stay there and while very different from the past, get the feel of how great of a home it could be. Sounds like your experience is one that will always be a positive one in your memory. I hope Oahu and Molokai treat you well ~ wish you safe travels.

      • Awesome! It’s a different feeling, being so close to the earth . . . Home at last, weary but inspired — ready to be with my horses — and ride!

  18. What a unique experience that must be Randall! I appreciate your concern for keeping the culture alive and you have done a fantastic job in clicking these captivating pictures for the posterity. The traditional attire, the brilliance of faces and colors show that the wolf they are feeding is the right one. Thank you for another wonderful theme, it will stay relevant for many many ages and so will your pictures.

    • Thank you Balroop. The week back home to experience all this is one of those things that seem to get stronger every year. The teepee village and the many tribes that come to visit every year is one of the best highlights of the year.

  19. Such a beautiful transition from a fascinating Native American story to a meaningful philosophy! ❤ The symphony of Celilo Falls is echoing in my ears sets a nice beginning for me to explore the land of Native American. Every line is written beautifully and cohesively to keep me interesting in reading more. But, the best part has to be the philosophy – “The one you feed…” ”. It may be a simple philosophy, but often people feed the one not supposed to. Your photos are brilliant as always. Vivid colors and beautiful portrait, but my favorite ones have to be the one with grandson and the last one. Truly beautiful! ❤ 😉 Fantastic post Randall! 🙂

    • Thank you Khloe, when I was young I would pass by Celilo Falls as we drove along the Columbia River and always wondered why they were called “falls” when there was just a big river there…until my parents told me that before the dams were built on the river the Columbia was a mighty, roaring river. And as you know, the great name of Columbia sportwear 🙂 I always wonder what the sounds and sights were when fishermen came to the falls, listened to its roar and to see the salmon on their way up river. Thank you and wish you a great week ahead!

      • You’re welcome. 🙂 Aha that’s very interesting! Sure it reminded you of your childhood why they were call “falls”. The scene of listening to its roar and seeing the salmon on their way up is absolutely beautiful. 😉 Thanks! Have a great week ahead as well! 🙂

  20. This is such a powerful post, a reminder of the all the cultures that walk this land, or more precisely the cultures and people many of us tend to put at the back our minds these days. There will always be a clash of cultures as long as this world keeps turning. Each of us hold different beliefs in what is good for our tribes and communities – even traditional day ideals hold important lessons that can be applied to the modern world.

    We all want the Good Wolf to win, don’t we? We all have a dark side to us, and some of us are certainly more greedy/unkind/selfish than others. Sadly, sometimes that is due to the environment that we are in. “the more things change, the more they stay the same” This phrase stood out to me. With change often comes resistance and some – the status quo – are really stubborn enough to stick to a certain way and the cycle repeats itself.

    Brilliant photography. I love how you used vivid colour to bring out the light and life of the tribes.

    • Thank you Mabel for your thoughtful words, Holding onto traditions and culture is important ~ and being from the States where we are known more of living for the day and thinking of the future (which I truly think is vital and most important), it is always important never to forget about lessons of the past. In the case of the Native Americans, it seems modern thought is starting to come back to thoughts of nature, the idea of “it takes a community to raise a child” and overall openness with the past so we can live the present better. Wish you a great week ahead ~

  21. Well written and thought provoking. Your pictures bring your story to life. I like your question for the world today, “Who are we feeding?”

  22. As always, your story gave me pause. I never know if its you speaking, or someone else. I enjoy the guesswork, though, and the vibrant colour and life and energy of your pictures. Its a magical combination.

    • Thank you Ali, and your comment is quite good as while writing this I did not feel qualified to speak as a Native American but also wanted to speak to the dreams I imagined of the past as well. Very happy to read your words. Take care ~

      • Dreams are very important, Dalo. We dont pay enough attention to them in the modern world. The native americans understand about dreams very well. If you had dreams about them while working on this project, I’d say they were quite significant. I certainly enjoyed the article they led you to write, for sure! 😊

    • Thank you very much Jolandi, being there shooting the scenes, I often just sat back and enjoyed all I was seeing and experiencing.

      • That is so wise, Randall. I think it is important to sometimes lower the camera, and capture the experience with the soul.

  23. Another great post: magical images with great narrative! Truly mesmerizing..thank you for sharing your talent with us 🙂

    • It was very good for me to this year take my camera and enjoy these scenes and sights from behind the lens, made me appreciate it from a different angle. Thank you Indah, wish you well.

  24. Dalo, you can not imagine the delight as I clicked open the WP new post alert as read your opening words.. 🙂 I thoroughly enjoyed this story and could quite easily have been there among those in that tribe as they walked and danced among the land they lived so in tune with.

    Your post brought a tear of nostalgia for a people driven into a wilderness of future poverty and segregation onto reservations as many still today struggle within today’s world.

    And yet a great pride also swelled up within me, for it is the traits of such people, whose principles of living in harmony with nature are now being revisited by many spiritual seekers..
    Your excellent photo’s show us deeper into the ‘eyes’ of all things Native within the Indigenous tribes of the First Nations Peoples, There love of dance, and ceremony.. And within the words of the well known Wolf story itself.. They long ago knew of the Wolf within and the need not to feed the evil one full of jealousies and greed..

    Would that we had listened more intently, instead it seems we have over fed the one with greed, and now will have to wait and see how our mistaken paths pan out.

    One thing Randall I know the Native American Indians always tried to live by, was to keep things in balance.. To take only that which was needed and always give something back to our Earth Mother,, Even if it was a small amount of tobacco..

    May we all learn from your invaluable post my friend.. and learn which Wolf to feed ..

    Many blessings my friend
    Sue 🙂

    • Thank you very much for your insightful and poignant comment ~ it is heartbreaking to think of how the Native American way of life has changed so drastically over the past 150 – 200 years, and inspirational to see their culture and philosophy coming back strongly as it educates the modern world. The wolf story seems to be the perfect proverb that every man, woman and child needs to not only hear but to think about often as they make their path in the world. Wishing you a great weekend and week ahead Sue ~ take care.

      • Thank you Randall, I hope as the years progress, we learn well from your chosen Proverb and once again embrace the ways of our Native Indigenous Brothers and Sisters, to respect all things upon our Earth Mother. and as Chief Seattle reminded us, We are all of us connected ..He reminded us we are but the threads within the web of life.. And what ever we do to the web we ultimately to ourselves..
        May we indeed learn to unite in such thinking again. as we hopefully embrace such ways of living again for we are One..

        Wishing you a Peaceful week a head my friend.. Thank you

  25. These photos radiate spirit. Your words lead the reader on a voyage back in time. I have the deepest respect for Native Americans. I hope their culture never fades away.

    • Thank you very much ~ as much as I like living for today and thinking about tomorrow, there is nothing quite as educational as taking a glimpse of the past and understanding those wise words as well.

  26. Dear Dalo… truly well done… a very compelling and captivating post…
    I love the images as well… Sending love and best wishes. Aquileana 🐉☀️

    • Thank you very much Aquileana ~ was one of the better times I’ve had shooting…the people, story and of course culture. Cheers ~

  27. I have always loved that Native American Proverb—there is deep wisdom in those words. As always, your storytelling and your photos are works of art—the colours of the regalia and headdresses are so vibrant and eye-catching and they are such an integral part of the culture. I grew up on the Saskatchewan prairie in a small town close to several First Nations reserves, yet we were so separate from them as children, it seemed we lived in two parallel universes. Believe it or not, there was even an “Indian Hospital” in our town. I became interested in the history of our First Nations people as an adult and finally educated myself. I wished I’d understood all of that as a child. But even as young child, I appreciated the beautiful regalia the First Nations people wore during our “Fair Days” and I admired their graceful dances. I always wanted to go to a powwow but somehow the opportunity didn’t come up until just a couple of years ago. I finally went to one, and it was incredible, one of the most wonderful events I have ever had the honour of attending. It was so beautiful, I was moved to tears. It had an energy about it I wasn’t expecting—there was something profound, something ineffably beautiful and spiritual about it. Your photos powerfully bring back this feeling. I was so moved by the event that I cobbled together a little video to try to convey the magic I felt that day. I had exactly the same dilemma with my photos as you did with yours—colour or no colour? (My portraits are not nearly as impressive as yours, but if you are interested in the video, search powwow on my blog). Thank you again for bringing such powerful messages into our lives.

    • I agree Jeannie, the wisdom of this proverb strikes right at the core of who we are as individuals and society. I think we are lucky, in that we have both grown up near a reservation and having the opportunity to experience the beauty of the culture (and the differences of where we are today). The culture of Native Americans is so strong and there is such pride among all the different tribes that it is difficult not getting emotional and inspired by the culture they share with us. Loved your post and your video ~ wonderfully shot (great use of B&W) http://madlyinlovewithlife.com/2014/07/01/canada-day-celebrating-our-rich-cultural-history/

  28. Oh your photos and narrative are glorious Randall. The capturing of the color and movement, and especially the soul of the experience is remarkable.

    • You mentioned the three things that captures me every year I see this Cindy: the wonderful colors, meaningful movements and of course the soul of the people. One of my favorite times of the year. Thank you.

  29. Educate the world be it orally or written or proverbs or photography and let history be heard. Agreeing with you that Mother Earth owns us not us owing Mother Earth. Children is the future and as elders we must feed them good thoughts and dreads. Otherwise they will turn feral as the big bad wolf. Blessings.

    • Thank you very much Perpetua, your words remind me of another Native American proverb: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” Nothing quite like letting this history be heard. Wishing you a great week ahead.

  30. Reading this story, and seeing your photos has been an absolute treat. Beautifully photographed and narrated.

  31. I think I first learned of ‘the wolves’ from an MTV series called faking it. I sometimes have to think of druyodhana who shouted that he wanted to be anger and wanted to be full of rage. Sometimes I think of how we want to tame what’s wild, what’s free. How we prefer to feed the evil wolf. At the same time we don’t exist without the other. Maybe we shouldn’t starve either.

    The photo’s are breathtaking. I especially love the ones with the kids. They seem so joyous and full of hope!

    Always looking forward to a new post!

    • Thank you very much, there is something about recognizing that both wolves exist inside of us and thus we have the ability to do good just as we can do evil ~ so being aware of them both is getting a head start on the day (and a life). Wish you a great week.

  32. I sympathize with the young Scotsman. I know all about living in cramped tenements (well, apartment buildings). I love the photographs. They’re all great, but I especially love the portraits of people. You do such a wonderful job of getting natural expressions on faces. (My family snaps always make my family look like they’re in the middle of sneezing.):)

    • Thank you Bun ~ I remember first learning of tenement housing from a Simon & Garfunkel song, and thought how difficult it must have been in NYC at that time. My dad and I were talking about shooting today versus the past, and the benefit of digital can allow for the capture of something natural as there is no worry of the cost of film 🙂 Wishing you a great week my friend.

      • That’s a great point about digital photography, although I think even with the best modern technology, it’s still pretty evident when someone knows about composition, lighting and so on and when they don’t. I hope you have a great week too.

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