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20 June, 2015

Rubbing Shoulders with the Yakama Indians- Part one

                         I got to know the American Yakama Indians up close and personal!   You won't believe their strange lives in the modern world. Join me for part one here but don't miss PART TWO: shape shifters, out of body experiences, and some crazy stuff.
Oldest son Brad, left, me center, Austin on rt, back in those days
          It was 1996, and my youngest son, Austin, and I lived in the moderate-sized town of Yakima, in the high central desert area of Washington State, in the north western part of the US.  

          The growing city was surrounded by mountains, many of which were old dormant volcanoes.  There was Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood. 
          They all formed the sides of a great oblong geographical bowl which held the fertile Yakima valley.   Mt. Hood sat in northern Oregon, across the Columbia River Gorge, but we could see it from Yakima and claimed it as one of our mountains. 

                    Apple, cherry and plum orchards filled the valley from one end to the other. 
                    Hop fields grew abundantly alongside vineyards. 
  Everywhere you drove in this beautiful land, it was green with crops during Spring and Summer.  

The Yakima Valley and the reservation were a fruit bowl of great produce.
                    This fertile, verdant valley enjoyed 300 days of warm sunshine a year with moderate temperatures and a gentle wind.  The wide Yakima River flowed through the valley out of the mountains of the Cascade Range, past Ellensburg, WA.  The Yakima waters flowed clear down to the massive Columbia River Gorge that sliced between the states of Washington and Oregon.

           Yakima was originally named that because it was just north of the Yakama Indian Reservation.  (Note, there’s a difference in spelling.) Just on the southern outskirts of that city, by a narrow gap in the hills was the tiny town of Union Gap.  This was where Union Army soldiers had their fort in the old days, at the mouth of the “gap” of those two mountains, to oversee the Indians. 
           There is a story about a much-loved hotel in Union Gap that wanted to move to the newly built city of Yakima, that was booming.  This true story makes me smile. 
                    In order not to lose business while the hotel was moved, the owners came up with the craziest idea I ever heard.  The hotel had to be jacked up, put on logs, and rolled 10 miles into Yakima to its new site.

           Just to jack the place up and get huge logs under it was an amazing feat.  This was in the late 1800s.  Crowds gathered just to watch the incredible process.  When it was all ready to move, people who lived there, expected the hotel would vacate itself of clients and shut the doors.   

                     Well, the proprietors  NEVER shut down business for a single day!   While customers ate and slept soundly, the entire hotel was slowly rolled day and night by horse teams who dragged it north into Yakima itself.   They only had to move the hitching post for guests’ horses and the hotel steps every day!   I wish I had been there to see it.
                      Can you imagine sleeping while your hotel rolled along?

           The long Yakima valley was home to the SECOND LARGEST Indian reservation in the US.   Let me give you a little background history of the area: 
           “..There were (for centuries) ... Indian tribes who pursued their livelihood by fishing, gathering roots and berries, harvesting shellfish and hunting in the area which was to become Washington State. (Let me interject here that Lewis and Clark in 1805, on their expedition to Oregon, encountered these bands.)  The Yakama Tribes occupied nearly 17,000 square miles of this area.  

Two Yakama Indian women in traditional garb.
                   Their land extended from the summits of the Cascades (central WA State) on the west to the Palouse area of the Columbia Basin on the east.” (That would be near Spokane  WA today.)

                     “The northern border extended into British Columbia (Canada) and the southern border into Northern Oregon (State).  Within this area there were many small tribes and bands of Indians possessing a similar way of life.”  Are you getting a picture of the VAST expanse of land these tribes once roamed freely?
                                Well, NOT after the White man found them!
                    “In the summer of 1855, a Treaty Council was convened at Walla Walla (in S. E. Washington State)  ..The Yakama Tribes were pressured (by the Federal Army) to cede 16,900 square miles for a reservation of 1,875 square miles, and (this crummy treaty) reserved rights and guarantees (for use of the remaining acres by the Indians). 

                       At the signing of the Treaty of 1855 ... 14 tribes and Bands were confederated into the Yakama Indian Nation.”
                     “ Band leaders who signed the Treaty of 1855 were:
                       Kamaiakin, Sklom, OWHI, (pay attention to Owhi’s name, it will be important later in Part Two.)  Te-cole-kun, La-hoom, Koo-lat-toose, Sch-noo-a, Me-ni-nock, Shee-ah-cotte, Sla-kish, “Elit Palmer”, Tuck-quille, Wish-och-knipits and Ka-loo-as.” 
              Yeah, I know, it’s all Greek to you!  (Actually, it’s Sahaptin.)

                       The Feds kept nearly 8/10ths of all the Indian land for themselves, only reserving certain hunting and fishing rights for the Yakama Nation.  

Young Yakama Woman in tradtional costume.
                     Back in 1998 a tribe member, exercising his legal treaty hunting rights on land outside the Reservation, (fully within his rights), was ARRESTED and jailed for a year!  It took the tribe a long time with an outside hired lawyer to overturn that conviction based on the Treaty of 1855.

                       Do you know our Federal Government has broken EVERY Indian treaty they ever signed?!!  Arrrgh!

                     “The first formal Yakama Indian Agency was established in 1859.   After hostilities with the United States military subsided, (The Yakamas did not go along peacefully) the chosen location was the abandoned military base, Fort Simcoe, southwest of present day White Swan.” (Ft. Simcoe still stands today, and you can see the solid wood buildings with small slits cut in the walls for the soldiers firing guns at the Indians (who didn’t have any guns.)

                    The Indian schools the white soldiers built there were torn down completely by the Yakamas after Ft. Simcoe was abandoned.  (They hated the white men’s schools.  The idea was to "de-Indian" the children, effectively erasing their heritage, while beating the crap out of any who strayed back to their language or customs.)   The agency was thereafter moved approximately 30 miles east to present day Toppenish.”   (The old agency building later became Heritage College, now recently made a University.) 
            I attended college at Heritage University in Toppenish.  It was there I had my first Yakama Indian experiences.  They are great story tellers.

There's a legendary story about Mt. Adams on the reservation.
            The Yakama Nation tribes told stories about those three giant mountains I mentioned earlier – Adams, Rainier, and Hood. 

             The story varied depending on which tribes told it.   Everything in the history of the Yakamas had a neat story.  One of them goes like this:

                       The Yakama people called the sun “Pahto” and he ruled the valley.  It was HIS sun rays that nourished the crops and  warmed the thriving orchards.   Pahto had three wives.  (There was his FIRST mistake.)
                     Each of Pahto’s wives was one of the three mountains surrounding the rolling lands of the reservation.  
                     One wife was what is Mt. Adams today.   Another one was modern Mt. Hood, and the third wife in the story was famous Mt. Rainier, the tallest of the three mountains, and in my mind, the most beautiful. 

            Pahto’s third wife, who was Mt. Rainier, was jealous of the other two wives, the story goes, because they were taller and more gorgeous than she.   It is said that in a fit of jealousy she chopped the head off one of the two other wives in anger!  

Mt. Rainier is gorgeous. (photo courtesy of Travel Advisor.)
                      Just whacked her good.   That is Mt Hood today.  The other wife, Mt. Adams, to avoid having her head chopped off, they say, crouched down and “walked all her days with her head bowed.”  

                              Smart lady that Mt. Adams wife.
            The real Mt. Adams lies on the western border of the reservation itself.  Yep, it looked to me like the mountain was bending down, lower than the other two.  So, that’s how Mt. Rainier came to tower over the valley. 

                        A ticked off woman!  Yeah, I can see that happening!

              It was at the base of this mountain that MY father was born in 1898.  For me, coming to live so near to Mt. Rainier, going to college in the “shadow” of it, was like making a full circle from the East coast, where I was born and reared, to return to my “ancestral roots,”  to "home."   Mt. Rainier was only an hour's drive from where we lived in Yakima.  My son and I visited "our" mountain often.

                The Federal Government really cheated the Yakamas.
               None of the tribe could read the treaty.  So, the Feds broke up the entire reservation into large land plots.   While giving the majority of the land plots within the reservation borders to tribe members, the government land agents kept choice pieces which they SOLD to white settlers! 

                     So, on a map the reservation looks like a checkerboard, with “non-reservation” blocks of land within it.

Pow Wows for the Yakamas means rodeo and great dancing!
                  Dang that government of ours!
                     Since the land deeded to the Indians could only pass to their direct descendants, the plots got broken up smaller and smaller over time, passed on to many children.   If no descendants were left to live on the land, the government took it back from the tribe!    The tribe could not gift it or sell it to another non-family member of the tribe.
                                         Can you believe that? 
                       In later years, as the tribe got smart and prospered, the Tribal Elders started buying up the unclaimed plots, acting for the whole tribe.  They also bought White-owned land when it was for sale. You see, the WHITES could sell their land.   Now there are fewer checkerboard NON-Indian owned plots in THEIR reservation.  The Yakama got wiser, very quickly.

                       In 1994, the "Yakima" Nation voted to change the spelling of their Tribal name to YAKAMA with an “A” instead of the “i.”   (Just so you don’t think I have a typo here, I explain the difference in spelling.)
Kamiakin, a revered Yakama leader.
              Toppenish was, and still is the largest town on the Yakama Nation reservation.   It is lined with really cute shops, long-standing mercantile stores, and museums.  There is a train museum and a Hop museum.  In case you didn't know, hops are used in brewing beer.  When I was in college in Toppenish at Heritage, hop fields were thick there, all around.  When we visited there in 2008, they were all gone.  Vineyards replaced all of them.

                   Guess it's a good thing they had a Hop Museum, huh?

              Due to the large majority of Hispanics who also moved to non-Indian land on the reservation over years, the town abounds with really great Mexican Restaurants.   No Yakima Indian restaurants, though.   If you want to eat authentic Yakama food, you have to try the Buffalo Stew and Fry Bread (yummy) at the Nation's Cultural Center.   

             There they boast a fine restaurant with gorgeous, yummy buffets on Sundays, a modern Movie Theatre next door to that, a huge Library, and gift store in the center of those.  The best part of the Cultural Center is their Museum. 

             When I was going to college at Heritage, one of our classes wrote materials to send out to elementary school teachers who were planning a student trip to the Museum.  The Cultural Center Museum takes you back in time, with the sounds of native bird calls, rushing, gurgling water and even the spoken language of the natives Yakamas.   

           They have full sized lodges, woven baskets, clothes and tools the Yakamas used for centuries in the Museum.   It is really incredible!

           The most impressive part of the Yakama Nation Cultural Center you won't get to see at all.  That is, UNLESS you are invited to a Salmon Festival or Bread root Festival in the Spring or Fall.   In order to enter, you absolutely MUST wear a new pair of moccasins!   I am NOT kidding!  Inside, everyone sits on the shiny hardwood floor. 

             It is free and open to the public, but you have to wear those NEW moccasins.  It's like their church in there.  Farther down this blog is a video that will show the Nation's Festival building and museum.

             The Festivals are religious in content.  The Tribal Elders enter in full regalia and sit in a half circle at the head of the rectangular meeting hall which has high vaulted ceilings.  Yakama women, dressed in ceremonial garb, come in and  circle around these Elders three times, carrying just bowls of WATER. 

            Water is sacred, one of the three sacred elements to the Yakama.   They then serve it to the Tribal Elders first.

            Next, the women carry in Bread root, or Camas bulbs, ground up and cooked into patties from their flour.   That is the second sacred food.  It is served after three times circling the Elders.    Last comes the most sacred food of all: Smoked salmon!   Again, the circling, again the Elders get it first.    Along the sides of the hall are long tables heaped with food, more than just those three sacred foods.  

                              But don't touch!  Not yet!

             There is a special prayer, in the Sahaptin tongue.  Then everybody else is allowed to go to the waiting tables on either side of the hall and get a little of the food there, on paper plates.   Yakamas are very informal otherwise.  They have NO time sense, and may arrive late, or early, and they leave when they darn feel like it!   

            The gathering of the Bread root or Camas bulb for the ceremonies is a special event annually for the women of the Yakama Nation.  They dress in a brand new garment, a specially-sewn dress just for the occasion.  They will walk all day, on FOOT, about 20 miles in summer heat, to the mountains where these bulbs grow.  They fast, and do not drink a drop of water while traveling.  

            At night, when they make camp, they break the fast and drink after saying a prayer.   The journey is repeated the next day under the same terms.  This is serious religion to them.

           When the women reach the mountains, they dig the Camas bulbs with special sticks they carry.  They pack the bulbs in bags on their backs and head back home, fasting along the way.  They have such reverence for life and even plants.  It's ironic that I live near the Kamas valley in Utah, where those Native Americans also harvested Camas bulbs.

            Well, so much for promoting the Cultural Center, and telling you about the customs of the Camas harvest.  I wanted to tell you about the town of Toppenish.

             Although a comparatively small town, Toppenish was named one of the 20 Best Places to Live the West by American Cowboy Magazine in 2009 and a Must-See Old West Destination by True West Magazine in 2010.
             I thought it was a pretty cool town myself.  There were about 20 hand painted murals done on buildings in the town when I lived in the area.  Today there are over 73 murals, drawing tourists from all over.  They even have a "Mural in a Day" event, where artists, famous artists, come and roll out the brushes and paint and produce a huge mural in just a few hours!

          My son and I loved to drive around and see those murals.  Each has to do with the history of the Yakama Nation.   Here’s one called “Rodeo.”  It was our favorite.  It's painted on a brick wall, the side of one of the buildings downtown, that's why it looks choppy....The video above has a sharper photo of it.

           “Rodeo" says the town website,  recalls the early Toppenish round-ups when cowboys and ranchers would get together for a little friendly competition.  Artist Newman Myrah of Portland, Oregon, illustrates the rodeo theme with his version of a timeworn poster with brick showing through.”     

             From a distance, it’s hard to tell if it is a guy PAINTING a mural, or a MURAL of a guy painting a mural!  I just love that one!  Sorry it's not sharper, you really have to see it up close.  The bricks of the wall this mural is painted on are barely visible through the painting.

             Here is another mural called “Racing Horses.”  It depicts Charlie Newell, a friend to the Yakamas in many ways.  The website says:

Charlie Newell's famous mural in downtown Toppenish
                   “Charlie Newell's knowledge of the Indian language and his acquaintance with the Yakama enabled him to avert a crisis. The Indian Agency had forbidden the racing of horses on the track and gambling at their meets.   

                At Newell's suggestion, the Yakamas drafted a request to Washington D.C. to rescind the order, which was granted.   This mural above depicts the time and the races. ..  This was painted by Ken Carter.” 

                      The gorgeous architecture on the mural below is PAINTED on!  The Hop Museum has this on the front of it.

Hop Museum in Toppenish sports this mural of the planting of hops.
                      Aren't these murals amazing?  There used to be a horse-drawn wagon in Toppenish that carried tourists around to see the murals for a fee.  It used to be in my days there,  the young driver told us non-stop jokes.  He'd cock his cowboy hat, grin, and turn around to "lay one" on us.   We laughed our butts off.   Here are a couple examples of stupid, corny jokes he told us: 
                      "If a German man goes into an outhouse, what nationality is he when  comes back out?"   (answer: "He's a Euro-pee-in"!)   or ....

                      "How far can human skin stretch?"  (answer: "Well, the Bible says in the Old Testament that Moses tied his ass to a tree, ... and walked 40 miles.") ??!!
                      Yeah, what was really funny was the peoples' faces when he said that one!  Especially the Japanese tourists!

                       There was also a sheriff in Toppenish who would (after prior arrangements and a small donation) appear suddenly in full regalia wherever you and your family or friends were,  and he would ARREST them!   He had a warrant with their name on it and all! (for framing as a memento.)  

                      This crusty old sheriff happily put his startled prisoners in antique handcuffs and escorted them "roughly" to the local JAIL!  (There was a photographer also available to snap the astonished faces of the "victims.")   One time I saw some Japanese tourists go through this.   You had to be there to see the expression on THEIR faces.  They thought it was REAL!

                     There's more to come about my time with the Yakama.  A couple funny stories, too,  that will make it worth looking forward to.  How about an Indian Enforcer, out of body spying, and a funny joke on an Indian agent?  How about out of body travel, and shapeshifting?   See you in Part Two!


                     Thanks to this website for many photos used here.  There are links to the town of Toppenish, the Cultural Center Library, whom I wish to thank for their huge collection of old Indian photos used here. 

16 June, 2015

Part Two of Rubbing Shoulders with the Yakama Indians

        Here continues the second part of the intriguing tale of the Yakama Indian Nation.  There's a shape shifting Coyote, out of body travel, Medicine women who see the future and a duezy of a joke on an Indian Agent.   If you missed Part One, read it first. 

Yakama Indians see life and the Great Spirit in every living thing, such as this tree.
                      Even today, once a year there’s a huge Fourth of July POW WOW on the Yakama Nation Reservation, in White Swan, where Indian-only riders compete in racing tournaments.   The public is always invited to watch (and spend their money there.)   There is great food, traditional dancing in authentic Native costumes to the beat of a circle of tribal drums, and lots of fun.  

                      Funny thing though, the Confederated Tribes of Yakama had NO horses until after they began trading with the Plains Indians.   When the Yakamas saw their first mounted rider and horse, they thought the horse and man were one creature.   It scared the crap out of them.

                   When the Plains Indian got off his horse, the Yakamas were still dumbfounded at the creature standing beside the man.  

        Soon they were unafraid and the wily Yakamas quickly adopted the practice of riding and breeding horses.   

        Much like the automobile impacted modern man, the horse revolutionized the life of the Yakamas.   They were more mobile, could travel farther and carry more than on foot as before.  Plus horses became sport.

       Remember from Part One, the women used to walk on foot, 40 plus miles round trip annually to harvest Bread root?  

       Imagine their joy at having horses to ride and pack their supplies.  

        Since the Yakamas had no word in their language for “horse”, they called it “Kusi Kusi” (khoo-ssi khoo-ssi”) which meant “big dog”.  (“Kusi” was the word for dog.  By doubling the word, it meant “big dog.”)

        About that language.  It was insanely difficult to learn.   I know, I  tried!
       One of my instructors, in fact a couple of them, were Yakama Tribal Elders, well educated, and much revered among those at the college and the Yakama tribe.  One woman named Virginia Beavert, who was in her 60’s then, taught a class in Sahaptin, the official language of the tribe.  The entire language had only 3,500 words in it.  It was an interesting language.  

         Trying to speak it was like trying to GARGLE water ... WHILE chewing gum ... but with a BOARD in your mouth!  I quickly found that my “White man” tongue was fastened at the WRONG END!

        The Yakama language I was taught is really a northwestern dialect of Sahaptin, a language of the Plateau Penutian kind, according to Heritage University.   When I was there learning it in 1999, they called it “Sahaptin,” but recently some native speakers decided to use a traditional Yakama name for this language, which is "Ichishkíin Sínwit.”  (And I thought the original name was HARD to say!)    

        Tribal Cultural Resources program now use that name (unpronounceable!) to supersede the word “Sahaptin.”   Apparently that means "stranger in the land.”   If anybody was a “stranger” it was the WHITE soldiers who conquered the tribes. 

Beautiful sunset on the Reservation
           The sounds of this American Native tongue were made in the BACK of the throat with the mouth barely open.  (Try to COUGH with your mouth SHUT!)  I think I hawked up a lung trying to get the hang of pronouncing the language.

           I remember trying to pronounce a word as I walked across campus one day at Heritage College where I studied.   The sounds that came from my lips did not even remotely sound HUMAN!  

         A friend, walking in the opposite direction toward me, heard what she thought was me struggling to clear my throat, and  asked if I needed a cough drop!  (I was just trying to say “robin” which sounds like “kwoosh kwoosh.”)

        Even with very few words in their vocabulary, the Yakama peoples’ language had an amazing number of extremely specific words:  the sound a horse’s hooves made while walking over loose shale, for example, had its own word.  There were several colors of wild rabbits, each of which had its own unique word.  

         If the Yakamas adopted an English word, they simply added “kin” to the end of it and readily used it.   For example, “TVkin!”

        Let me tell you, in my language class it was a whole OTHER world!

         When my teacher, Tribal Elder Virginia Beavert, was speaking, we had to remain TOTALLY silent.   It was considered very RUDE to raise your hand, whisper to another student, or ask a question of a Tribal Elder WHILE she was speaking.  If you broke the rule, you were instantly expelled from class. 

        We shut our big mouths and ALWAYS listened respectfully to her.   She would talk for about an hour, pausing to think in silence, then proceed when she wanted to.   After she had finished speaking, then her assistant, also a tribal member, would let us ask questions.   If HE didn’t think the question was a good one, you didn’t get an answer!

         She was treated like royalty and indeed she WAS.  Not only had she been a Tribal Elder and a Tribal Judge, but also SHE was the granddaughter of OWHI, or White Owl.   HE was one of the original signers of the Treaty of 1855.   She was HISTORY WALKING right before our eyes.  The 1/8 Cherokee blood in me practically worshipped her.  I wanted her to take me home!   

        We addressed her as “sapsiqashle” in Sahaptin - (“saahp-see-kwaash-lah”) or teacher.   I was among real Indians at Heritage College and I loved every minute of it. 

       She shared some of the strange aspects of Yakamas beliefs with us.

       Yakamas have a legendary character called “Spilyay” (pronounced “Speel-yay.”)    He’s a shape-shifter and a coyote.  Wicked trickster he is, and they always blamed mishaps on Spilyay.  

        I tried to do the same, but nobody was "buying it"...

       Also, the Yakamas kept their children well behaved by threatening them.  They told the kids that the “Discipliner” would come to beat them.  (I have forgotten the word for him in Sahaptin, but he was a BAD ASS dude.)   He would travel around among the communities and the tribe brought out any recalcitrant kids. 

        He scared the moccasins right off them but good!  Maybe he and ole shape shifter Spilyay were buddies.  We could use a few of him on our teens these days!

       My teacher casually told us she COULD TRAVEL OUT OF HER BODY!  She told us many times about “flying above my house and seeing my parents inside, eating, etc.”    She could tell people things that happened, about which ONLY they knew because she was NOT there physically, but in her out-of-body self.   Her mother was a “healer.”  

         Virginia said her mom always seemed to sense if she was spying on them, and she’d look up and shake her fist at her!

       She told us her mom could also see the future.  One time the family was at a POW WOW.  Virginia said that her mom was resting out of the heat in a small trailer they’d brought along.  Suddenly, on that clear-blue-sky-day, her mom rushed out of that trailer and shouted, “We must go, there’s a storm coming!”  So, they did!   Within 15 minutes, a HUGE micro burst of wind toppled the tents, flags and that trailer she had been in. 

          I really believed her.   Virginia Beavert was very convincing.  You had to be there. It was like being in the presence of royalty.
         The school I attended was started originally by Catholic nuns.  Classes had been initially conducted in the old Federal Indian Agency building just outside Toppenish to teach the children of the Yakama Nation.  It was brick and very old but updated before I arrived there.   

        By the time I went there, the campus had several buildings, a modern library, computer center and several portable classrooms and staff offices.  Today it is much larger.   New buildings replaced the old mobile home classrooms and it is Heritage University, now a part of the University of Washington campus system.   

        When I attended in 1996, white students were a minority and mostly Yakama tribe members and Hispanics attended that elite private college.  The Yakama tribal members who were students seemed quiet and well-behaved to me.  (Must be because of that “Discipliner Dude’!)  Some wore their hair in traditional style, worn long, down their backs.   

       Education was free to all enrolled tribe members.  The college sat in the heart of the reservation surrounded by hop fields and orchards.
Heritage University's modern library and computer lab on the reservation.
      There is a funny story about the early days of the Indian Agency that later became Heritage College: 

     Seems in the old days, the Indian agent, a white man, was trying to get to know the Yakamas.  So, every day he would go out and sit on the front steps of the Indian Agency and eat his sack lunch.  There was an old Yakama Indian who always sat on those steps, day after day.  

       He never spoke to the agent but only watched him eat his lunch.  Often the Indian Agent would try to strike up a conversation but to no avail.  The old Yakama man never said a word to him, so the agent assumed the man did not speak English.

      Every day without fail, the white agent would offer the Yakama a share of his lunch by extending out his hand with a sandwich.  Always the Indian would grunt and turn his head away, but then he would watch quietly as the white man began to eat his meal.  The agent would unwrap his sandwiches, eat them, then fold up and save the paper which he put back in his metal lunch pail.   

      Always watching, saying nothing, the old Yakama would just sit, looking around silently, but keeping his eye on the white agent.

     One day the agent had a terrible cold.   After eating his lunch, putting away his sandwich papers, he pulled out his handkerchief and blew his nose heartily on it.  Then, he folded his handkerchief and put it back in his pocket. 

        Without warning, the old Yakama jumped to his feet!   With a disgusted look on his lined face he exclaimed, “YOU WHITE MEN!  You save EVERYTHING!”   

      Then the old man stomped away.  And he never returned!

      The Yakamas were strange when it came to death, too. 
 When somebody died, they would burn sage brush fires, letting the smoke rise to the sky.  It was how they believed the spirit of the dead rose to the heavens to their God.  If any of the smoke happened to flow through a window or door, Yakamas believed the spirit would be trapped.  

        Since we had Yakamas working at the college it was not uncommon, even during a hot, breathless day, for one of them to rush to shut the doors and windows whenever they saw smoke.

       They told me that they had something else that happened often: burying their dead in already occupied graves! 

       Since the federal government broke up the reservation into many land plots, giving some of the best land to whites, and the others to Yakamas, there were a lot of white people buried in the reservation cemeteries.  Burials had to be in authorized cemeteries, even on the reservation. 

        Many poor Yakamas could not afford burial plots much less coffins.  They religiously believed their dead had to be in those cemeteries, though.

       So, in the night, family members would slip out to the local cemetery near them, and dig up the grave of a white person.   They would bury their dead on top of the coffin in the grave, then shovel the dirt back over it, carefully replacing any sod they had pried up.   
                Usually no one ever knew.
        One White man had to be disinterred for an autopsy, though.  They found TWO Indians buried on top of him!   The Yakamas I knew laughed, talking about how it was funny that whites didn’t know they were sharing their graves with one, probably two dead Yakamas!  They felt they got the "last laugh" on the whites.

That was poetic justice to me.

         When a Yakama died, the family had a “Giving Away” ceremony.   All friends of the deceased would come to the home, where family members made gifts to visitors of every single possession of the deceased person!  Not one item was left of the dearly departed at the end of the day.  

         However, exactly one year later, everybody who had received a possession of the deceased, returned it, on the “Giving Back Day.”   Yakamas talked about how often a nice TV was given away, but an older one was brought back.  They didn’t get mad.  It was just their way.  

        Also, if you were a Yakama, you were NOT allowed to speak the name of the dead person for a whole year, nor were you ever allowed to carry a photo of them.  After one year, you were then allowed to talk about them, speak their name and show photos of them to anyone.  (The really old Yakamas would not let you take their photos. They believed you would trap their spirit on the film.) 

       The Yakama Nation had their way of doing things and we respected them.  They were deeply spiritual, grateful people.

       On campus the Yakama students often had fund raisers for one thing or another.  They would hold a Fry Bread (or Indian Taco) sale.  They would make a simple flour and water dough right in front of you, stretch it out very thin to the size of a giant tortilla, then fry it in hot lard.  It became golden, bubbly and very crisp.  You could have them put shredded cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, salsa and sometimes a little cooked ground burger on top for only a dollar. 

             It was so delicious!  I sure miss those days.

Graduation day at Heritage University. Austin on left, middle son David on right, back in 2000.  I became a teacher myself!
My son Austin today at his own graduation, four generations down from my own Cherokee ancestors.
       Six years after I had started Heritage University, I graduated in 2000 with highest honors, as an Elementary Teacher with endorsements in Spanish, English as a Second Language and Bilingual Education.   I didn’t go to school full time all the way through, so it took me longer.   I worked part time jobs all the way through to support myself and my son Austin.   

         My son sure loved those Indian tacos.  Out of self defense, I learned to make them at home. 

       When I was half through college, the tribe built a huge Casino just down the road from the campus.  Like many tribes, they have learned to take advantage of white man’s greed for what seems easy money.

At the Reservation RV Park, there are tee pees that are for rent to camp in, placed on concrete bases with firepits.  Non-Indian tourists love these!
         Crowds flocked to the Legends Casino to enjoy gambling and the sensational restaurant and grill they had inside.  The Casino booked well-known music bands, great entertainment, and had bingo parties, too.  They built an RV park near it, where I’ve stayed in recent years.  Basically the Casino was open 24-7.  They employed ONLY tribe members, which brought many tribe families out of poverty within a year.  

          Pretty soon the tribe was raking in the money.
        FIRST thing they did was pay off the Casino financiers and build ANOTHER casino right next to it.  

        SECOND, they helped expand the Heritage University campus and increased tribal enrollment there. 

        THIRD, after tribe member graduation from college, they sent as many of them as they could on to LAW SCHOOL.   

        They may have lost “round one” in the Treaty of 1855, but they were not going to lose ANY in the future, not with THEIR own lawyers!

Very, very smart Indians, I’d say.

Sunset bronzes our RV on a Fall evening when we last visited the Nation's RV Park   Thanks to this website for many photos used here.