Friday, May 14, 2010

WW/ Young Winnemem Leaders

Will and I went to the village last week to interview and video the younger people and Dance Captain Rick Wilson. We assumed it would be difficult. Things seemed to be different when we arrived, however. The young men did not disappear as they usually do when they see Will with his equipment. They stayed around as they normally do. When I mentioned we wanted to film them, they said, "Ok."

Incredulous, I said, "Robbie too?" Yes, he was going to also.

We set up on the knoll, trying to get away from the generator's noise. When we had come back from New Zealand over four weeks before, the gang had driven home to find that PGE had turned off their electricity. RT had cooked a welcome home feast, luckily most of it done while there was still power, but the table was lit with lanterns. That's what happens when you use all resources for airline tickets including the electric bill payment for two months. Then PGE, in what seemed to be retaliatory (Winnemem are one of several suing them), levied costs above and beyond, which eventually the tribe had to take to the top and argue. Until the hefty bill is paid, it's lights out at the ranch. Only Mark's elderly father has power 24 hour through the generator, and his sister Karen is on power from 9 to 8. Everyone else makes do. Granny always said to go to bed when it's dark and get up when it was light. Right now, at the village, there's no other option.

So Will set up the chair, camera, screens and Jamie was the first to sit down. Will asked the questions as I held the mic'. Will asked Jamie to look at me when answering the question so he would be looking more directly at the lens. Jamie cooperated and Will began the long interview. I was so impressed. Jamie answered every question thoroughly and with such heart. He talked about how he felt as a dancer, how he felt about the Maori family. He talked about how he felt about the salmon. What he thought about as he touched them. Finally, I asked him what he brought back from that experience to tell the world. He said, "These are the changing times. And it requires that the human being does some changing." He talked about the importance of changing our habits, and to work for the earth. He said so much more and so much better than I am doing here. I couldn't help thinking where else do young people think and talk this way?

Robbie, who usually has nothing to say when the camera is rolling, although noticeably uncomfortable, put that aside and shared what he thought about to keep himself focused on the dance. Robbie said once he started after the first day not eating didn't bother him. Dancing all day didn't bother him. "I think about my family. I think about how Nathan (his youngest little brother) might be able to see the salmon back in the river. My dad and I never were able to. So I danced hard and thought about Nathan being able to see the salmon in our river." His Grandmother watching from behind the camera and I were shamelessly crying, tears streaming down our faces. Will remarked as we took a break, "I was wondering why Robbie was looking away from the camera." Helene, his grandmother, and I laughed. "Sorry," I sniffed into the tissue.

We had to find Babers who really really didn't want to do the interview.

We saw Rick, Dance Captain, going into the house. As I greeted him, he asked, "Have the boys been interviewed yet? I told Jamie if they did he could drive my pickup to the Stanford Pow Wow." AHA! So that's why!

When I shared that news with Will he said, "I was wondering why they changed their clothes and were standing waiting for me" and we laughed. I referred to Rick as Producer after that -- the guy who gets people there.

I walked up to Dan's trailer, preparing myself to coax Babers, who has a mind of her own. When I opened the door, before I could step in, out came Babers with her mother close behind saying "Yes you can. Remember when . . ." and while she listed off memories, Babers argued "but I did nothing! All I did was get sick. I didn't do anything."

So funny. I remember Babers organizing people at the airport, slinging the baggage onto the racks. I remember her making friends with New Zealand. And the salmon dance. Who could forget the beautiful dance done by the younger women.

Babers and her mother kept up their chorus all the way up the hill.

But when Babers was seated, and was asked the first question and began to speak, young as she is, shy as she is, all the knowledge was there. Babers hangs with her family a lot especially with her mother and her dad. She is a great comfort to her father, and her mother's closest confident. She knows the stories. She's listened hard to why things are done, what our purpose is.

Then Will asked her about going to the hatchery stream, releasing the little salmon into the water, Babers answered that it was sad. "Because it's like you got to see your family for the first time after many many years" then she stopped, swallowing hard. I felt so badly sitting their silently knowing that we could just as easily say something and stop what was just about to happen, stop the breaking of expression, the tears, but my job was to hold the mic' and not interfere. Will kept the camera going, as Babers' voice broke tearfully but she finished her thought,"It was like seeing them for the first time after a long time and then at the very same time, having to say goodbye."

When Will had finally asked Babers if she needed a break and offered her a tissue, her father who knows her well came up from where he was standing, saying exactly the right things which would make his daughter laugh out loud. As Will tried to talk about how much he appreciated her interview his voice broke. Babers made the videographer cry and that deserved another laugh from us all, all of us crying around and laughing.

I'll stop here to say that this is a tribe whose salmon stopped swimming their river in 1938. No one alive at the ranch have ever seen the salmon in their river. They haven't fished for them, done ceremony at the river for them. Most people would have "lost their taste for the salmon" as a tribal council person said to Caleen when she went to them to ask for support to go to New Zealand to bring the salmon back. "Our kids don't even like to touch them."

Yet these Winnemem youth, from birth praying for the salmon, the water, their Sacred Places, their way of life, going to ceremonies and praying around the Fire, growing up together around the Sacred Fire, following the Sacred, they have not lost the connection. Yes, being young and traditional, these youth are often overwhelmed by shyness, but when they have to speak, the words which come out express such a clear, pure and intimate relationship with all that their ancestors held dear and with such commitment and authority, they know how one is to live with the Sacred way of Life.

Tonight, at my computer, I googled "Winnemem Wintu" as I do when I feel a little homesick. I stumbled onto writings of people who are not around the tribe yet write as if they know the Winnemem, jealous resentful slanderous words. It saddened me just as the hateful, shallow stuff I hear on the nightly news saddens me. There is so much work which must be done with this gift of life we are given. Detours get in the way. But as Granny always said, name it and give it to the Creator. And then go on. So tonight (and it's 4 in the morning) I thought about Jamie, Robbie and Babers, and the future in their strong hands. I remembered Michael, speaking for his people at the Maori school without being prodded, grown into being a full adult, and how well-spoken he is, knowing exactly who he is and what he was put on earth to do as a Winnemem. He has grown into a spokesperson. He carries himself with great dignity. Michael's strength is the humbleness with which he stands before the Sacred and the power of his commitment to follow that way of life. I remembered James in the stream where the big salmon were coming back into the hatchery, with rubber waders on. He reached down to pick up a salmon for the first time ever,and stood up just like that, holding the big fish who really did not put up a fight. He did it as if he had done it every day of his life. I happened to be standing by Jill, his mother. "He's just like his Grandpa. I'm looking at him and it's like looking at my dad. He was a fisherman back then . . ." I could fill in the blanks in her silence, "when the salmon were still swimming in our river" and pressed her arm as she wiped away tears. This was a very emotional day for the tribe, and recounting it brings back all the emotion as if it is fresh.

I remember the heart with which these young men danced, stronger with each day they dance and fasted. I remember Arron who inexplicably dances just like his ancestors danced in the old days, who helps his Aunt Caleen with the root, smoking up the people, who always sits with the adults and listens deeply much more than he talks, who is not shy about talking to Olelbis, but is tongue tied with the public. (Now, Arron did not surprise us and disappeared as soon as we got there. He has a sixth sense for cameras.) I remember Jesse who danced with his heart on fire. I remember Ben, wearing the Headman's headgear on his behalf and coming into his own as a dancer, no longer tending the Fire. I remember Chris who flew in just for ceremony, the lone drummer for four days, drumming steadily with unwaivering strength by himself, blisters and all. I remember the young ones, the Firetenders, Jared and Nick, also fasting, who were responsible for the Fire burning four days and nights. And I remember the 60 year old dancer, David, for whom fasting is not that safe, fasting anyway for four days and dancing strong. I remember the Dance Captain, who is not comfortable with the title but is a natural born leader, inspirational, able to get people to do what they need to do. I remember ten year old Aroara who embraced every moment and all things. She never asked to go to stores or buy things. She never said she was bored but looked on everything as perfect. Everyone was a friend. All food was good. Nothing in nature was icky or too cold or too hot or too long. That's the way to present yourself to the world. As I remember each of these, it helps me tonight.

It's not so hard to push away any angry hateful words and do as Jamie says about his dancing. "We're supposed to focus." The Winnemem will focus on the salmon. Robbie thinks of how the fish moves, how the fish feels. As Caleen said at ceremony, the salmon will let us know what the rivers and oceans need for them to live, and by following them, we can turn the climate change around. We must focus. We must focus on the future generations not on old grudges. Just as Robbie says, the most important thing is that little Nathan gets to see the fish swim in their river. We must focus. As Babers said, we're doing this because if there's no more salmon, then there's no more of anything. No sidetracks. We can't afford to waste precious time. Listen to the young leaders. "Sawal mai mus bay les bom. Pi bohay Wintu tot. Waiken lewayges mis." Listen to the Sacred. Follow and everything will be as it should be.

1 comment:

  1. Misa - you've done it again!
    Where did you get the talent to paint word pictures like that.
    Even though I wasn't there for a fair bit of the week, I could feel for you all through your descriptions of the guys (and gals) and their words.
    I would love to see that video when Will finishes it.


"from Outside the Belly" was also known as "TBAsian" from 2008-2010. Thank you for reading.

from Outside the Monster's Belly

from Outside the Monster's Belly
. . . following Earth instead (Rakaia River, site of Salmon Ceremony, photo credit Ruth Koenig)


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Eugene, Oregon
I am a citizen of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. I am a Nikkei descendant sansei (third generation);retired teacher, involved in the Winnemem tribal responsibility to Water, Salmon, and our belief that the Sacred is our Teacher. Working locally for human rights and supporting youth leadership.