We couldn't go up to our ceremonial grounds in Dekkas. The rains had turned the road into slick mud that only a tractor could get us up to the grounds -- and the tractor tracks would ruin the road. When we sat around the Prayer Fire that rainy night, the Chief had told us we were going to support the Spiritual Encampment to bring attention to what damage development would bring to Glen Cove near Vallejo if the city went forward with their plan to spend federal monies on a park there. The city was in the process of securing support from three other tribes whose new city councils were willing to reverse their former leaders' position to protect the cove. It was only ten years before that all the tribes had convinced the city to agree that the cove, the shell mounds, all the evidence that that area was Home for tribes for generations before contact, was an important historical place. Condos were built around the area -- a pricey sight to look out onto the cove. Perhaps it bothered the city politicans to still see tha anise blooming, the willow just because of a ten year old agreement made with tribes. Perhaps the original grass did not go with the palms imported and planted there, the eucalyptus trees. It didn't go with the theme, perhaps. And it may have seemed to be a good idea, a rolling lawn out to the bay, designed by putting people to work with new jobs provided by federal funds digging out what grew there as medicines and food, replacing it with something else that needed pesticides to be lush, pesticides which would wash into the bay -- a bay which is the estuary for the very Chinook runs the Winnemem are trying to bring home from New Zealand. This estuary is where our Chinook would grow until they were ready for life in the salt waters of the Ocean, and strong enough to make that journey. This estuary is also where the salmon would return to acclimate to the sweet waters of the river for their long and arduous journey back over the falls, back to their spawning grounds to complete their cycle, spawning, then dying, then feeding and nourishing all that lived and grew in and out of the waters.
The Chief watched the rain for the next two days. She had told the Glen Cove people we would be there but the outfits could not be worn if it were raining. It was touch and go. Sunday morning, the leaden sky didn't really give us clues but at least it wasn't raining. "We're going!" she announced when I went up to her trailer to check. She was plaiting her long hair into braids.
"We're ready!" I replied and headed down to give Will the go sign. By then other plans had been made by many. Some had to return to work. The small respite in the weather was not promising, but by faith, a small group piled into a small van, followed by a couple of cars and we headed off on a four hour trip to the bay.
This video will show you how small our group was, but it was enough. The Chief was there and the next Chief was there. The Sacred Fire was there placed by the few dancers who did come. Several singers were there. We had a fire to pray at. We could sing our songs that the waters there and the fish, the trees could hear and know that there were still people who knew their way of life. And there were still leaders who were connected to the ancestral ways and knew the way of these trees, the water, the old rocks and were still teaching the old ways, who could still speak for the salmon at such an important place for them. There was still a doctor there to help out the leaders of the encampment, and take the difficulties and chaos off their weary shoulders.
I thought you'd like to hear what our Chief said and how important the message she brought there was to the committed tribal people who were going into the 50th day at the encampment. Those words gave great support, to understand that not only were they standing for old agreements manipulated by politicians, both municipal and tribal, not only were they standing for the protection of a valuable historical site, but they also were standing against a crisis of global significance right now, this very moment, the preservation of Life on this Earth, represented at this stage by whether or not salmon will survive -- salmon, the climate changers, salmon who cleans and purifies the water, salmon who knows the rivers and the oceans, salmon who, even in death nourishes all that lives in the water and out.
This is a spiritual cause. I remember Emerson, the elder and Granny's translator, saying to me that the human being's purpose was to "support Life, help Life." I remember Granny saying the world was about 97 percent evil. She had it down to a percentage. Putting the two together I thought to myself it is probable that only about 3 percent of us are engaged in life supporting, life helping work. The small group of Glen Cove protectors, the small group of Winnemem gives me hope of what 3% can do against such odds, if we all did it.
The Chief answered the question WHY do this -- Why do we even show up when 97% are bent on destroying Life. Why do we do anything? She answered that omnipresent question when she said that we must teach the young ones that although it is not in the books they read, they must learn from the water, the ancient rocks and the trees to protect the earth. We do this because "it can't ever end."
No matter how small a group becomes, no matter how huge the challenge, even if the world as Granny described it became 99.999 percent destructive, Nature and the few human beings who still hold to their spiritual responsibility can make the difference for Nature. That is what is most important that Nature sees and the Great Olelbis knows and the ancestors have people who are with them -- that we still stand, sing, pray, learn and support Life. We must still be counted like all the rest of Nature does automatically, no matter how bad it gets. Otherwise, as Granny says, the human being becomes a big zero.
So today, I am thinking of all the good people going into their 100th day of the spiritual encampment at Glen Cove very soon, I am thinking of the Winnemem, especially our Chief who will always follow Nature and leads her people to do so -- and I am particularly thinking of the Salmon. Sawal mai u mu's baales bom! Sacred is the teacher. That is the way it will be forever.
I'm thinking of Granny again today, Granny and Caleen. I met Granny 23 years ago at her ceremony at Mt. Shasta. My Kickapoo doctor and friend took my newly adopted daughter and me there to get help. My daughter had just taught my husband and me humility to last for our whole lifetime -- to know we could not do this parenting thing or anything else, for that matter, without a lot of help from Great Olelbis and that is what we came to Florence Jones for, drowning people needing help to make a family.
Granny's helper, Emerson Miles, smoked me up with the root, and smoked a pipe as Florence helped me. I remember midway, her words to me, "I am your mother." I felt shock but only paused for a second before I pushed away any doubt -- that I already have a mom -- and without thinking took a deep breath in as if breathing in her words and accepted it with all my heart saying "thank you" under my breath. I believe that made all the difference in the world because from that moment, that is how I treated her and within a year, Granny began to mother me. Invited by her to come anytime we wanted, I took Maki and later Maki and our foster daughter Margaret to visit the little ranch and three elders at least once a month and for a month of each summer vacation. Granny taught me everything she thought I would need to live a good life. She took care of me curing me of small maladies to life threatening disease, and she took care of my family. She scolded me, she showed me how to do lots of things, she shared her stories and remembrances, her lessons of life, she loved me. We spent hours sitting side by side, shoulders touching or I would drive her on her joyrides, reaching for her hand and we would sit like that comfortable. I did whatever she asked me to do and for her part, she was always there for me.
In her 90's, as she began to do less, sometimes she would talk to me about what to do after she died. She prepared me by telling me she would always be with me, and even told me where she would be when we went up on Mt. Shasta to go to the Spring. She instructed me how to pray and she would be there for me. She knew, I would need these reassurances after she died, I believe. She knew how devastated losing her on the earthly plane would mean. I literally felt the loss physically. I felt like a piece of me had been ripped off, and I felt raw and bleeding along my right shoulder and arm. My fingers would feel listless with no shoulders or neck to rub anymore. No more backrubs. My fingers would twitch and bring back that memory and the emptiness would be so intense. I felt like half of me was gone. And for awhile, her instructions were all I had to feel some comfort. "Think of me and Bohem Pyuk and I will be there."
It was at War Dance that things changed dramatically. As our Chief, her successor, Caleen Sisk Franco stepped up to the challenge and brought back War Dance which we took to Shasta Lake Dam, when the new Chief literally walked out into the unknown and followed Granny's instruction, "step out and help will be there" I began to feel Grandma without following the aides she left behind for me. Granny is right there with Caleen! It is very comforting that the line of leadership works out that way. No one does things individually and alone, even the Chief.
Since War Dance, I only had to focus, and I can feel her there with me. Or should I say, I can feel me WITH HER. I know I would feel her absence strongly if I strayed from the path of "right is right and wrong is nobody." It is like an automatic navigational device. I know I won't stray. When you are mothered by someone, especially someone like Granny, for 23 years, your heart changes. My heart changed by becoming whole. What Granny added to my heart, molded into my heart was a way of life she followed all her life. I am rooted, no longer a fluff going here and there wherever the winds of change will take me. I feel steady. I am assured as long as I follow the way of life given to me by her.
Everybody goes through a time of confusion sometimes. Things go well, and then circumstances happen and one could get derailed. That is when I realize Granny's influence and how embedded it is in my heart. I walk with confidence right behind Granny and Caleen and know without a doubt that she is with Caleen. They are together. What a gift for the descendants that we still have a Chief in these troubled time who is so connected, who is right there with Granny's spirit and the Winnemem ancestors. The Winnemem way still goes on another generation through this Chief. I know because I see it with my spirit's sight. I know it because where she leads us opens door for the salmon. I know it because although life is hard, we are still free and we are still doing our sacred responsibilities for the Earth, Water and Nur.
Sometimes I feel as if I can walk into Granny's bedroom and sit down beside her to have those long conversations like the old days. It's comforting. The other day, I felt like that. My mind meandered to this room in which there is Granny and sitting in a chair there is Caleen by herself, right with Granny. They wait calmly in the room for the rest of us to gather there. We all are out someplace else doing this or that. I thought to myself, I hope in those times that Will and I, as long as we live, will be in the room sitting with the calm of knowing we are where we're supposed to be and when enough people come in and sit and when we are ready to stand together, whether it is a few or many, we will be enough. Of that I am sure.
All this is to say, the Winnemem tribe may be small but they still have their old way to take them through modern chaos. The Head Man is a good and strong man. The family has love for one another. Other tribal members who don't live at the ranch are dedicated. This is what I see in each of us and pray for, that we are all of that because the Earth, the Salmon, the Water, Life itself needs goodness, strength, love and dedication from the human beings. So today, I am thinking of you Granny and our Chief who stays with you through thick and thin and say thank you for the mothering and this way of life. You said it's a hard life but the best life. You said that your sacred land is the Univeristy of Life. And I have found it all to be TRUE.
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.