Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wednesday Western- Tamkaliks Celebration

Boys and men in the opening parade of costumes
This past Saturday I made the trek back to the county where I grew up and joined in the celebration of the past, present, and future of the Wallowa Band of Nez Perce  in Northeast Oregon.

The Wallowa Band is the band I write about in my Spirit Trilogy. The one that at the time of my youth growing up in the county the only presence I knew of the tribe was the statue at the head of Wallowa lake and when the Nez Perce would show up for the Chief Joseph Days rodeo.

These peaceful Indians had worked hard at remaining friends with the whiteman. They did everything they could to stay in their beloved Wallowa Valley. The treaty of 1855 included the valley in the reservation. Old Joseph, who converted to Christianity in 1839 and was given the name Joesph, signed this treaty, and his band lived in the county peacefully until gold was discovered in the boundaries in 1861.

The new treat of 1863 excluded the valley and Joseph refused to sign or move his people. He died a year before the whiteman began settling in the valley. His oldest son, Young Joseph took over as chief of the band. He tried to keep peace with the intruders and not have his people forcefully removed from their homes.

By 1877, the government sent General Oliver Howard to ask Joseph to move his people to the reservation or be forcefully removed. Even though the path to the reservation was treacherous, for they had to cross the
Snake River when it was swollen with spring run off, he started his 400 members, 60 of which were warriors toward the reservation. Angry young warriors on a raid killed several whitemen and trying to avoid a war, Joseph and several other chiefs of the non-treaty bands decided to try to flee.

This 1,400 mile chase not only took the lives of many Nez Perce it also made the government mad. When the army finally caught up to and captured the starving and tired Nez Perce they sent them to reservations thousands of miles away from their home. They weren't allowed to return to the Northwest for 8 years. When they were finally returned, Joseph was sent to the Coleville Reservation in Washington. He petitioned until his death to have his people returned to the Wallowa Valley.

The Tamkaliks Celebration is the return of the Wallowa Band to the valley. They celebration is held on land they own near Wallowa. It is slowly being made into an interpretive center where visitors and the locals can learn about the people who first inhabited the fertile valley raising fast, sure-footed appaloosas and living off the land.

Part of the riders
The celebration opened with the entrance of the riders who rode their horses from Umatilla to Wallowa for the event. They rode around the round house and then dismounted. One man led a horse. This symbolized a tribal member who died this past year. After a prayer to the horses the riders entered the round house and more prayers and thanks were given. I enjoyed the mixture of Christian prayer with prayers said in Nez Perce.

There was a flag ceremony with the American, Canadian, and military flags and feather staffs carried in with the dancers in full costumes following behind.

Flag ceremony
After the flag ceremony we were all asked to come down and join in the Friendship dance. I joined in along with another writer I met at the event. The friend ship dance was just stepping to the beat of the drum and moving sideways in a large circle. Then the elders peeled off the circle and walked in the opposite direction, shaking hands.

Young women during the flag ceremony
There was  break as the worked on the parachute covering. The strong winds the night before had ripped it in several spots. This gave me a chance to check out the vendors and visit. The craftsmanship of the items for sale surpassed anything you see in stores that proclaim they are selling "Indian" jewelry. I enjoyed a visit with a husband and wife. She was Cherokee and he was Choctaw. They invited me to their powwow in September in Idaho. I'd love to go but doubt I can fit it into my schedule.

The afternoon was filled with dancing and dance competitions. The beat of the drums felt like the heart beat of the earth as the dancers moved to the beat and language of their ancestors.

Unfortunately the heat, and I believe the meal I had the night before, took a toll on me and I didn't stick around for the adult contests, though I saw some wonderful costumes and individuals I would have liked to see dance. I had a two hour drive back to my daughter's and left to make sure I made it back.
This was a group dance, all ages

I was invited to come back next year and I've already marked it on my calendar.

If you haven't been to a powwow, I highly recommend you go. It will fill you with a new gratitude for life, nature, and people.


Kelley Harrell said...

Thank you for sharing this!

Diana Mcc. said...

Thanks for sharing! I would love to go. Please send out a reminder when it comes up again. Your pictures are great. How wonderful you were able to attend. Hearing about the tribes history is really interesting. What a struggle they had.

Vonnie Davis said...

What a great post. Loved hearing more of their history. We whites have little to be proud of in our treatment and extermination of Natives.

My first powwow was an emotional one for me. I got to see my 14-month-old grandson carried into the dance circle by his Miq-Maq grandmother, his pasty-white German chubby cheeks turning pink in the bright son. I'm happy he's growing up learning about both of his cultures and heritages. He's a better teenager for it, I think.

Jacki C. said...

Great post. I have very fond memories of spending time on the Colville (not Coleville) Reservation. My family is/was San Poil and we never signed any treaties - I guess that explains why I am so stubborn. :)


Meg said...

Fascinating, Paty!! How wonderful to return every year, and own the land again. I'm forwarding your blog link to a friend who loves reading about the Nez Perce. :-) Thanks for sharing.

Paty Jager said...

Kelley, You're welcome.

Diana, I'll add the dates to my blog and try to remind you when it comes around again. They and many other tribes did indeed struggle to remain off the reservations.

Vonnie, there were several smaller children and some adults in full regalia who had blond or light brown hair. So I figured they had some NA in their genetics. I agree, They had a ceremony for a 13 year old who had his first kill and the respect he showed the elders as they went through the ceremony was refreshing.

Jacki, sorry for the misspelling. My uncle lived in Coleville, CA and that was a brain/finger burp adding the e. I need to look up the San Poil you sound like another interesting and amazing group to learn about.

Paty Jager said...

Meg, Thanks for stopping in and passing the info along.

Jacquie Rogers said...

The last pow wow I went to was in Idaho north of Boise, and it was 103 degrees, no shade, no breeze, not one blade of grass anywhere. Still, the people were there, the ceremony went on, and they danced all afternoon and into the night. I'm astounded they didn't get heatstroke. Many of the whites, including me, ended up with really bad sunburns. But with all that, it was such an interesting celebration--mourning for those who left in the past year, pride in a returning soldier, joy for new babies. The whole day was very emotional, one way or another.

Paty Jager said...

Jacquie, It was warm on Saturday but not near 100! Was it the Caldwell powwow? I was invited to it by a husband and wife who were from the area. I noticed when the young children were dancing they had breaks between songs and the parents would bring water out for them to drink. I found the ceremonies moving.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Paty, sounds like a wonderful experience (except the heat and tummy trouble) and I'm so happy you were ablt to attend. Especially nice since these are the people in some of your books. Thanks for sharing.

Paty Jager said...

Hi Caroline, It was fun and I plan to attend many more.

Cindy said...

I really enjoyed this...I hope I get to go to a powwow someday.

Paty Jager said...

Cindy, It was a wonderful experience. I hope you can attend one as well.