Photos by Ashley Ahearn
Sandra Warriors Pistol Bullet stands in front of an exhibit at the Methow Valley Interpretive Center that shows a teepee made of tule reeds, a culturally important plant to native peoples in the valley.

Program partners MV Interpretive Center with Colville Tribes

Visitors to the Methow Valley Interpretive Center this summer may have had the pleasure of meeting a new face. Sandra Warriors Pistol Bullet, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, completed an internship at the center and worked as a docent.

She is the first participant in a new partnership between the Colville Tribe and the Interpretive Center. Warriors Pistol Bullet also worked with Rob Crandall in the plant nursery housed at the center, Methow Natives.   

Warriors Pistol Bullet used to come to the Twisp Pow Wow as a kid with her great grandparents, Georgia and Steven Iukes. Warriors Pistol Bullet is descended from the Nez Perce, Okanogan and Wenatchee bands, which were incorporated into the Colville confederation. The Okanogan band was a sister band to the Methow band.

“It’s nice to make those connections again. It’s like a circle.” Warriors Pistol Bullet said.

During her internship, Warriors Pistol Bullet helped facilitate work on a documentary in production about the native peoples of the Methow Valley, conducting interviews and searching through archival photographs and documents.

“Sandra has also contributed by helping us with our Nature Camp, sitting in on board meetings and providing input as well as bringing a strong commitment to help her people by carrying important cultural knowledge with her,” said Carolyn Schmekel, who serves on the board of directors of the Interpretive Center and worked with Warriors Pistol Bullet on the documentary about native Methow peoples.

Warriors Pistol Bullet also has an interest in language revitalization. She speaks two dialects of the Interior Salish language — the Okanogan and Moses Columbia dialects. While at the Interpretive Center she made several recordings in Interior Salish to correspond with the exhibits, and worked with Rob Crandall to compile the Salish names for plants in the Methow Valley.

“I’m fond of all of our foods and medicines because they give in their own way,” Warriors Pistol Bullet said. “This has been a transformative and interdisciplinary experience — ecological restoration with Rob and my own expertise in language revitalization and cultural knowledge.”

Traditional materials

Warriors Pistol Bullet was particularly fond of one display in the Interpretive Center which includes models of a teepee and a lodge made of tule, or bulrushes. The reeds were traditionally used to make sleeping mats and dwellings.

“When you see the tule plant it looks like a skinny reed,” she said. “It still blows my mind that my ancestors saw that and said ‘I’m gonna make a house out of that.’ It’s amazing.”

During her time at the center, Warriors Pistol Bullet has also been experimenting with Indian hemp or dogbane, as it’s also known. It’s a fibrous plant that native peoples used to weave into rope. She says that for many young Native people there is a disconnect with historic, cultural knowledge.

“I’ve been trying to figure out how to process it on my own and it’s been a struggle connecting with things that I wasn’t taught,” Warriors Pistol Bullet said. “You think it’s simple — this is knowledge that’s thousands of years old. But it wasn’t perfected in one attempt. It’s humbling.”

Rob Crandall said the internship is an important step for the Interpretive Center and the community.

“The goal was to establish a connection with the Colville Tribe and provide a place for Native folks and Native voices,” Crandall said. “Having a Colville tribal member here was wonderful.”

The center hopes to continue the internship in the years to come, hopefully recruiting a member of the Methow tribe for next year. Sandra Warriors Pistol Bullet plans to continue her education with a focus on language revitalization and grant writing, and she will come back to the Interpretive Center during school breaks to continue working on projects there.

Warriors Pistol Bullet gave a presentation to Colville tribal leadership and produced a short video about her internship. An event is planned for early October that will bring tribal representatives from the higher education department, archaeology, botany and tribal elders for a visit to the Interpretive Center.

“There’s a past here and now we’re trying to work on finding a good way forward,” Warriors Pistol Bullet said. “And it does involve acknowledging traditional lands of Methow People and their history and relationship with this place.”

Sandra Warriors Pistol Bullet experimented with weaving Indian hemp, or dogbane, into rope during her internship at the Interpretive Center this summer.