By Joanna Bastian
Recently, on the TwispWorks campus, the History/Archaeology Program of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation held its Honoring Our Elders Celebration Dinner. The yearly event recognizes the invaluable contributions made by elders, traditional practitioners, and informants who assist in recording the history of the Colville Tribes.
Willie Womer, Culture Committee chairman of the Colville Business Council, kicked off the event by relaying a message from his mother, Kathy Womer. She regretted not being there as she had “too many arrow tips in the fire,” and sent her son Willie in her place.
Willie read his mother’s story, written from the perspective of someone standing on the crest of a hill who was overlooking the reed and bark homes in the Methow Valley below. The people gathered berries, fished from the streams and hunted deer to sustain them through winter. One day, people with “hair of sunshine and eyes of sky” came to the valley with “logs of thunder.” One group fled north, the other to the east. Her short story speaks of a utopian life in the Methow Valley, and the fear and grief of loss when they were driven out.
Mary Iglesia of the Methow Valley Interpretive Center (MVIC) and the Methow Field Institute thanked the elders for hosting the event as “representatives of the First People of the valley.” She expressed gratitude on behalf of the MVIC for “collaboration and inspiration” that the elders provide in the MVIC exhibits and community events.
Guy Moura, program manager of the History/Archaeology Program and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, spoke about collaborative efforts with different federal agencies to protect the environment, document archaeological sites, and preserve the history of Methow traditional territory. The department played a big role in halting mining interests that recently threatened the headwaters of the Methow River. The History/Archaeology Program works to represent tribal interests by documenting the history of the Methow people with names, places and stories. The knowledge that the elders share establishes sovereign rights in traditional lands and preserves historical the record.
Following Guy, the Citizens Drum Group performed the “Honor Song.”
Methow descendent Terry Charley led the prayer before and after the meal. As he began, Terry shared stories from his father. “My father wanted to come home to the Methow, and cried because he could not be here. My father would speak for hours a day, sharing stories of our people,” he said.
One story spoke of the gift of continuity elders provide. Terry encouraged people to continue to share their stories to keep their knowledge alive in others. As the prayers were offered in song, all the elders chimed in — a simultaneous melody.
Dinner was catered by Roxanne Campbell-Rose. A mouthwatering spread of perfectly baked salmon, roasted turkey, stew with root vegetables and meatloaf greeted diners. The entrees were followed by a dozen different salads, fry bread, rolls and countless fruit pies. Elders received honoraria for their help with the History/Archeology Program of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.