The traditional American Indian people believe that to have your
picture taken is to have your soul and spirit captured. Many of
these beliefs were based around the old stories of witches (Windigos)
or soul stealer's. It was believed that there were those who could
capture your spirit with some article of clothing, hair, nail
clippings, or personal medicine effects. After growing up in
this traditional way and seeing many things for which there is
really no answer in the logical world, I hold mixed feelings.
I know that magic is in the eyes of the beholder and that we are
part mind and thought and part physical and emotions. To
separate the two is not my main goal in life only to understand and
put some perspective on it for my own reasoning.
a child we were not exposed to the outside ridicule of the media.
What went on in the Inipi, or healing lodges, was kept there and not
taken out into the media in the form of books and word of mouth. It
was respected and guarded as it was the way of healing. This was all
we had in the form medicine or doctors. I for one was never taken
to a doctor my parents did not have medical insurance or hospitals
at our disposal.
My first visit to a doctor was when I was about
18 years. Other than that we managed to dodge the reservation
clinics and the experimental medical care that was given. My brief
encounters in boarding school were just that; "brief", as we were
given minimal care. Even with the TB we were never medicated. Many
died and some still bear the scars of it today in weak lungs and
My Grandmother was our doctor and she knew the herbs and the ways of
her people. We were lined up, like ducks in a row for her
inspection. She and my mother, dealt out the herbs as she felt
needed for our health. Each spring we were given a horrible
concoction of herbs that cleansed our bodies.
For all other healing we were treated at home or
taken to a traditional healer. It seems we never really got sick
like others did. We ate simple food and did not have the "balanced
diets" of today.
As a child I knew the pain of hunger and often
went to bed with stomach cramps from hunger. We did not complain,
it was a common thing in our lives.
Mother did the best she could with what we had, she was a survivor
and hunted and fished to fill the needs. There was always a garden
if she had the space to grow one. Many houses we lived in were
really bad and she still managed to make a home for us. I can
remember hammering coffee can lids over rat holes and sleeping with
the legs of the beds in kerosene filled cans to keep the bug off the
bedding. This was mostly in Reservation housing.
We moved a lot so there was not a lot of material
things we collected, that was a plus. What we did collect we just
left behind if we did not need it when we moved. Our lives
were limited to family or tribal gatherings so we were not exposed
to the outside world, and the belief system that supported them.
Religion was not practiced in our house although my parents were not
ignorant to the Bible they had both been taught by the
missionaries. Right and Wrong had there own place of thought in our
house. Respect of the elders and parents was taught.
Respect for the land and all that liven on it was one of the things
my Father instilled in us. All other teachings were in the hands of
our Mother and Grandmother. Some where along the way we grew
up and became adults. As adults we were taken into the family adult
circle; counseled and guided as part of the hoop.
The concept of what is "Indian" and what is not was and still is
mostly written by non Indians. Some Native American or Indigenous
people of this land, have added to the confusion because they did
not grow up knowing the ways. In fact history is mostly a
outsiders view of what happened and who we are. I find that when I
am in the outside world I flow into the chatter and noise of mental
stimulation. My Father was quiet and did not say much he mostly
spoke in a few word well thought out before he spoke them.
Idle conversation was not heard in our house.
It was a peaceful place to retreat to when the outside world made
you a little crazy.
Even in the silence there was communication we did not need words.
This is a little of what I remember as a child growing up in my
I feel these things are important as we are losing a lot of the
history of our people. During the years between 1930 and today, so
much has been spoken, and written about the American Indians that
one does not know what to believe.
I can remember when the American Indians did still live in wicciups
or hogans and tipis. In the early 1950's the Paiutes, Washoe, and
Utes in Nevada lived in round huts of bent and tied into a round
beaver like hut. They were then covered with Tulle mats woven to
keep out the rain and cold.
These shelters were efficient and warm even in
the winter time. Woven like a huge basket from willow they were
not only warm but very roomy inside. Sometimes there were several
huts together much like a string of beaver lodges.
There was an opening on both ends of the chain of lodges. The
willow frames were built over a hole that was dug into the earth
about three feet deep. I had many a winters visits with my friends
in these homes and spent some of my summers with the basket weavers
of the Washoe people.
My job was to gather the tulle's that grow in the lakes around
Washoe Lake. I waded out in the muck and gathered them from the lake
for the Grandmothers to weave into baskets. The tallies are a kind
of papyrus type reed with a very porous center. The Paiute, Washoe,
and Utes made the tulle's into reed blinds to hide in when hunting
birds. We also wove then into large hats to hide under so we could
slip up on the ducks in the lake.
The light tulle's were gathered and tied in long bundles to use as
boats for fishing. These reed boats will support a person and are
light to carry and paddle.
One famous Washoe basket weaver was Dot Su Lallie,
her baskets are still seen in such museums as Smithsonian and the
Harvard Museum. These baskets are in excellent condition after all
L. Cota Nupah Makah - Waynonaha
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