Manataka® American Indian Council
GRANDMOTHER L. COTA NUPAH MAKAH SPEAKS
The Standing Nation (Trees) and the Giveaway Bird (Turkey)
by L. Cota Nupah Makah
My daily walks take me along the river where there are still small areas of ice clinging to the cold rocks. Snow patches hide here and there in the awakening plants and trees. Soon the salmon and trout must make the journey up the small streams to spawn. But the main rivers run high and wild with the constant rain, making it impossible for this to happen.
All of my children have a tree
that holds the spirit of life for them. Our tradition speaks of such
things. When a child is born, we placed the
My oldest daughter was born in
Nevada and my husband and I placed her tiny placenta and cord under a
big white pine tree near Lake Tahoe. This assures us that we will
never get lost on this Earth and can always find our way back to our
birth place. From this place we pick a small
connection to the Standing Nation, or Trees, is one we honor and are
aware of from birth to death. The trees give us shelter, wood for
warmth, food for hunger, and beauty for our spirits. Many birds and
animals shelter and feed from the trees. The Standing Nation records
the passing of time in their rings of life. From those rings we can
look back on hundreds of years and understand the way things were here
on this land during those times.
The trees are a great part of
our religion and healing medicine. We choose the tree as the center
of our most sacred ceremony. It represents out past, future, and
present. We honor the tree in our Sun Dance and show respect for all
living things that take nourishment from the sacred tree. This tree is
the center of our belief and holds all the wisdom that was given to the
In the old days, when a person
passed into spirit, someone placed their body on a scaffold made of
trees and left them there for the elements to return their bodies to
the Earth Mother. Some burned the body and carried the bones to a
sacred burial ground. We call these people the bone
I look out from under the low
thick branches and watch two wild turkeys walking toward the water to
drink. Their feathers shine copper in the light and they are totally
unaware of me, under the tree, watching.
people called the turkey the Giveaway Bird who offered its body for our
people to eat so we could survive. Turkey is part of the Eagle family
and we, as the original people of the Earth, respect them by wearing
their feathers in ceremony.
As the turkeys step silently
through the old leaves and branches, the image of men dancing long ago
with turkey bustles tied round their waists appears out of the
shadows. I watch as these dancers drift in and out of the trees,
imitating the turkey that one wore the feathers they now
More rain and mist erases the
shadows and I finally pick up my blanket and walk back to my home.
There, in the middle of the path, lays a perfect turkey feather. I
stoop down and offer one of my own hairs and ask the feather if
it wants me to bring it home. I leave my hair offering
Pilamaya for the dance,
Grandfather; pilamaya for the day, Grandmother.
Wopila to my people for the
gift of memory and honoring.
Someday, before the trees
gather too many more rings, we will once again dance the peace back
into the Earth Mother.
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