Manataka® American Indian Council


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The Standing  Nation (Trees) and the Giveaway Bird (Turkey)

by L. Cota Nupah Makah

Last night I lay awake listening  to the world of the night.  Frogs  singing, night birds calling, and the sounds we cannot hear in the daytime ever-present in the wind.  This  morning I woke up to a gray, overcast, rainy day.  The  rain falls constantly now in the spring months, damping the thirsty ground that quickly drinks up the moisture.  

Winter has been slow to leave the  North Country, challenging the trees and plants that struggle up from the rich  soil.  My hands ache to put seeds in the soil and watch them grow.  My  feet need to be walking on the earth with nothing between me and my source of  life.  The garden spot sits  untilled, waiting for the dampness to sink deeper into the still frozen land.  I listen to the song of the frogs  and they say, “Just a little longer to wait, then all can be done.” 

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.

There has been flooding along some of the lowlands this year from the heavy snow fall.  

Near the river runs a path that  we have been using for many years.  My children, now all grown, walked this  path to warm summer days filled with swimming and fishing along the banks of the  River.  The ancient pines line the  path, offering shelter under their low branches.  Many times I
have slipped under these  same branches and spent hours dreaming and remembering.  These times away from the children and  the house were my time of gathering the past and making my visions prayers for  the future.

Here under my favorite tree I  heap up the damp pine needles and place my blanket over them.  Curling up in my old winter jacket I sit  and wait for the animals to come and drink.  As I sit with my back hard against the  old pine, a feeling of peace and love enters my body.  It was here, under this old tree many  years ago, that I planted my son’s umbilical cord and placenta from my  body.  It is in this tree, the Standing  Nation one, that he still lives with his  spirit strong and standing as tall as  the tree itself.

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 
placenta and umbilical cord under a strong tree.  My mother placed mine under a large pine  tree when I was born as she did all of the others.

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
stone, smooth and easy to carry.  That stone, along with the little bit of umbilical cord that remains on the baby but drops off in time, is placed in a
small pouch.  This pouch will  someday be given to the child as they enter their adult life.

I still carry my cord and Whoti stone from my birthplace and wonder if my tree is still living and strong.  I think, if it were not, I would know from my
inner being. 

Our 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 people.

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
carriers.  There were many ways that  the trees were honored in life and death by the people.

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.

Our 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
and pick up the feather to lay on my altar, in remembrance of this day. 


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. 

Mitakuye Oyasin 

Copyright © 2009 by by L. Cota Nupah Makah

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