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Inuit > Colville

ONE WHEEL - MANY SPOKES. Excerpt
Colville Indian Reservation:

Fifteen miles later we're nearing Coulee Dam, a huge sight, even from miles away. When I finally arrive, Anne and Amy are playing with the kids in a park. Robert arrived long before to explore the dam. We've done thirty miles and its only 10:30. I suggest to Anne that I try to write on the computer for a couple of hours. The bakery and espresso shop looks a likely place for a seat and an electrical outlet, but they have neither. Up the street Anne asks at the Colville Indian Reservation Museum and Gift Shop.

"You can write in here," Anne comes out and tells me.

A short Native man named Tim welcomes me to the center and sets me up at the artisan table. On my left side are beads in a basket. A mitre saw is in front of me, and deerskin sewing scraps are stacked by the wall. A poster with pictures and an explanation reads, "Who are the Colville Indians?" 

WE ARE THE CONFEDERATED TRIBES OF THE COLVILLE RESERVATION. WE ARE THE BIGGEST AND MOST ADVANCED TRIBE IN THE NORTHWEST. WE HAVE ELEVEN DIFFERENT BANDS AND TEN BANDS ORIGINATE FROM EASTERN WASHINGTON STATE AND ONE BAND OF THE NEZ PERCE IS ORIGINALLY FROM NORTHEAST OREGON. THE ELEVEN BANDS ARE WENATCHI, ENTIAT, CHELAN, METHOW, OKANOGAN, NESPELEM, SAN POIL, LAKES, MOSES, PALOUSE AND THE NEZ PERCE.
I knew none of this history before our arrival here. I didn't know that the Reservation is named after an Army officer. I didn't know that Chief Joseph is buried here.

Tim comes over after I get started writing. Two tight braids of black hair fall over the front of his shoulders. He is quiet, but his words surprise me.

"All yesterday I was expecting someone to come here. When my boss came and told me to go home, I told her I was going to stay a little longer. This morning at four I woke up with the same feeling. I told myself, ‘Whatever will be will be.' When your wife came in with her shirt (he pointed on his own chest to the place where have our One Wheel – Many Spokes emblem), I knew that I was waiting for you."

Now that is an extraordinary welcome. Since we're on this journey, he shares a lesson he learned from his grandmother: "Take life day by day, minute by minute. You never know what's coming next. A day can be long enough. And when someone asks you for something, share with them."

Tim asks us for some posters and business cards. "We have lots of people come through here. I will tell them what you are doing."

I write for over two hours, and then it is time to pack up the computer, thank Tim for hosting us, and get back on the road to Wilbur.

"Here," he says, taking a small piece of root out from a packet of folded red felt. "This is the soul of Mother Earth." 

 "Once a year we go out and collect this. It's not a rare tree, but it's from the center of the tree."  He takes a deerskin pouch on a beaded necklace, places the root inside, then places the necklace around my neck.

 "This is the soul of Mother Earth," Tim says again. "And you are riding over Mother Earth this summer. When you get to the other water's edge, kneel down and say the prayers you have been praying all during your ride."

I leave saying more words of thanks, all of them inadequate. Back on the unicycle, I want only to pedal quietly and let this unexpected blessing settle in.

The climb out of Coulee Dam on Highway 174 is ten miles long and steep. The temperature this afternoon is in the fifties. The sky is clear.  While riding across the Colville Reservation. I've learned a whole new piece of history.
Things I Didn't Know

  • March 2, 1853: Washington Territory is established. Governor Stevens recommends "reservations" for the Indians.
  • 1854: Stevens ordered treaties negotiated to "extinguish Indian claims to the lands," and create reservations: "so as not to interfere with the settlement of the country."
  • April 9, 1872: Colville Reservation is established.
  • July 2, 1872:  Without consulting any tribes, Presidential Executive Order moves Colville Reservation to its present location, shrinking its size to 2.8 million acres.
  • 1892: Northern half of reservation ceded to the United State for payment of one dollar per acre
  • October 10, 1900: Presidential Proclamation opens reservation to homesteading, beginning in 1916
  • December 1, 1905:  McLaughlin Agreement cedes remaining 1.4 million acre Colville Reservation in exchange for eighty acre allotments to each Indian.
  • 1956: 800,000 acres returned by Federal Government to tribal ownership.
  • Colville tribal goal is repurchase of all reservation lands. 200,000 acres are still owned by non-tribal members.

As I pedal, the beads that Tim has placed around my neck clank against the cell phone clipped to my vest. Soon the beads are tangling in the antenna. There's a parallel in this tangle between ancient and modern ways. Whenever we speak, Anne and I explain that the endowment will help Inupiat Eskimo people to make their own decisions on how they want to mix their twelve-thousand-year-old tradition, the outside world and their faith roots. This mixing is a complicated task. As the forced relocation of eleven tribes onto the Colville Indian reservation shows, native people have time and again been stripped of their independence and decision making power.

Now pieces from both these worlds are on my chest, clanking and tangling together. Tim has been working these issues out in his own life. Earlier he had told me: "Four years ago I went through a hard place in my life. That was the time I began returning to the old ways. I follow them as much as I am able to. They work for me."

 

 

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