1 / Reflections
Poco and I arrived at Twin Lakes in the late afternoon. We drove the winding dirt road through the heavy forest of pine and fir, stirring a fine cloud of dust. We were en route to my grandfather's property, which bordered the North Twin. As we approached the lake, I remembered the smell and feel of the land and the trees. It was as beautiful as ever. The only movement on the lake was that of fishermen in rowboats quietly fishing for the large rainbow. As we exited the car to walk to the beach, a squirrel high up in a pine tree signaled our approach.
We had been here before, and Poco knew that we were on our land. Poco was a six-pound Maltese, my best friend. We were inseparable. During the last six years, we had traveled half of the United States together, visiting many Indian tribes. We always learned new things about the different cultures as tribal news was shared and met many interesting people from tribes that I had only known from books. Now, back on familiar ground, he systematically re-marked his territory and sniffed at trails made earlier by the inhabitants of the area. We walked to a grass-covered bank above the water. I sat down to smoke a cigarette in the shade of the trees. Poco joined me, and we sat in silence, enjoying everything
before us. The wind blowing through the trees above knew us and welcomed our arrival.
As I studied the lake, I thought of the many times my family had assembled and camped here. I remembered the cold of 1935, when our family of four spent the winter. There was much snow, and the lake was frozen over. I was four, and Luana, my sister, was two. I could spot the area on the lake where my dad had cut a hole in the ice to fish for rainbow trout. Luana and I would watch in wonder while our dad caught the hungry fish. As he caught each one, he gave it to me to place in a pile away from the hole. My dad cleaned them and gave them to me. Then I took the fish to my mother, who was preparing dinner in the tent above, where we lived.
My dad and mother loved the lakes and spent much time during the year fishing and hunting there. The clean water was pure enough to drink. The lakes were close to Gold Mountain, and during August we would go up to the summit and pick our supply of huckleberries. When we returned to the lakes, we could have some berries with our meals. The rest we cleaned and dried for future use.
Over the years, we came to Twin Lakes to fish, swim, and go boating. Hunting for deer was also good in the surrounding mountains. We spent much time searching the ravines and deer trails when our meat supply was low. Once a year, almost all of the People who were living in Old Inchelium picnicked at Carson Beach, a mile from my grandfather's property. There, they recounted stories of the good days before the Columbia River rose to cover Kettle Falls and destroyed the great salmon runs. Those were hard but adventurous times, and everyone was occupied cooking over campfires, swimming, boating, and hunting in the ravines near the lakes. Tepees and tents were pitched throughout the area, and the days ended to the rhythm of drums as the People gambled during the stick games.
After walking the trails around the property and inspecting points of
interest, I became hungry. I felt like having an early dinner and asked Poco if he was hungry. He growled and wagged his tail.
We drove the forty-eight miles to Barney's, the only restaurant overlooking Lake Roosevelt. The best steaks in the state of Washington are served at Barney's. It was there that my family used to celebrate many evenings by gathering over steaks and cocktails. We reminisced and talked about the old days before the Columbia River rose and covered Kettle Falls. My mother shared stories about her father, Alex Christian (White Grizzly Bear). She told us of his travels and his hunting and fishing adventures. She also talked about the Sin-Aikst Tribe, the tribe that we belonged to, during their good days. We always enjoyed hearing my mother's stories about her father and the tribe.
After I finished dinner, I returned to my car. I could see Poco watching me from inside. His tail was wagging. I opened the door to let him out, then knelt and gave him a part of my steak. I watched as he gulped it down. I poured some water into my cupped hand and offered it to him. Poco always appreciated water offered to him in this way. He lapped it up eagerly. We had gone through this routine many times. It was our ritual of respect and friendship.
I lit a cigarette and walked over to the granite memorial to Chief James Bernard. Bernard was my mother's uncle. He was chief of the Lakes Indians from 1900 to 1935. I read the accomplishments of his life engraved on the back of the memorial. He was the last Lakes chief in the Kettle Falls area. During his lifetime, many in the tribe depended on him and respected him. My mother, too, had expressed much respect for him.
I walked with Poco across the highway and stood on the bank overlooking Lake Roosevelt. My attention was directed to the area where Kettle Falls had once flowed. I remembered the beauty of the falls before it was flooded by the Columbia River when Grand Coulee Dam was completed.
As I stood there, the wind came. When I listened, I imagined it was talking to me. I felt that the spirits of Kettle Falls were telling me how things once had been. I began to think of relatives and friends who were no longer living. They began to appear before me, perched on the large rocks, eagerly fishing for the great salmon. I envisioned the immense tepee encampments of many tribes near the river. I imagined the beauty of Sin-Aikst canoes as they cut through the swift-flowing river above the falls. Thoughts of my Sin-Aikst ancestors, who had camped and fished here throughout the centuries, came to me.
Kettle Falls, as it once was, filled my mind's eye. I could hear the thunderous roar as the churning water worked its way downriver. Mists created by the spray of water billowed, then hovered over the falls, pierced here and there by colorful transparent rainbows. Dragonflies, yellow jackets, and other winged insects continually penetrated the mists.
A variety of birds flew excitedly over the falls. They appeared to ricochet between rock formations exposed by the fastmoving water. Redtailed hawks circled, then glided lazily with the wind high in the sky above. The chinook, many very large, leaped powerfully, struggling to clear the falls. The shouts of the men as they fished came back to me. Some spoke Sin-Aikst, others English. There was laughter, then praise as the men pulled in their spears, nets, and fishtraps and their prizes of struggling and twisting chinook.
My mother's stories of the People came back to me. Visions of their lifestyle and how they had survived from season to season made me pause in wonder. They had trained dogs to herd deer out of the hills and ravines and down to the banks of the Columbia, where hunters could take them with bows and arrows. Their method of fishing, which allowed many of the large Chinook to escape and spawn in the upper Columbia, seemed thoughtfully planned. Knowledge that enabled the People to locate and select roots and plants for medicine, food, and other practical uses crossed my mind. Memories of the beliefs, legends, and religion of the spirit powers came back to me. I marveled
at how basic, and yet how powerful and meaningful, these beliefs had been to my ancestors.
I recalled with deep respect the lifestyle of the People, the Sin-Aikst, and the great adventure of their experiences as they met the challenges of survival. Memories of the old days embraced me. I became a part of the past as I remembered the Way.
2 / The Sin-Aikst
During my early years and later, after I was grown, my mother shared with me stories of the Sin-Aikst, before they were known as Lakes. She told me they were a tribe of about 3,000 people, spread across a large land area in British Columbia along the Columbia River. This area included the northeastern part of Washington State around Kettle River and Kettle Falls.
My mother told me that the Sin-Aikst lived in several bands and were always close to the Columbia and Kettle Rivers. She explained that the Sin-Aikst chose to divide the tribe into bands because it was easier to maneuver smaller numbers of people for hunting and fishing, and these groups could always gather enough roots, plants, and berries to satisfy their needs. Horses, when they became a part of the tribe, were divided among the bands and were able to find adequate grass and feed in smaller numbers. The Upper Sin-Aikst Indians lived around the Arrow Lakes in British Columbia, above Revelstoke and around the Castlegar, Trail, and Slocan Valley area. The Lower Sin-Aikst lived in the Northport, Bossburg, Marcus, and Kettle Falls area in Washington State. The Sin-Aikst Indians were related to the Swhy-ayl-puh (Colville) Indians who made their home in the Colville Valley and at Kettle Falls and the land south of the falls along the Columbia River.
As the years went by, cooperation, friendship, and marriages took place between the two tribes. Their ties were strong, and there was never any dissension or animosity between them. The language of the two tribes was basically the same. They lived in an area that provided them with all they needed. They were content with what they had and did not expect anything more.
I learned from my mother and elders of the Lakes Tribe that our forebears, the Sin-Aikst, lived by strict codes of conduct that had been established and passed down over centuries. The codes of conduct and ways of life were respected and followed by everyone in the tribe.
When the Sin-Aikst discovered spirit powers, they revered them, and as they learned more about them, these powers became the religion of the People. The understandings and beliefs practiced over centuries formed the basis for a system of behavior, honor, and respect within the tribe.
My mother went on to say that the character of a newborn Sin-Aikst was shaped early, while still in the mother's womb. She said the child was influenced by the actions of the mother-to-be and how she lived. Before the baby was born, the mother-to-be engaged in vigorous exercise. She began the day with a bath in the cold water of a stream or river, then prayed to the rising sun for health and a safe delivery. She moved adeptly and quickly so that the baby inside her would not grow up to be lazy. The mother-to-be was active and worked hard all day to teach her baby about the rigors of hard work. She maintained an even temper so that the baby would be good-natured and of good character.
The parents-to-be spent much time together because others in the tribe avoided them while they were in their special state. They went out of their way to avoid all hostile shamans. The possibility that evil spells might harm the baby in some way was understood, and the parents-to-be did their best to avoid them.
They practiced behavior that had been established among the People
for centuries. The mother-to-be respected those in the tribe who were crippled or handicapped so that her baby would not be born with the same condition. She avoided looking at rabbits to prevent her baby from developing a harelip. She knew that she must never look upon a corpse, or her baby would be stillborn. Certain animals and birds such as spruce grouse (fool hens) were not eaten, to keep the baby from becoming demented. Bear meat was also not eaten. The parents-to-be did not want to anger other bears that might retaliate by attacking them or the baby.
When the labor pains began, a midwife arrived to help with the birth. She prepared a bed of grass and fir boughs. Four stakes were driven into the ground: two at the head of the bed so the mother-to-be could brace herself by holding on to them during labor, and the other two at the foot of the bed, where she could push her soles against them and force her knees upward. During labor, the mother-to-be did not moan or cry out, knowing that others would criticize her if she did.
Immediately after birth, the cord was tied and cut. The midwife washed and cleaned the baby in a bath of lukewarm water contained in a tightly woven basket. Afterward, she vigorously rubbed the baby's legs and arms in order to form and strengthen them. Then the baby was wrapped tightly in buckskin to make sure he or she would grow tall and straight and would not have bowed legs.
The nose was pinched at the bridge to form it and make it more prominent. It was massaged daily for ten days to produce a high, shapely bridge. The mother stretched and widened the corners of the eyes with her fingers to make the eyes larger. She massaged the face to smooth the skin and make the features even.
The baby's name was not selected until the mother left the menstrual hut and life returned to normal. Grandparents or an older relative named the baby after a deceased ancestor. Later, the name might be changed to honor another person or some being from the forests, mountains, or river.
Baby clothes were made of soft skin such as rabbit that had been tanned
with the fur left on. Diapers made of soft buckskin were washed daily. Amulets of wood or bone represented the spirit power for the baby and took the form of a pendant that hung from a buckskin thong around the neck. Playthings for the baby, such as simplified forms of animals, were carved from wood. Dolls were made from wood, buckskin, and human hair and were decorated with beads and designs sketched and painted on the buckskin with vegetable dyes.
Relatives usually made a cradleboard with a buckskin hood for the baby. The cradleboard was made of woven willow or cedar slats bound in a V shape with a rounded top and narrow bottom to fit the baby's body. It was covered with soft buckskin and sometimes decorated with woven porcupine quills or beads and other trinkets. The hood was tied securely to bind the ears close in and to make the head round and shapely. Babies became so comfortable in their boards that they would not sleep unless they were laced inside. When a baby outgrew the board, he or she kept it around because it provided a feeling of security. It was in this way that the young were prepared to contribute and function as worthy members of the Sin-Aikst.
The preparation of the Sin-Aikst young began at an early age. At the ages of six and seven, boys and girls were required to search for spirits that would help and protect them throughout their lives. To do this, they were sent on short excursions away from their dwellings. Sometimes, the destination would be by a creek, at a bench overlooking the Columbia River, or on the crest of a nearby hillside. They were required to return with a container of water or some object as proof that they had actually reached their destinations and spent time there. Grandparents or elders of the tribe closely monitored the children.
Serious teaching began at this time. The children received instruction on the legends of the tribe and family history. Tribal ways and tribal laws were also taught. If there were no grandparents or elders in the family, a tribal elder was brought in to teach the child.
When children were eight and nine, more strenuous training began. The day started with a cold bath in the morning in a stream or river. Long runs in the forest and the mountains built strength and endurance, and children also learned how to swim. Boys were taught to make weapons and fishing and hunting gear, and received instruction on how to use them. Girls were taught about the care of the young to prepare them for motherhood in the future. They also learned how to maintain their dwellings and prepare meals. The girls were shown where and how to gather roots, herbs, and other important plants. They observed and began to understand the process of tanning deer hides into buckskin to serve a variety of uses.
As the children grew older, they were sent farther away to search for guardian spirits and other spirits that would help them in life. They took with them some article like a piece of fur, a feather, or an animal bone and were told to leave the article at the place of destination. Each child was expected to spend the night alone in hopes of making contact with the spirits.
Guardian spirits were found in a variety of places. Contact could be made at any time. The spirit could appear in water, in the forest, on a mountaintop, in animal carcasses, or at a sweat lodge. Exceptionally powerful spirits came from thunder and lightning. Spirits sometimes came to a child in a vision or a dream. Some took the forms of animals or other natural objects like trees. The spirit would sing its spiritual song for the child to memorize, and from then on, the spirit would come to the aid of the seeker when the song was sung. Once contact was made, the spirit became a power to that person for life.
It was important that the child acquire more than one spirit because other powers came with other spirits. A child with only one spirit might have a harder time resisting a person with more or stronger spirits. A number of spirits provided greater future success in life for the bearer. The practice of searching for spirits continued until puberty, when strenuous
work was added to the learning routine to teach the young responsibility.
Parents always impressed on their children the importance of obedience to their elders. While power and guidance for life came from a spirit, it was the elders, experienced in tribal traditions, who explained the fine points in the usage of power. They established the social context for the approved practice of using those powers within the tribe. They also emphasized the value of the family. Without family backing, it was difficult to become a person of consequence within the tribe. Children were taught how to bring honor to the family and to live in ways that gained respect from others.
Religion was not an isolated part of life for the tribe. It was deeply ingrained in the lives of the People, who practiced it and abided by it daily. The primary importance of religion was for harnessing power. The forces of nature and all beings, from the mystery of lightning and thunder to the beauty of a flowing waterfall, were sought as sources of power that formed the basis of the Sin-Aikst religion.
I thought often about my mother's stories of the early days of the Sin-Aikst. She told me that her father, White Grizzly Bear, believed that there was power everywhere the Sin-Aikst lived. He said the sun had power and could light and warm the day. The moon and stars had power to light the way at night so all could see. White Grizzly Bear said the land was the mother of all things and, if treated with respect, would always provide for us.
My mother went on to say that the water had power and would provide life for the People, all beings of the forest, an...