Driving south from Hood River to the Warm Springs Reservation, as you pass through corridors of towering spruce and hemlock, the sound of drums might filter through the trees. Worlds coexist here: traditional dance groups practice for powwows; language revival programs teach Kiksht (an upper Chinookan dialect also known as Wasco); and ritual specialists weave traditional tule mats for longhouse funerals. Alongside these practices live entrepreneurial ventures that include a sawmill; the culturally astute and technologically sophisticated Warm Springs Museum; the swimming pools and golf courses of the Kah-Nee-Ta Resort; and two tribal radio stations.
Wasco, Warm Springs, and Paiute peoples comprise the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation. The Chinookan-speaking Wasco people and the Sahaptin-speaking Warm Springs tribes are both Plateau cultures, joining historically at the sacred fishing grounds at Celilo Falls. Faced with incursions by whites in the mid-nineteenth century, they negotiated their land—one-sixth of modern-day Oregon—for a reservation between the Deschutes River and the Cascades. The Paiutes joined them in the 1880s, after being forced from their homelands in southeast Oregon—after the Bannock War—and relocated to Washington’s Fort Simcoe and Fort Vancouver. Upon release, some Paiutes returned to Harney and Malheur counties, but others settled with the Warm Springs and Wasco peoples.
Many artists have successfully kept the balance between tradition and modernity. Celebrated Warm Springs poet Elizabeth Woody is an accomplished poet, painter, and printmaker who exhibits regionally and nationally. She also apprenticed through the Oregon Folklife Program to learn basket weaving from master artist Margaret Jim-Pennah. Woody’s aunt, Lillian Pitt, is internationally known for her jewelry, ceramic masks, and raku pottery. Both women remain firmly rooted in their heritage.
Roma Cartney, a master of Indian foods, passes on her frybread recipes to young people on the reservation. She also teaches traditional root-digging and berry gathering and preparation. Tony “Big Rat” Suppah and his wife Lucille have taught traditional music for many years through the Spotted Eagle Dance and Drum Group. The Warm Springs schools have partnered with the University of Oregon’s Northwest Indigenous Language Institute and are now teaching Kiksht, Ichishkiin Snwit (a Sahaptin dialect), and Numu (a Numic dialect). Taaw-lee-winch, formerly Larry Dick, now uses only his Indian name. He performs naming ceremonies for others and creates the tule mats that line longhouses for funerals and other rites of passage. He also teaches medicine singing and the making of deer hoof rattles used for healing ceremonies.
© Joanne B. Mulcahy, 2005.