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It’s the time when scheduled appointments are picking up because it’s the end of the school year. Aside from the ballet performance and it’s multitudinous rehearsals, Miss T is due to graduate from middle school and then my daughter will be a high-schooler. It’s more of an adjustment for me than for her. Am I really old enough to be the parent of a high school teen? Apparently I am.

Tara with sash and certificate from Honor Day

Thursday we attended a Native American honoring ceremony for all the Portland 8th grade and 12th grade graduates. It was lovely, and held in the beautiful Native American Student and Community Center on the PSU campus.

Tara was not sure what to anticipate for the evening, though she acquiesced to my urges and humored me by attending with a good spirit. I told her on the way that it would be the more interesting graduate ceremony, even though the one with all her class mates next month would be more fun.

“Why do you say that?” she asked.

“I expect tonight will be filled with Indian tradition that we are unfamiliar with. There will probably be drums.”

“Drums? Really?”

“Well, at my brother’s graduation there were drums because many of his classmates were Indian.” My brother graduated from Chiloquin High School in Oregon, where I knew Modoc and Klamath families.

I had guessed correctly, but it was easy to guess: drums play a significant role in many ceremonies. An evocative, pleasant-smelling smudge was lit in the background and the drums began. We stood for the Presentation of Colors, in which elder men presented the flags honored. They marched/danced with the drums, in a line around the entire room, headed by the Eagle Staff (upon which there was an actual mounted eagle head). At the end of the parade was the POW/MIA flag. The last flag makes me curious, and I’d like to know more about why this group is particularly honored by our Indian group. Likely the relationship comes from the importance of the military in Indian communities, as the modern expression of warrior service.

We all filled our plates with baked salmon and many excellent side dishes. While we finished up our feast, the speakers began. One of the senior graduates was Rebecca Kirk, a young woman who sang an extraordinary song for us, blending an indigenous language (I don’t recall which) with some soulful English chorus. She beat a drum as accompaniment.

Introductory remarks were followed by a stirring keynote speaker: Louie Gong. Mr. Gong described his ethnic background as Coast Salish, Chinese, Scottish, and maybe something else, I can’t recall. He was raised on a reservation in northeast Washington by his Indian and Chinese grandparents. He is a teacher, activist, and artist. He spoke to finding his true self amidst people who try to define him by what they see. He spoke about trying to fit in, and the difficulties of doing that when his background didn’t match those around him. He struggles with frustration of being known as the “Shoe Guy,” when he wants people to know the powerful work in activism that he does.

I thought it was a good message for my Tara, who had felt out of place all evening because she is distinctly blonde, and of course the room was filled with dark-skinned, black-haired people. I know what she feels. I always want to belong, and yet I so rarely find a group of people that feel like “home” to me. I anticipate that some of Louie’s message sticks with her, and I am grateful to him for choosing that particular topic.

The graduates then filed up to the stage and were presented with a sash and certificate. Students remained in front until every person was lined up, then the entire room got in line to shake hands and congratulate every student. It was truly an honor to them. I hope my girl felt support from some of those many hands.

please click image for source

I came across this classroom assignment I wrote in 2006 for an International Mediation course I was taking at Brandeis University. The first third of the paper is a tidy re-cap of the traumatic battle surrounding the discovery of a 9,300 year old human skeleton beside the Columbia River. The remainder is obviously student-speak designed to answer the many questions put to us by our professor, and designed to prove that we had read all the texts assigned.

Pursuing any current and relevant news, I found an article in the Tri-City Herald noting that ancient human remains were again found in the area. Startled, I read on to discover that the bones, estimated to be 300 to 350 years old, were handed over to the Tribes claiming them by the US Army Corps of Engineers. No fuss, no scandal, no lawsuits.

Painful as it is, the truth looks ugly. Scientists, arguably among the most intelligent of us, appear to be using only their empirical data in these two cases. Inciting war in the first, and granting peace in the second. They apparently have decided that Indians have the right to claim 300 year old remains but not 9000 year old remains. Yes, I see the difference on the surface. But ideologically, what is the difference? Why does one group get to draw the line, and where exactly is it drawn, and why?

My apologies if I lost you, because this stuff is so central to my core that I find it hard to express to someone else. But let me try: Indians claim that ancient human remains in North America are their ancestors because their oral traditions (i.e. their religions) tell them so. Scientists track ancestry through DNA samples, and many believe that there are multiple lineages that populated North America. Thus, any kinship ties could only be proven through meticulous scientific study.

The fact that no ownership war began over the 300 year old remains says to me that scientists are willing to agree on kinship ties in that case. But NOT because they respect Indian religious traditions, but because it happens to be in line with their own religion of science. This stuff makes me furious. 1) If your scientific point is that DNA is required, then why not battle with equal ferocity over the 300 year old remains? 2) Why do the scientists get to set the terms? 3) If 9000 years old is clearly not an ancestor, and 300 years is clearly an ancestor, can we please have the exact year that delineates? (ok, yes, that was sarcasm)

Multiple parties were (and are still) passionate about those particular human remains called both Ancient One and Kennewick Man. Opinions vary on how they should or should not be handled, stored, examined, discussed, or buried. Millions of dollars and millions of hours were spent to make a decision on whether American Indians who claimed ancestral ties had the right to dispose of the human remains as the Tribes saw fit; or, whether anthropologists should be allowed to study the remains for the benefit of adding to our human knowledge base of early versions of our species.

My take was that, had the situation been handled properly, there may have been a way to satisfy some of the needs of both of these parties (as well as the needs of other parties also involved, to include the US Army Corps of Engineers and the intriguing Asatru Folk Assembly).

Again I fear that this is evidence that minority parties rarely get respect or validation. It is depressing and heartbreaking, not to mention frustrating when groups of stereotypically “intelligent” people such as scientists are the ones furthering ignorance, discrimination, and destructive hegemony.

On the optimistic side… there is a chance that I just witnessed an evolution of another kind. Can it be that we have learned lessons over here in the Pacific Northwest, and applied them successfully?

Snake River from Pa’s house, looking southeast toward Map Rock

I spent the 4th of July weekend with my Pa (yes, I call him Pa) Trulove on the banks of the Snake River, south of Boise.

The last time I visited, I drove Map Rock Road on the far side of the river, so that I could take some photos of the homestead from the river perspective. When I came back he asked me, “Did you stop and take a look at the petroglyphs?” “Petroglyphs?!” was my awed and disappointed answer. I had no idea there were petroglyphs, and certainly had missed the Information Center, or the Parking Lot, or the Protected Heritage Area that should have brought it to my attention. Out of time on that trip, I resolved to go back and look for petroglyphs the next time, or I wasn’t doing justice to my Anthropology degree.

Fulfilling my pact with myself, I announced Monday afternoon that I was going in search of Map Rock. My Bonus-Mom, Michelle, (that’s – in addition to my natural mother) said she would go with me and help me find it. That was my first indication that the expected Information Center might not be available.

It took us nearly half an hour to get just across the river. Funny huh? But it makes sense when you realize that first we had to find a bridge to ford the Snake. We drove along Map Rock Road, looking to the right for boulders with art, and then to the left for Givens Hot Springs and the landing strip on the other side of the river. Our petroglyphs were directly across from the Hot Springs, but easier to spot was the bright orange airport wind sock.

Petroglyphs along Map Rock Road

“They’re scattered along here,” said Michelle. “Just keep looking and you’ll see them. You should slow down.”

And then. I saw one!

Etched into one of the countless basalt boulders spilling from a cliff ledge, I saw chevrons, a series of dots, concentric circles, a stylized hand? Upon closer inspection, it was no more clear, but exciting and fascinating! What do the carved circles mean? What are the rows of dots? Are they counting something?

Map Rock was further along, and easy to spot once I knew what I was looking for. It’s a huge (2.2 X 1.8 X 1.5 meters) boulder with a very compelling design.

“The principal motif seems to be a mapping of the Snake River Valley. The most conspicuous line being the course of the Snake River, and is readily recognizable and quite accurate, compared to the Land Office and other maps…One branch rises from a spring, and the other flow from a large lake, the Henry Lake of our maps… At the third turn of the stream [Snake River] is a branch from the east…which is probably intended for the Black Foot River… The locations of the various groups of circles to the south of the river correspond quite closely to the locations of the ranges of hills which do lie to the south of Snake River.” ~ E.T. Perkins Jr. to J.W. Powell, 14 January 1897


Map Rock, Idaho

“It is in all probability a map of an entire river basin covering almost 32,000 square miles.” ~  Woodward and Lewis

On a piece angled away from the map, off to the left, look like deer with impressive antlers. They are prancing through waves. Is it meant to be water? Flowing prairie grassland of the Owyhees? On top, in front of an eye-catching hump of stone like a mini-Half Dome, or the bill of a baseball cap, are dozens of parallel contour lines. It’s beautiful, and I stood before it dumbstruck and ignorant (ahem, as is my state most often in front of great art…).


Courtesy Bureau of Land Management


Unexpected canvas. We wandered through the basalt, potential art in all directions.


Prehistoric art. No, wait, they were cataloging their own history, so I guess it’s historic art.


Not a very helpful information sign, but the only evidence, aside from the wide spot in the road, that modern humans knew something special was here.

And then, less noticeable than the basalt boulders themselves, Michelle pointed out a carved wooden sign. Weather-beaten to almost perfect uselessness, there was an information sign. Though I couldn’t read more than half of it, the sign said this rock was discovered in 1872 and considered a landmark ever since.

Two things. 1) Obviously it was a major communication crossroads, most likely due to a nearby Snake River crossing, and therefore, couldn’t possibly have been “discovered” as late as 1872, unless our only point of reference is white folk (…she says, tongue-in-cheek).

2) Landmark?! I wish! There is no highway sign, no facilities, barely a place to pull off the narrow two-lane road. The only information sign was apparently installed by a community local-interest group, and has not been maintained. There is no protection for this valuable and fascinating historical artifact of human technology. It PAINED me to see it out there, six feet or so from the road. It’s damaged from dust and erosion, not to mention vandals, and so drastically faded from time, as historical photos attest. Michelle said that the last time she was here, someone had taken colored chalk and filled in all the markings. Thank GOD they didn’t use paint, but what’s to stop the next idiot?


Very hard to see, but the shaded section is also etched.


Deer. I think.

click this!

After a little research, I found that it’s identified on the National Register of Historic Places, since 1982. Listed as prehistoric art, there seems to be no solid sense of the age of this artifact. Now there’s a little bug in my bonnet, and I will keep my eyes open for a chance to contribute to the preservation of this fascinating little stretch of Indian artwork in Idaho’s Owyhee desert.

Please see C. Jeanne Heida’s articles on this point of interest. The first is specifically of Map Rock, and the second is of Indian Rock Art.

(Credit to Cartography in the traditional African, American, Arctic, Australian, and Pacific societies, Volume 2, Book 3 by David Woodward and G. Malcolm Lewis for the quotes and diagrams.)

Chief Smith and me

I met Cherokee Chief Chad Smith last night. What an honor. It seems to me like a pretty big deal to have the Chief out here in Portland, all the way from Oklahoma. It IS a big deal. But the gathering was rather small, perhaps 150 people. Mark, Tara, and I went together, and Tara made a berry dessert to contribute to the potluck feast. It makes me feel pretty good that they were quick to agree to go with me and support my interests.

The potluck was amazing. Piles of food of all kinds. There was no way to sample it all, but we did our best, returning to the table periodically. I was pleased to find plenty of salmon to try. Mark liked the buffalo and hominy. Tara was excited about the desserts, and went back for more sugar a couple of times.

The Mt. Hood Cherokees, who are eager to build a stronger local community, invited Chief Smith. He began his talk by reminding us that the Cherokee Nation is a government, and he believes it should be run like a business. In his talk he included several examples of how to build a strong community, and he repeatedly explained that it couldn’t be built on handouts. Being Cherokee does not mean entitlement, but rather results in an obligation to give to the community.

Cherokee Chief Chad Smith shares his vision of the Nation

All the resources, strength, and opportunity will indeed become available to members of the Cherokee Nation, he told us, if only we commit ourselves to investing into it. If our goal is to “give” and not to “get,” then the end result will be the benefits we seek.

He took questions afterward. There was some talk about how to expand and improve the Nation’s healthcare system and in particular to have more native doctors at the facilities, and Chief Smith reminded us to help our children excell in math and science. A man shook his head and waved his hand as though to dismiss the idea as beside the point. “I am serious,” retorted Smith. “You want Cherokee doctors, but we are happy to find ANY doctor willing to work for us, there just aren’t many Cherokee doctors. The only way to get more is to encourage your kids to go to medical school. The only way they can consider that is to graduate high school with a strong academic background. And in order to get there, your children need to study math and science in the younger grades.” It was an excellent example of how members cannot expect the handouts (Cherokee doctors) without the investment (committing themselves to helping their children succeed in school).

dancer at the close of ceremonies

Questions covered the saving of White Eagle corn (so named because of a white lip on the kernel that is in the shape of a bird in flight) which had been nearly extinct, what opportunities are available to students, and how to improve contact between local and national communities. Chief Smith said that he felt the more important question was how to build the local community, not how to connect to the one in Oklahoma. A woman stood and made a plug for the local group NAYA, that is a great resource here. I’ve worked with them a little bit, through the VA.

Gifts were presented to our honored visitor, and the gathering concluded with a Navajo dancer. Mark, Tara and I had to leave in a hurry to get our girl to her afternoon volleyball game. We were all glad we had made the time to go to this meeting.

my blue card

Woo Hoo! I received my Cherokee Nation blue card and CDIB white card in the mail yesterday. The process took forever, but it was worth it.

I haven’t thought through any “now what?”  I just wanted to have the cards. I guess my next step is to register my daughter.


By 6:30 am Tuesday we were heading back to the airport and met up with Sami again, who took us under his wing. I said goodbye to Hossam and gave him some of my apparently worthless golden US dollar coins for his children, and explained who the people were on them. Hossam was excited about Sacajawea, a guide like himself. Silly me, I hadn’t even thought of that connection!

Flights followed by flights, time zones on top of each other, we spent the balance of the day and into the next on planes. It was such a sight to see snow in New York, after spending so many days wilting in the heat of Africa.

Mark gathered us at the airport in Portland at 1:00am Wednesday, and we were treated with the delight of the knowledge that there would be no wake up call this time.

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