Re-Storying the Northwestern Landscape

“So I’m rooted to this ground. That’s why I’m supposed to outlive everybody”.

Henry Cultee, Chehalis

“I don’t believe in magic. I believe in the sun and the stars, the water, the tides, the floods, the owls, the hawks flying, the river running, the wind talking. They’re measurements. They tell us how healthy things are. How healthy we are. Because we and they are the same thing.”

Billy Frank, Jr, Nisqually

“Before anything else, we are our land/place… Our flesh, blood, and bones are Earth-body. ”

Jeanette Armstrong, Okanagan

“Someday the land will be our eyes and skin again.”

Lizzie Pitt, Warm Springs

There is a story behind each of these quotes: a story that links human life with something larger and more enduring than a single human individual. A story that yields a sense of belonging that can be had no other way.

In order to understand such a story one must spend time in the company of its keeper. In such luminous presence one instantly abandons the stance that insulted Chehalis Indian storytellers: the stance that labeled the enduring wisdom of their people as “just a story”. To diminish a traditional story as less than a fact is to lack the intellectual sophistication of those who used the imagination to bring humans into a fundamental intimacy with all that surrounded them. Native stories were more rather than less than facts: they were facts imbued with meaning.

One day in 1975, Henry Cultee, whose mother and mother’s father were powerful “Indian doctors”, told me he wanted to show me something. He beckoned me aboard the boat he kept moored by his fishing shack at Samamanauwish on the Humptulips River. Samamanauwish was also Henry Cultee’s traditional name, inherited along with his luck in fishing from his grandfather’s brother. It meant “between two channels.” In explaining the name he shared with the land, Cultee said, “I’m living right here”, as he pointed out the channels of the Humptulips that ran on either side of his cabin.

Eighty-five year old Cultee stood erect as he poled the river to guide us over the riffles for which the original people here named this river Hum-m-m-m-p-tulips, the name humming along with water running so fast it cleaned itself out in three days after a rain.

As Grays Harbor opened before us, modern Damon's Point on Grays Harborframe houses and mill stacks dissolved from view. We entered a world composed of water and sky. The wind danced paths of light on the water. That was the wind that lives here, the one that Henry Cultee’s mother told him to run against with his arms outstretched, measuring its gaping mouth, so it would be ashamed of itself and calm down. As we moved on into ancient memory, that nearby lone sentinel of a rock shrugged off the name of James Rock (for the pioneer) and relived its history as Sme’um– the place where Wildcat stole fire, singeing his tail with the mark he still wears as a result. The urbanized jumble along the Aberdeen River evaporated on the milky mist behind us, giving way to its more lively self: the Wishkah River (“stink water,”) –where Thunderbird dropped a rotting whale carcass. Across the harbor from us was no longer the Cosmopolis named by pioneers, but Khaisáləmish: named after the character of the sandbar where the Transformer Xwane Xwane kept himself from being swept out to sea in the story that depicted the origin of the Chehalis way of life.

Power lived in this place. It was also here that Henry Cultee’s mother’s father obtained his Indian doctor power that was as famous as it was dangerous. After he found his power, his grandfather took the name of the place where it lived: Khaisáləmish. He had a white name too, but he never dropped his Indian one. Thus he was known as Khaisáləmish Pete- or as pioneers anglicized it, Cosmopolis Pete.

Cultee and I slid smoothly down the harbor channel until we came to a dense dense array of shell mounds exposed by the action of the water on the shore beside us. Cultee laughed as he pointed out these signs of the generations of sweet feasting of his people here. This was what he wanted me to see: how the land recalled the lives of his people.

The land trades stories with us this way. If we know its stories, it keeps our own. The stories Henry Cultee told me expressed this ancient reciprocity with “the eyes of the world” that sees “what is in our hearts”, even if we hide it from other humans. In his tradition, it was how the land’s eyes see us that determine the length of our lives.[1]

Stories belong to a live land: and if that land becomes only an object of development, those stories can be lost. There is a place in Upper Chehalis territory, where the old winter dances and later Shaker dances were held. This prairie is perfectly encircled by hills, like a bowl offered up to the sky and time. The stuttering lines of hills to the west hold the story of the swinging door between the worlds that the salmon jump through when they go back to their own lives in the sea.

I could hear ancient voices of people singing here, etched onto the waves of hills and playing back again like the grooves of a record playing back a song.

That was in 1976. Today the prairie where the people danced has become a gravel pit. The hills that encircle it don’t sing anymore. I can only hope that they keep their music inside somewhere where dreamers may still find it. Perhaps this music is another thing, as Grandma Aggie sees happening with mistreated water, that the earth is taking back to her womb.

Henry Cultee’s fishing cabin is also gone now. There is a “no trespassing” sign where visitors drove in as his little dog ran out barking to meet them, while Cultee laughed, “Just don’t speak English to him. He gets awful mad when he hears English!”

We can still tell the story of Samamanauwish, so that, as Cultee put it, “what’s in my heart won’t die with me”. But I’m not quite sure how to tell the land’s story without the land. It’s not so easy to tell this story to those who have never stood on this point and watched the Humptulips rushing single-mindedly toward the harbor in a flamboyant expression of its name.

There were some members of pioneer families- ones who lived as true neighbors to the Chehalis– who understood how land and stories go together as well. One ninety seven year man (Sandy Ames) whose Chehalis neighbors were like an “aunt and uncle” to him, were very particular when they taught him how to roast salmon. From them and from somewhere in his own heart, he also learned how to hear the “words that come through the air”. Those are the words that live on the land’s own breath, like the ones that he shared with me when I arrived at his door as a seeker.

If for no other reason than this, we must safeguard the places that have elder status in the natural world. Without them we lose the ability not only to tell their stories but our own.

Driving back from Oakville the day after I went out on the Harbor with Henry Cultee, I was hit by severe dizzy spells that caused the world to spin ruthlessly around me whenever I moved. A local RN told me it was an inner ear infection, but I dreamt that night that it was my uncried tears for all that was lost of our human belonging to this land, rolling like a rough unbidden tide against my sense of balance.

Surely if we all shed the tears waiting behind our eyes to mark the disappearance of the land’s stories, we would not allow them to be replaced by a gravel pit– or a highway or a high rise. We would still need to shelter and feed ourselves, but we would do so in a way that is in concert with the land– in a way that would allow the land to “recognize us” as innovative architect William McDonough put it.

Riding with Cultee that day on the waters he knew so well he called them by name, I entered a world in which the land did not belong to people by way of deed and title-but instead a people belonged to their land. What made a man, Cultee once asked me, think he could come along and put his name on the land? To him, it was a rhetorical question. No man by rights could do such a thing. Cultee’s people did not name the land for themselves. As in the case of himself, his uncle, and his grandfather, they named themselves for the land.

Altogether the indigenous peoples of the Northwest held the names of the land’s places and beings as an essential spiritual inheritance. At the Walla Walla treaty proceedings on the mid-Columbia River in 1855, Cayuse spokesperson Young Chief asserted that the land had its own names that men and women could not change. Asking Native peoples to turn their land over to those who would re-name it as individual property was asking them to perform an act that was “literally against their religion”, as Clifford Trafzer put it.

In Young Chief’s words:

“The earth and water and grass says God has given our names and we are told those names. Neither the Indians nor the whites have a right to change those names… The same way the Earth says it was from her man was made.”

He also said to the thousands seated on the ground for those treaty proceedings:

“I wonder if this ground has anything to say. I wonder if this ground is listening… The Earth says, God has placed me here. The earth says that God tells me to take care of the Indians on this earth. God says to the fish on the Earth: feed them right. God named the roots that he should feed the Indians on. The water speaks the same way…the grass says the same thing.”

Yakama elder Owhi put it this way when he spoke at Wallla Walla: “God looked one way and then the other and named our land for us to take care of”. “God named this land for us”.

In this light, to replace the land’s names for itself with names of individual human owners is not only a conceit, but a sacrilege. It is also a singularly self-destructive act.

In Henry Cultee’s wise tradition, if we ignore the “eyes of the world”– the eyes of those who sustain our lives–we are liable to construct a way of life that is decidedly short-lived. That tradition thus anticipated the report came out last week indicating that the average US lifespan is continuing to decrease.

No matter the count of our years, when we cease to hear the voices of the land tell their own story we truncate our lives in another way. We set ourselves adrift from the story of belonging to life and land larger than ourselves.


[1] This material, beginning with “One day in 1975”, is reproduced in a related article available online:  “Restorying the World:  Reviving the Language of Life”, Australian Humanities Review, November 2009 (no. 47).

Quote Sources:

The sources of the quotes are Billy Frank, Jr: from Charles Wilkinson, Lessons from Frank’s Landing (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2000); Jeannette Armstrong, “I Stand with You against the Disorder,” Yes Magazine, winter 2006; Lizzie Pitt in Cynthia Stowell, Faces of a Reservation, (Portland: Oregon Historical Society Press, 1987).

The quotes from the Walla Walla Treaty Proceedings can be found in Darrell Scott, ed. Isaac Ingalls Stevens, A True Copy of the Official Proceedings at the Council in the Walla Walla Valley 1855 (Fairfield, Washington: Ye Galleon Press reprint, 1985).

The land trades stories with us this way. If we know its stories, it keeps our own. The stories Henry Cultee told me expressed this ancient reciprocity with “the eyes of the world” that sees “what is in our hearts”, even if we hide it from other humans. In his tradition, it was how the land’s eyes see us that determine the length of our lives.[1]

[1] This material, beginning with “One day in 1975”, is reproduced as the introduction to a related article available online: “Restorying the World: Reviving the Language of Life”, Australian Humanities Review, November 2009 (no. 47).

388 Responses

  1. Wow! That was quite moving. What an experience that must have been. Each time I read one of these articles my eyes are opened a bit more as to how disconnected we are from the land and how it is slowly affecting us.
    My perspective of the natural world is slowly shifting and I am becoming more aware of just how dependent we really are to our environment. We Westerners often have a veil over our eyes that obscures our vision from this truth.
    Cultee’s wisdom and that of his ancestors must be preserved and recounted. Not only to honor them, but to save that which we have encroached on and harmed. We can learn much from those who so intimately know the environment around them.

  2. Thank you for your response and your openness, Kathleen. I was very fortunate to be able to experience this.

  3. I read and fully understood your good words, Dr. Holden.
    The burden the Indians feel in their hearts is heavy, given the fact they were cheated off their ancestral lands as well as rights to self existence and independence. What nation wouldn’t feet so despondent, so helpless.

    From their words, I can see their firm connection to the One who gave them their freedom in this land to feed themselves as they choose, with no interference and no treaty. If God placed them in this land, what right do the government have to remove them and put them in reservations? The generals may be planning for the next few hundred years of world domination, but the sighs of the oppressed and the dispossessed shall bring down their plans before the decade is over.

  4. With all due respect and appreciation for your feelings here, Sayed, I must assert that native elders like Henry Cultee and Agnes Baker and Esther Stutzman are anything but “despondent and helpless”. Indeed, their strength and resilience in the face of what their people have suffered is truly striking–as I hoped to portray in the essays on this site. It is unfortunate if this particular essay in any way gave the impression that they are mere victims of tragic circumstances.

  5. “Cultee’s fishing cabin is gone now.”

    “..he gets really mad when he hears English.”

    “, where the people danced, has become a gravel pit.”

    “..but I dreamt that night that it was my uncried tears for all that was lost of our human belonging to this land.”

    “..the stories Henry Cultee told me expressed this ancient reciprocity with “the eyes of the world” that sees “what is in our hearts”, even if we hide it from other humans.”

    Are those not sorrowful remarks, Dr. Holden? I felt despite their resilience, the loss of their land and their ancient way of life WAS tinged with sadness.

  6. Thank you for taking the time to clarify the basis of your response. There is certainly great occasion for grief here: but grief is not the same as helplessness. I wanted to make the point that even those who suffered great tragedies such as these are not reduced to helpless victims as a result– for they still have their humanity and thus some powerful choices. And they have their traditions– in spite of the tragic assault made on them in US policies like Indian Boarding Schools.
    I’m glad you made this list, since it urges me to clarify some cultural understandings that may or may not be clear in this essay as it stands.
    The comment amount the dog getting mad shows how humor is linked to resilience In Cultee’s stories. He was laughing as he said this, teasing me.
    And as for the ancient eyes of the land, this is a comment not about loss, but about what a power that endures today– Cultee told me stories of the way in which this played out in his own life and that of some of his relatives.
    Thank you again for your responses here.

  7. Dr. Holden,

    I believe this whole article is based around a quote found in the beginning of the first couple of paragraphs. It says, Native stories were more rather than less than facts: they were facts imbued with meaning. To me, this goes to show, once again, how much there truly is to learn from Native Americans and their theories and philosophies regarding earth and natural resources. I agree with Sayed that their is a sense of grief or loss that goes along with this article, but as you have explained in your last comment to him, much of what is being said is in a playful, resilient fashion. It is always amazing to me, to see how different the Native American culture, and their viewpoints are from many of the cultures of todays generation. Many Native Americans have such a great respect for the land and everything that surrounds them, that as mentioned in the article, they name themselves after the land, not the land after themselves. This article really opens my eyes to many different Native American viewpoints and it goes hand in hand with the book entitled Dwellings by Linda Hogan that has been assigned to the philosophy 443 class for the fact that they both go back to Native American customs and traditions and are both based around the Native American values and belief system.

    Amber Steinhoff, Philosophy 443

  8. Thank you for your thoughtful personal contribution to this dialogue, Amber.

  9. I can’t help but see similarities with the statement from the Yakama elder at the Walla Walla proceedings with the ongoing land conflict between the Jews and the Palestinians. Both cultures feel a God-given right to the same stretch of land.

    In the case of the Yakama Indians however, I suspect there is much less dispute over the historical occupation of the land. It is more a question of who’s worldview regarding land value has the most power within the government and legal system. The Native American’s view of the land being a gift from God to be appreciated and nurtured is not as valued in modern American society as the concept of land acquisition for the purpose of fullfilling human needs and desires.

    I can understand the frustration of Native Americans like the Yakama and Chehalis when they see the land that they have so lovingly respected and cared for treated with such disregard by others who do not share their sense of oneness with the land.

  10. Very thoughtful personal response, Karen. The Israeli and Palestinian issue is a complex one. Perhaps you would be interested in looking at this post on this site about my experience teaching in a Palestinian University under Israeli military occupation:
    Thanks for your comment.

  11. That was a very interesting article. You have led a very interesting career/life (seeing you taught at Palestinian University too) and lucky to have met and learned from people like Cultee.

    Very sad to read that this area has also been lost because of the spread of civilization. Really when you think about it, there are almost no places that you can go that you won’t find traces of people. I live in Minnesota which is considered a fairly “wild” state as far as that goes compared to many other areas of the U.S. Nevertheless, the closest you can come to an area in this state that is pristine and resembles the way it was before Europeans colonized this country is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Even there you’ll encounter old logging dams, fixed forest service campsites with metal grates (these are in place to keep people from camping in other spots which would increase erosion) and in most places a second growth forest that still lacks many of the original large white pine that were removed by loggers. Modern people would consider the BWCA pristine for the most part but I wonder how different it would appear to a person who lived there before this country was settled.

  12. Interesting comment–and yes, I have been quite fortunate in my life to have been to many distinctive places and learned from elders of many cultures. I especially treasure the experience written about here.
    I do think it is interesting that the land was hardly without people during the pre-pioneer era– but one might say that its wildness was still in tact. I have been to the hardwoods wilderness above Lake Superior (several decades ago) and I was struck by the ineffable sense of the sacred there. It occurred to me that it derived in part from the fact that all the life there had grown up in harmony with all else over thousands of years. There is such striking sense of peace in a place like this.
    We can only hope that we learn to partner with the wild once again as the original inhabitants of this land once did. If we do not, it is our loss in more ways than one.
    Thank you for your comment.

  13. I really enjoyed the line, “In order to understand such a story one must spend time in the company of its keeper.” As a student in Dr. Holden’s environmental value course, I’ve realized I have no definite stance on environmental values. At first I wrote it off as not having time which is a lame excuse, rather I feel it’s because I haven’t been shown an appreciation for the subject. The way I relate to an essay such as this one, through my interpretation, is the way Dr. Holden related to Henry in the sense that he showed her a new appreciation for her surroundings and gave her a new perspective. In my opinion, younger generations won’t develop a more profound appreciation for the environment unless they’re given a new perspective. For example, how are younger generations supposed to know how the hills used to sing in 1976 or even what to listen for? I feel a new perspective never hurt anyone. Excellent essay.

  14. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Ben. I know Henry Cultee would be pleased with your analogy about teachers and students here: he really wanted me to pass on what he shared with me. I feel both blessed by this and weighted with the responsibility entailed. Thank you for allowing me to fulfill a bit of this through your own learning stance. It takes a bit to be open to a new perspective, but it is my sense that it is worth it.
    It is unfortunate that you do not have elders everywhere ready to stand by you and share the land’s ancient history-and that of your own ancestors.

  15. From your post I can infer that speaking with Cultee must have been quite the experience!

    A concept I found prevelant throughout this post was that of maintaining the worldview that land is a sacred space. We must listen to the land, for example by allowing the land to tell us it’s own names, instead of instilling names upon the land, and therefore refrain from treating the land as property, as many of us do today.

    I also especially liked how Cultee mentioned “what’s in my heart won’t die with me…. but I’m not sure how to tell the land’s story without the land.” I think that an important topic was touched on here, which is that people’s experiences with the land will always be remembered, but that without adequate preservation of the land much of the knowledge, which arises as a result of those experiences, cannot be passed down to others, or shared with people because the storyteller has no actual backdrop, or visualization for the story. As such, peoples of future generations will be unable to experience the same connection to the land as did these Chehalis indians, who had more of the lands’ resources and abundance available to them.

    I found the concept of the length of one’s life being related to how the lands’ eyes see us to be a fascinating example of reciprocal interaction between the land and the natives. Though, I might almost say that the relationship is sided more towards that of the land knowing more than individuals, because the post referred to the land seeing through to the hearts of people, as if people are somehow see-through (like ghosts) to the land. This brings about the idea that the land really must be sacred because of the great power it holds.

  16. Reading this articles I am reminded of the intriguing beauty of nature and cant help but wonder what ever happened to the sense of conscious presence and alert perception that we derived form nature as kids; which led the respect and appreciation of the natural world; When a tree was not merely a tree but rather the “home” of birds and a home to many other living organisms; finding a stick, (a rock, a leaf, an ant) wasn’t just a stick,(“ that”) but, rather the most amazing thing there was. Why is it so harder to appreciate the value of the stick(representing nature) as we grow up and learn its importance, than it was back then when we had no knowledge of such importance?

  17. Great point on this sense of wonder, Fernando. Both we and the natural world obviously suffer when we lose this.

  18. Many great perceptions here, Denise. Thank you for a response that entails both heart and mind.

  19. I was struck by comments that sounded similar to how beginning scientists felt. They believed in what they could see just like Henry Cultee who believed in the stars, tides, birds and wind. Just like modern scientists he used observation to see if the environment was healthy or not. Mounds of shells provided him with evidence that plenty of food was available for previous generations. The other part that was eye-opening was about the Walla Walla treaty and how they believed that renaming the land was against their beliefs. It made me think that that is why there are so many city names in Washington that are Indian words.

    • Hello and thanks for your comment Teresa. I like the intimation about the links between wonder and knowledge that derives from being present to our world and all the information it gives us. The issue of naming goes partly to a perception that the land has rights and identity of its own that transcend human ownership. I think this emphasis would help us protect our environmental commons today.

  20. I can remember, when I was a child, always standing in a spot, and imagining, trying to envision what my suroundings were like in the past. I would try and think back, 50 years and then 100, and then hundreds, to a time when people were tribal and danced around fires, back to a time where there were no people, then to a time when there were no mammels and finally to nothing but sea.
    “I could hear ancient voices of people singing here, etched onto the waves of hills and playing back again like the grooves of a record playing back a song.That was in 1976. Today the prairie where the people danced has become a gravel pit. The hills that encircle it don’t sing anymore. I can only hope that they keep their music inside somewhere where dreamers may still find it.”
    I think that we all long for a connection with the land and with our pasts, a connectoin which is no longer taught to us. Henry Cultee, this article, makes us relfect on our own connections with nature, differences in cultures and ways of life that we are lost to. To feel owned by the land instead of owning land, to belong somewhere, to feel connections with people of the past, to be a part of the earth…… its hard to imagine how sublime that would really feel.

  21. I would have loved to have met Henry Cultee. When he said, “I don’t believe in magic,” he is speaking directly to those who have twisted the beatiful stories and wisdom of Native Americans into the mystical and mythical (implying fantasy) . He is speaking their language and clarifying the fact that, though these stories ARE artistically and imaginatively told, that does not make them untrue are invalid. “The sun and the stars, the water, the tides, the floods, the owls, the hawks flying”; these things are all very real, and native peoples realize that we are a part of them as much as they are a part of us. The power and patience of native peoples is evident in this article. They realize that time is not linear, that someday nature will reclaim what development has wrought.

    I really related to Kristian’s post. I also have always tried to picture places as they were before. I am now in middle age, yet I still do this, perhaps even more. Lately, I’ve been thinking of places like the Sierras, where (in the name of progress) they blasted mountains apart in order to run the railroad through. This strikes me as a good example of the exploitation and domination of not only the land, but also of the Chinese immigrants who labored and died in the railroad’s creation.

    • Hi Mike. Thanks for your personal response. It is important to note that relating something in terms of a story does not make it a “fantasy”; the metaphor in stories is an ancient way of bridging things– saying how something is like something else– a way of connection in a live world.
      And just a note: it was not Henry Cultee who said “I don’t believe in magic”, but Billy Frank, who has worked tirelessly for the restoration of salmon runs on the Northwest Indian Fishing Commission for decades.

  22. Very interesting and moving. I would love to have mankind move toward this way of thinking, living and being. The land is ours to take care of not to possess.
    It is humbling to take a step back and tell yourself “I belong to the earth, the earth does not belong to me.”

    While reading this I could not help but to ask how the natives did name things? The idea of labels is ingrained into me, everything has to be named and categorized. I would imagine that naming with out possession would be strictly descriptive; this would coincide with Clutee’s names which he gave, such as with the mumptulips.

    Also, I think many of the names that the settlers chose do have historical significance, and reveal a story. For instance the state of Washington was named after George Washinton, the first president of the United states, which is an important part of US history. It seems more superficial then the deep rooted history within the native culture, but it is a piece of history that has led to my current being, and I feel privileged and safe to be where I am right now.

    • Interesting thought, Kate. Many names were learned in concert with stories that told how the ways of life of particular peoples and land evolved together. So the sense of naming the land according to its stories is something you also bring up here. The difference is between naming the land for ourselves (placing our names on it as property) or allowing it to name itself, if you will, because of its own identity and character. Kalapuya evidently originally meant “valley of the long grass” (that is now the Willamette Valley). When some pioneers near the Santiam (present Salem) asked them for their name, they gave the pioneers the name of the land where they stood (since their names for themselves and their lands were intertwined) and thus were known as the Kalapuya.

  23. Where I live here in Alaska, the Native culture is very much a part of all of our lives. Our island is full of totem poles and we have several long houses that are frequently used for various functions, both Native and non-Native. There has even been books published that tell the ancient stories of how things came to be. If we are Native we can join the Native dance groups that teach the traditional Native dances. We can also go to our local heritage center and learn how to do traditional Native crafts like basket weaving and totem pole carving. Our schools teach Native culture and history and traditions right along with all the other curriculum that is taught to our children. But the part that bothers me is the traditions are not taught at home, the traditions are taught through a curriculum or from books. The older generations are not passing the traditions down to the younger generations. I am sure a good portion of this is due to our electronic age and our children having many distractions. Our families no longer sit together in the quiet of the evening and share our stories and traditions as was done in the past. What a special opportunity for you to get to share the time with Henry Cultee and hear his stories.

    • Thanks for your comment, Pam. I was truly honored to be able to spend time with Henry Cultee. I think there is a resurgence of some oral tradition in your area– depending on the native nation involved. I know, for instance, that native dance troupes travel from Alaska to do theater presentations- but they can only present particular stories with permission of tribal elders, since among some groups, stories are owned by particular families, and there has to be permission for telling to outsiders what traditionally belongs within families. I wonder if there are any ways to encourage your family to share with you… you might be interested to know that I met Henry Cultee through his daughter (through, in turn, a contact with my parents)–and she sat with us and listened while he told many of his stories.

  24. “To diminish a traditional story as less than a fact is to lack the intellectual sophistication of those who used the imagination to bring humans into a fundamental intimacy with all that surrounded them.”

    That line really means a lot to me. I have been amazed by all of the biological sciences for years; however, only recently did I recognize and appreciate the wealth of biological/ecological knowledge inherent in many indigenous cultures. Without this knowledge there is no way that indigenous groups could live in one area for so many generations.

    The quotes that you have at the beginning of the post all tie humanity and the earth close together part of the same whole. This idea is what our “modern” society is hopefully realizing. If we sicken and pillage our planet we will not prosper. On the other hand if we respect and tend our land and planet as a whole we can have all that we need.

    Thank you for the thoughtful posts and well chosen books they have really helped me to see just how much I can learn from areas of knowledge that I would have once discounted.

    • Thank you for your personal response here, Heath. I think it is obvious we need all the knowledge and perspectives we can get in healing current environmental crises. I appreciate your ability to integrate these fields.

  25. Sandy Ames learned “to hear the words that came through the air”. This concept is the foundation of the “Dreamtime” or the “Dreaming” associated with many indigeneous cultures. Listening to the land is such a simple concept but it holds the power of future generations. Through observation and knowledge of the land many truths can be “heard”. It is shameful that those who hold the power in government choose not to listen to the land itself nor the people who could translate for them. Much of the land’s destruction could have been averted. I was struck by the English translation of Cultee’s traditional name “between two channels”. Could this also speak to the avenues of the traditional ways versus “modern society”? And how much more poweful soes this idea become when viewed that his natural paradise has become a gravel pit where people are no longer able to wander and commune with the land. Concerning the naming of the land, those who retain the creative aspects of mankind often can come upon something and the name jumps out at them. This is found in poetry, writings and storytellings. The names that are imposed on the land by humans are often changed for one reason or another, structures and land development is at the whim of people and do not last. It only takes another individual to come along with a different vision to change what is existing. As we are learning the land can be reclaimed, think of Gaviotas. The land is constant but people come and then return to the land in one form or another.

    I think much of the wisdom of the elders of any culture is being lost as we travel further from the land and from our beginnings. The stories that where once passed from generation to generation are becoming scarce as families are more fragmented and live further apart. I was glad to here that Cultee’s daughter was listening to the stories and hopefully has passed them along. It is a great responsibility to give to the younger generations the lessons of the past. I am sorry to see much of it lost.

    • Hi Colleen, there is this by Adrienne Rich, from a poem called “Natural Resources”: “My heart is moved by all I cannot save/so much has been destroyed/ I have to cast my lot with those/ who age after age, perversely/with no extraordinary power/ change the world.

  26. This article just reinforces my opinion that cities just destroy our connection to our lands. The freedom of walking out of your home and walking into a field or forest must be a great thing. I’ve never had that opportunity but will someday. When that does happen will be apart of the land. Until then I o my best to teach my kids that nature is all around us. Even here in Allen TX. We have bugs all over the place and we try to be nice to them if they are not disturbing us. I get to enjoy going out of my front door and watching the honeybees flitting from flower to flower in our front flower garden. I keep my distance and watch how the feed and fly. Once in a while one will come and check me me out. Its strange to say but that small shared moment where that bee is looking at me and I’m just letting it look is important somehow to me.
    Unfortunately here in Allen that about as wild as it gets.
    Concrete has really taken the life from this place and its noticeable. People talk about how this place is nice but its missing something. Perhaps when Henry Cultee says that the animals and the earth and the rivers are talking to us and telling how healthy things are, maybe here they have stopped talking, or wwe can’t here them because their covered by cement.

    • A powerful point about situating ourselves such that we can hear how the land speaks to us, Joe. It’s great that you are teaching your children these things–and the eye to eye with a bee is delightful. Why should nature only be a large thing?

  27. Ignoring the “eyes of the world” is a powerful statement, and one that is so prevalent in our world today. It is as if we as a whole have covered up the eyes of the world and subsequently turned our back for entirely too long. You are blessed to have spent such quality time with Henry Cultee and others. The people that truly understand the Earth and what it has provided for us in our relatively short existence here. I hope to have experiences like that in the future. This class is really helping me understand our past values and people I can emulate to set a good example for others in my own life.

    • Thanks for your comment, Aaron. I truly have been fortunate: now I am fortunate to be able to pass such stories along to those like yourself who becoming a caring audience for them.

  28. Madronna, Thanks for the story. The idea of people being “the eyes of the world” is one that has resonated with me for some time. I feel like it is our great responsibility and privilege to see the earth and to be able to reflect upon what it is that we see. By appreciating the beauty of all that surrounds us we are showing great respect to that which sustains us. What an honor it is to be the species that is able to cognitively participate in the world around us. We are the ones that can think about the choices we make in the world, and not only act from instincts. How we got so far off track is a mystery to me.

    I can relate to the sorrow you felt returning from Oakville that day. I have spent many days and nights in deep despair over the state of our precious planet; which I think is actually a good thing. People need to feel in the core of their beings the deep sorrow that is all around us from the destruction of our home.

    And, thank you for the update on this story too. It is good to know that good is happening too.

    • Hello Dazzia, thank you for your comment. It seems that you have personally entered the story that “re-stories” the land here. I am also glad you read the update. It is important to remember that the “eyes of the earth” are not our own, though our own are among them. The eyes of the earth are all the more-than-human life whose response to us tells us whether we have found our true place on the land such that we may live a long life here.
      Certainly there is great grief in the destruction that has been taking place–and continues to take place. I also think that a stance of humility in honoring the great mystery of the natural world might cheer us here, since the cycle of life is greater than we are. I once heard native American environmental activist Tom Goldtooth put it this way: “Mother Earth is all right. It is we who are in trouble.” He stressed there was some unfounded pride in placing our power above that of the earth itself.
      I concur that we have a special place in this world in standing by creation and appreciating it. But having seen how the animals, wild and domestic, seem to enjoy the glorious spring day today, I’m not sure we can say we are the only ones who can express such appreciation.
      How we got off track is a large and complex question that I think no one has fully answered. But certainly it has to do with a human culture that rewards its members for greed and arrogance–and for a dominating attitude that has separated us from the real feedback we might obtain for the consequences of our choices.

  29. Madronna, Thanks for your response. It is true, we are the ones in trouble, ultimately, not the Earth. I know that we are not powerful enough to bring the planet to it’s ultimate doom but we are on a fast track to bringing ourselves there! I appreciate your continued way in which you point out the beautiful, humble and hopeful aspects of life. These are good reminders for me in the midst of the despair.

    Funny you mention about the lack of real feedback we obtain for the consequences of our choices. This seems to be a theme in my life with my 14 year-old son! I see the importance of clear boundaries and marked consequences for our actions. How else do we learn?

    • Thank you, Dazzia. I appreciate your thoughtful responses. I think it often does take some courage to look clearly at our present situation– and at the consequences of our actions that we have so often denied or hidden. If we care about these things, there is some grief involved.
      Interesting that you bring up your son. It would be great if we acted as a culture on some of the simplest things that seem apparent when it comes to teaching our children!

  30. Over the years people become obsessed with their jobs and their families et cetera and forget the natural serenity and solemnity that being close to nature can bring. A warm or even hot day watching a river slowly move down a mountain can place a place a person in a trance. I can’t help but think about how we forget the “simple” ways of living where we go fishing down by the lake or go for an exploratory hike on a near by hill brings so much pleasure to each of us. I remember fondly as a child going down to river beds and skipping rocks or swinging out over the water on a rope swing. So many wonderful and vivid memories of my early childhood. How life was so wonderful because it was simple and not complicated by the internet or my job or cars, or bills. I hope that I never forget those pleasures of yester year.

    • Thanks for your comment, Richard. Let’s hope such pleasures are not confined to yesteryear! Is there any ways that knowing the stories of the land where you relax in these ways might add to your enjoyment of a particular landscape?

  31. For centuries, western society and its worldview was shaped by the thought that the earth is the center of the universe and humans were created as part and owners of this center. The story of Adam and Eve elaborates named all other beings accordingly—according to their will. Thus, the names of every existing being is a result of human creativity and the human ability and wisdom to name things. Therefore, humans were also the ones that named landscapes, mountains and rivers. Imitating the example of the Chehalis by adopting the name of the landscape people live in would have been as subduing the human nature to something that humans are supposed to be superior to.

    • Hi Nick, thanks for your comment. There actually more than one interpretation of the tale of Adam and Eve: but I do think you have a point that the way we tell the story of humans and nature is all too often about domination. Subduing ourselves to nature might actually have some beneficial consequences in terms of human survival.

  32. While I’m not familiar with the locales mentioned in this article, I get a sad feeling in the bottom of my heart when I read about the gravel pit. I understand that people have the right to go out and make a living in any way they see fit, but I think what many of us have forgotten is HOW that quest affects others. We’ve become too disconnected to these kind of feelings, and as a result, have taken to the environment with reckless abandon. The strength and resilence of people like Henry Cutlee is certainly an inspiration – a guiding light for those of us who would rather see the Earth left to its own natural beauty.

    • Hi Allison, interesting point about making a living “however we see fit”– obviously, as you indicate, this should entail consideration both for the character of the land and for others who have long term residence here. Henry would love to hear you say that!

  33. It must have been a great gift for you to know Henry; a gift that keeps giving. There is a lot of fun wisdom it seems coming from him through you albeit very serious. I think we’ve lost connection and have too many noises in our lives to listen to the sound of a river. I had no idea that is where Humptulips came from. I’m losing track of where I’ve learned things, but are you all familiar with how the indigenous peoples said the trees could talk (likely you are)…but then some scientist recorded sounds made on some instrument from the trees. Who says our technology is better than our respect. Possibly it helps to negate it.

    I think it is important to listen to our surroundings and walk barefoot on sacred mountains. But if I were to tell someone SHHH…I’m listening to ancient voices, they’d probably throw me in a small room somewhere. But, I think we should be listening to ancient voices…reading or paying attention to what we see and taking it all in to learn from it.

    • Hi Tina, thanks for this moving comment: your question, who said our technology is better than our respect is a profound one indeed. I have been privileged indeed to know Henry Cultee–and to have him share these things with me and so to be able to share them in turn.
      Powerful point about the speech of the trees: I love this. I also understand that if you cut a tree in an old growth forest other trees of the same species miles away will register a measurable response. It is only our own lack of listening that causes us to declare such grace filled beings “objects” for our use. I also sense that stones have something to say as well: we just have to slow ourselves down long enough to hear the voices of those who have stood witness over this land for so long.

  34. That was a very moving article, and so true. I think that humans are losing their belonging to the land, and as that happens, the scared earth is losing its meaning. It is very damaging to the earth when people do not see to sacredness of the Earth. People start treating the earth as a product, such as buying and selling the land to make a profit. This all relates to what we are seeing in the United States today. I think most of the problem is people do not stay in one location anymore to put down roots and get to know the land like the indigenous people did.


    • Thanks for your comment, Troy. It indicates a changing consciousness and thus a hopeful perspective to me. At the same time that things are getting worse in this regard as a result of industrialism and inappropriate development, there is a counter-trend. Which trend gains more momentum will be up the choices that each of us makes

  35. “In order to understand such a story one must spend time in the company of its keeper.”

    This essay is a beautiful portrait of Madronna’s day spent in Henry Cultees company, but as she states, the stories, including her day there, are more than facts, because they are deep with meaning. That meaning came because of being with the storyteller, and in the land where the storyteller and the story came from. Many cultures believe that there are witnesses to all our activities and even witnesses to our thoughts. Some people also believe that our communication is 99 percent vibrational and 1 percent verbal, and those vibrations are felt by nature all around us. But, I digress.
    Stories are what teach and sustain us, and stories are alive with power and life. Indians lived close to nature, and nature informed them about what is true and balanced. It is more than this though. It is the dignity and grace of these people, the vast gift of their knowledge, against the stark backdrop of the most ignorant humans ever conceived…the moving Europeans with all their ideas about conquering and owning the world, being blind to everything but their own conceit. Now they have been running the world for a couple hundred years, and what is the story now? It is something about being up a creek without a paddle, but that is putting it mildly. Fools! The Indians will once again save our butts, when we listen long enough to their stories. The power of their prayers can change our hearts, and changing our hearts is what we need more than anything else.

    • Perceptive point about becoming intimate with stories about being in the presence–and on the land– of the teller, Lesley. Thanks for sharing this powerful personal response. This is a touching comment–changing our hearts is what we need indeed!

  36. How do you tell the story without the land? This one comment puts into perspective the importance the Native American’s placed on land – not property – but the land itself. We asked the ultimate sacrifice when we took ownership of something that could not be owned. Renamed something that should not be renamed. We drove a wedge between the Indian and his land and by doing tried to change a culture that should not be changed. The farther we took the American Indian from his land the farther we took him away from his culture. Without the land the Indians were shipwrecked. They needed the land to maintain their culture – we needed the land to make a profit.

    Two very different views of land – we are reminded that the land was viewed as a living breathing organism and if respected, would provide sustenance for generations. In reading this you are able to pick up the feeling of both sadness and frustration at the inability to communicate this to the white man. The white man viewed the land as property to create wealth. The white man’s economy was market driven, the Indian’s economy was reciprocal in nature.

    What makes our culture better than another? What makes one religion better than another? Not taking the time to understand a culture shortchanges all of us and creates barriers instead of bridges. We have lost so much intimate knowledge of the land and its bounty by assuming that we have the right answers. If we begin to listen again to the land, will it return with all its bounty?

    • This is a thoughtful and obviously caring personal comment here, Liz. It would be interesting to see how you yourself might begin to answer the questions you pose here. The point you bring out about listening is an essential one. We need to reclaim our skills in listening not only to the land and to one another– to work to develop “interested-based” communication (which seeks our shared concerns) rather than positional communication which seeks to hold one’s ideas as a particular “territory” against the ideas of another. Thanks for your comment.

  37. Wow! Thanks for sharing this journey with us! I find it quite inspirational that you were affected so deeply by it. I do believe in the connection between Earth and ourselves, if we are open to it. I am sure that you did feel tears that were being held back. Most diseases are caused by energy levels that are not in balance. I would like to learn more about the Indians and how they respect the land and the knowledge that they know. We do not own the land, we already belong to it. If it were not here, we wouldn’t be either. I think that is forgotten. I do see how interest-based education could help teach others that are wanting to know about how to improve the current negative mindset of ownership that most have.

    • Great point that if the land were not here, we would not be either, Lorena. Bringing interest-based communication in? What common interests on this point do you see with those you would want to reach? Thoughtful comment, Lorena.

  38. These stories you have heard are special. When I was younger I wished to be able to live in the cowboy and Indian days. The romantic writings of western books created a pleasant vision of the old days. The open virgin lands and rivers seem so inviting. When it isn’t yet possible to travel back in time, the preservation of whats left is important. We each need to strive to preserve that which we have control over, and teach others the same ideas.

    • I do feel blessed to have heard such stories, Ross. These stories of the living land are a treasure that should motivate us to care for that land in whatever way we are able, as you indicate.

  39. The opening quotes do a nice job of letting us know how important everything in nature is to us and really independently. I thought of the nature being described as no less important but even more instrumental to everyone’s survival. I think listening to other’s viewpoints is important, and to listen to the native’s viewpoints about nature which consists of listening to nature it’s self, I think is very impressive and unique. Maybe if we did take a step back and think about the land and the stories it could tell we would be blown away enough to not demolish so much nature. The line that reads it’s in the eyes of nature that determine the length of our lifes, is very powerful and had me thinking about it the entire time as I read the article and still does.

    • Thanks for your listening attitude as you read this, Trevor– it is that way with stories, they embrace us and take us into themselves. It certainly is a cause for grief to lose such stories of the land. It is time to make the story of the land our own story as well–and then, as you note, we will not be so likely to destroy its stories.

  40. I really like the idea of land telling a story. This reminds me of a movie where a hunter goes camping with his girlfriend, and the next morning, he asks her what she sees in the forest. She answers that she sees trees and he tells her that she sees nothing at all. He tells her stories of all the things that happened during the night, based on different animal tracks and things that he sees, besides just trees. I think that this is a problem that many people have nowadays–we see nothing of nature but trees. Often its beauty escapes us because we are so used to seeing it everyday, we don’t think about it anymore. We don’t see that nature has its stories to tell, just as we do, and we should take the time to notice.

    • I had not hear of this movie, Sarah, it sounds very interesting. I do feel that nature has its stories to tell–and we are the ones who lose out if we don’t notice.

  41. We are watching eyes, noise makers and destroyers, and after bearing witness to the destruction I want to yell, “Pick on someone your own size!” What is this morality we speak of? We devour resources and force our neighbors to work in unbelievably unhealthy conditions so that these “raw materials” can become more palatable. The native peoples speak of how the flora and fauna are their gauges of the health of their environment, so how does western culture detect the cause behind the surge of autism or allergies or death?

    • Hi Jessica, thanks for your comment. I understand the last part, but I’m confused about your first sentence. How are we (rather than lives of the natural world, as Cultee says), “watching eyes”? Who is speaking of morality here? Can you clarify I bit-since you obviously feel passionately about this point!

  42. Apologies Professor, I get caught up in the clouds sometimes, but I was speaking abstractly about the human race, and some of our more noticeable traits. I included “morality” at the tail, because it is a principle based on our religions that we wish to exude, although how it is expressed is conflicting. This essay was very moving, and unfortunately it is not rare that the people and places we love are displaced by governments that can manipulate the land to fit into their industrial landscape.

    • It is a misfortune indeed, that such things are not rare, Jessica. Thanks for your follow up. I am a bit more hopeful (or less apt to generalize about “humans” in general). Seems there is all too much variability both between cultures and between individuals in our culture. This is both a good and a bad thing, depending on our choices– but we have a range of them–and taking conscious and careful heed of morality, as you indicate is essential.

  43. I want to focus on the comment by Billy Frank, Jr. His first sentence says a lot to me. “I don’t believe in magic.” This is important because he is saying that the magic he is talking about is a slight of hand, a trick, however entertaining, ultimately fake. Now, I’m not saying that some magic doesn’t exist, but the magic I think he is referring to here is the kind where a magician pulls a bunny out of his top hat. He goes on in the next sentence and says the physical, earthly things that he does believe in. These are things very real to him and many of us. Though together, I believe all these make a beautiful and very tangible magic, he doesn’t want to present this image to our Western minds that do not believe in magic. He doesn’t want those who are listening to not believe in what he is saying outright. Explaining that our health is related to the world’s health also appeals to our Western ideals of well being. We are very concerned about sickness and pain when it relates to ourselves or our loved ones. By connecting us so concretely to the Earth, he is affecting our mindset of our own healthiness. I bet he did not think so indepth about his quote, he simply said what he believed. But, hearing it and seeing both his side and Western perspective, it does allow for a deeper impact-one that shows in the rest of this blog, especially in Dr. Holden’s experience of dizziness and weeping for human belongings and the land.

    • Hi Jennifer, thanks for sharing your thoughtful analysis. Though Billy Frank may not have thought about the analysis in these terms, his tradition was what led him to this sophisticated as well as moving statement–and that tradition is based on thousands of years of pragmatic success.
      Your analysis of “magic” dovetails with my analysis of superstition in the latest post, “Lessons from Yellowjackets”, on this site.

  44. We all have a story to tell. Our own stories are rooted in those things, places, experiences, and people that are significant to us. My grandmother tells me stories of when she was little in Hong Kong. When she is gone, her stories will still live in me and those she dared to share them with. I will pass them on to my children and hope they will do the same. But what would happen if Hong Kong no longer existed? How would those stories be relevant or believable? They might become only myths in the eyes of my family’s future generations. And it would be a tremendous loss to never be able to go back to that place and see where those stories originated.

    So when my grandmother is no longer here, I will do everything I can to make sure her life does not become a myth, irrelevant, or unbelievable. My children’s children will never know her. They will not be able to sit on her lap and listen to her stories. But they have to be told nonetheless. What I know, though, is they will not mean the same without her here to tell them. Only she can tell them exactly the way they are meant to be told. And just like those stories, when the land is gone, the stories it has to tell can never be told the way they are meant. So we must fight for the land and the wisdom it shares with us. And when we lose some of it along the way, we must fight to keep its stories alive.

    • Hi Staci, what a gift you have in your grandmother’s stories–and she in having you as a listener so that they will live after she is gone.
      What a powerful point about the way these stories belong to place–and if that place disappears, the stories will become “irrelevant and unbelievable”. And though only she can tell her stories in just the way that links your obvious love for her with her telling, that love will also come through when you retell those stories.
      Your perceptions of the power of stories is obvious. Thanks for sharing it with us!

  45. It’s funny becaus I think I straddle 2 different areas. I I live in an area of people who have deep roots and I envy them, but I work with many who consistantly move. I’ve never really thought about it before, but it’s true. On my street/road, I have 3 generations of a family living just down from me. They all live within a few house area. This is just one example of several I could use in the town I live in. Many I work with have a different attitude. Their attitudes reflect the “drift people” in this essay. A few move every 3 years as the “flip” their house.

    I moved around a lot as a child and I’ve put down roots here in this small town. I’ve even moved my mom here and she seems to really love the area. My sister, however took off as soon as she could. I like to think I have flowered here where I never would in the city.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience in straddling these two different approaches to putting down roots, Chisty. It seemed you have thrived where you are–and where you choose to be. Great that you brought your mom to live here as well–one way of getting instant roots is to bring in someone from the generation before yours to share your community home?

  46. I’m sure these natives would get some strange looks if they went around just saying their quotes if nobody knew the stories that went along with them. It reminds me a bit like the little stories told from the African elders. If people didn’t know what the conversation was all about, they may think they are listening to a crazy person! I do realize that the quotes all have meaningful stories that go with them. I wonder if the U.S. will ever use the original names of places that the natives gave them? Would it take an act of Congress to make that change? I noticed in the appendix of “Wisdom of the Elders” in the U.N. draft for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has a section concerning indigenous peoples right to designate and maintain the original names of communities, places and persons (Operative paragraph 9). Can you imagine the uproar that would cause? It could even be like the magnitude it is taking Portland to get a Cesar Chavez Avenue! I agree that the pioneer settlers had big egos when they went around changing the names of the landscape even if they knew that the natives already had a name for it. I enjoy saying and pronouncing the native words of what the settlers didn’t change. I feel like I can speak another language almost especially when a non-Oregonian tries to pronounce it!

    • Hi Kelley, thanks for your comment. Do you mean the quotes that begin this piece? I think they stand on their own and have something to tell us as is, but you have a point that those who hold the modern industrial worldview may well need some context (not to mention, an open mind) to perceive them.
      There are a few old name designations — a very few– but in Alton Baker Park there is the Willamut Natural Area with “talking stones” featuring Kalapuya words. And we have inherited a number of native names without realizing it–and sometimes we do realize a little of our inheritance, as you do in pronouncing these names.
      I don’t think it would do us any harm to gain a perspective that honors the land for its own character rather than our ownership of it!

  47. Wow. I can honestly say that was one of the most moving things I’ve ever read. When I first started reading about the “story-tellers”, all I could picture is Thomas from the movie “Smoke Signals”. He always had a story for everything. A story that meant something. I believe that each person has their own story to tell. On top of that, each culture has it’s own story, and so forth. The land most definitely has it’s own story. It’s a long story of life, death, love and loss – happiness and sadness. It’s all there. Infact, the land could tell the story of every person who has ever lived on it.

    I think the current problem is that we are thinking for the future. Looking forward to tomorrow, and forgetting to look back to the past. My favorite quote is “Never head to the future, without your past.” You can’t learn from your mistakes if you don’t have the stories from your past. You can’t hold anything dear to you, if you can’t remember what it is.

    I think the Native Americans have it right looking first to the past, and then to the future.

    • Thank you, Becky. I have been very blessed to be able to spend time with such elders.
      I love Smoke Signals: hysterically funny and wise both as is much of Sherman Alexie’s work.
      I like your statement that the land could tell the story of everyone who has ever lived on it: in fact, I think it does if we but knew how to hear or read that story.
      There are ways in which both the past and future are in the mind together; how we conceive of the past is directly related to the ways in which we understand and enact our future possibilities.

  48. Growing up in the pacific northwest I have always felt an intense connection to the nature around me. So much that whenever I travel to “exotic” places I always long for home: for the wet forests and the mountains, for the gorge and the sea. My family is from the White Salmon area of WA and when ever I return there I feel a profound sense of belonging to the place. On a recent walk up to Indian Heaven on Mt. Adams I had an experience of such intense beauty that I sat up there crying over that which I still do not fully understand. I do know that the land moves me and that I belong to it.

    There is a connection that is fostered when one is born in place and allowed to live their years there. Although I wasn’t raised with the tools to understand my innate connection to the land like the Natives were, I still intuitively felt connected. Spending summers walking along rivers and through meadows where the sun glows golden in the summer evening, these are things that are imprinted on ones soul. Like the sound of the wind through the trees on a windy day, or the feel of snow brewing in the skies. These things grow with a person and in a sense are a part of a person.

    • Thank your for the lovely personal images that took me away from this computer and into the mountains for a moment, Jessica! We are fortunate indeed to live in a place where there is still land that speaks so powerfully to us.

  49. What a life you have led! I can only hope to encounter half of the wonderful people you have in my life. Likewise, I must thank you for at least sharing Cultee’s stories with us in such a vivid manner, because even though I was not there to ride the river with you two, I can feel as though I can picture it well from your descriptions. I can only hope that the many natural areas I hold dear will be around for my children to be able to experience.

    • I have been fortunate– and I appreciate the chance to share these, and thus thank you for your feedback, Randa. I hope those same natural areas are available to your children–and their children.

  50. “Native stories were more rather than less than facts: they were facts imbued with meaning.”

    I like the idea of listening to legends, parables and anecdotes, not being concerned with whether they are fact or not. When I think about it, why should I care? Like the dream of the ear infection being the “uncried tears for all that was lost of our human belonging to this land. . .,” stories can be much more when they are endowed with meaning. In this case, it doesn’t matter so much what caused the pain in the ear, but more of what it told Dr. Holden about herself. The physical pain helped reveal the unexpressed, subconscious, emotional pain she had been carrying.

    When facts are coupled with meaning, it can sound strange to a typical Westerner. For example, it is hard for me to listen to someone talk about “spirits in the trees.” I am learning that I don’t have to believe in what I imagine as spirits inhabiting trees, and besides, whoever is telling me about them is probably not experiencing what I imagine at all, but something much more personal and nearly impossible to describe in words.

    In other words, once I look beyond my own judgment, reality becomes much deeper and more meaningful. I like that.

  51. You had the experience of a lifetime. Something I’m sure you will never forget. How fortunate you were to have that experience with Henry Cultee!! I will be thinking differently every time I go into my yard. When I sit on the deck looking at the trees, I will wonder what stories do they have to tell, before there were houses here. I will imagine who walked on this land. I’ll be thinking that way on the next trip to the coast. So many new ways to think about things.

    • I was very fortunate that my parents connected with Henry Cultee’s daughter– so that I might meet him. So many new ways to think about things indeed. Thanks for your comment, Judilyn.

  52. People are incredibly closed-minded when it comes to the beliefs of others. They seem to think that nothing existed before they arrived to mark time in an area. Historical facts that can not be proven are simply “stories” to be enjoyed, but not to be granted the respect of consideration as being more than entertainment. It has resulted in a great loss of history of our past and a blatant disregard of respect for an entire culture that is slowly beginning to reassert its place in the social fabric of our society. By the time we have made any headway, we will have lost much of the health and vitality of our land due to our lack of compassion, understanding and humility. I’m thankful to have so many positive influences in my life so I can at least know that I have a chance to get to know what many are missing.

    • Thanks for sharing this perspective, Maria. I think you are right about the kinds of things we lose when we lose a connection to the past–which is of course linked to our roots with respect to the land. Not only do you have such influences, you obviously recognize and honor them.

  53. Humans put great emphasis on the ideas of home, the land, and their precious memories. We as humans often are able to recall found memories of our life through the association to actual physical objects in our surroundings, and the land we live on is one of the largest associations we have. Whether it is someone who remembers a tree or river, or a street or block, we hold these places very dear. The surprising part is how easily someone from the outside can come in and change a place, or even change its name without any concern for the memories and traditions of others. This goes back to the sense of ownership we place onto the land, for if we name the land, we may also claim it. We often times find it very difficult to part with even small trinkets that remind us fondly of our past, yet we have no problem coming into a native land and taking and destroying entire landscapes without any concern for those who may treasure it. The developers would say it is just land, you can move somewhere else and be better off, and the natives would argue it is our home and our memories; you can go and develop somewhere else. Think of how sad you would be if the block you grew up on was torn down and replaced by a shopping mall, because while you may keep some of your memories, others will most certainly be lost forever. The stories you tell your children will seem much less real to them and ultimately it will result in the killing of the soul of the land. If you erase everything that someone ever touched, and dilute their memories, eventually they will be forgotten. This applies to the land as well, and although we can read stories about how things might once have been, it is almost impossible to actually picture it as ever being anything more than a “story”.

    • Hi Damien, thanks for your comment. Many stories do belong to the land so powerfully that they lose their potency if that land is lost or destroyed, as you indicate. It is also the case that stories have much potency on their own– especially in particular traditions. It was downright insulting to Chehalis elders I worked with to diminish a story by calling it “just” a story. I think the power of stories is a hopeful thing in the face of current losses we are facing in our modern sense of place.
      Can you re-phrase the statements you make here about “humans” in a culturally specific way? It is important to think about what bridges different cultures– how, that is, many of us share what we care about, but it is also essential to make it clear that all humans are not the same.
      I appreciate your thoughtful points here.

  54. A very moving article, one you can feel the loss of. Just as we lose the traditions and language of cultures, we are losing the stories of the land and the land itself. The statement from Yakama elder Owhi sums it up very well on how the land should be viewed. “God looked one way and then the other and named our land for us to take care of.” For us to take care or not the other way around. If we do not take care of it, it will be lost and we will be the worst for that lost.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Adeena. I think there is an especially important implication in your last statement that when we lose something essential to care for (as the land that sustains us) we lose something essential in ourselves as well.

  55. It’s kind of sad. The disrespect we have shown towards the people who were here before us. I think that it is a vital part of our history that is slowly being forgotten and ignored. By listening to the stories people may earn a deeper respect and caring for nature and all that it has provided us with. It is becoming a more pressing issue now as many of the elders are dying and their stories are becoming lost. This is not something that we can put off until tomorrow, because by tomorrow we may not get another chance.

  56. The vivid imagery of this article is so strong. As I read it I could feel the bumps of the waves lapping against the boat and the fast paced, alive scenery that was happening everywhere he was guided. As soon as I came to the parts of the “no trespassing” sign and having to drive out to this place it was instantly dead. The little life that came from the harmony of the dog barking was the only life that came from that part of the story. It is truly sad that we lose touch with the world; not only sad but in my opinion a travesty. We were not put here to enslave the land, we were put here to give name and spirit to each and every part of this world.

  57. I learned from those articles that Indian people love their land and connect their lives to it, which is wonderful. What happened to them must be hard, but the good thing that they appreciate what the nature gives to them.

  58. I agree that oral histories are important and that understanding the earth is vital to our continued survival. This article reflects on what has been lost and how non-native peoples have hurt the earth. All of that has happened in the past. I agree that the earth is still being harmed and we as a people overall should become less materialistic, but how many different ways are there to express this idea? Where are the ideas for positive movement forward? We need to acknowledge and learn from the past, but we also need to move forward and not dwell on the mistakes of those who came before us. We cannot change the past.

    • We cannot change the past, Kristin, but I do think we must learn from it–and certainly those whose people have lived this history continue to carry it with them. On the other hand, check out the “update on restorying” post here to express exactly the type of positive movement forward you might be looking for.

  59. This article has beautiful imagery. Reading it was an experience in itself, and I can only imagine how wonderful it was to experience it firsthand. But there is both awe and sadness in this story because of what’s happened to the land. Indeed, how do we “tell the land’s story without the land?” Without experiencing the land personally, can we truly understand? I would argue that although we can appreciate the story, the best we can do is long for understanding for lack of actual understanding. It may sound pessimistic, but I don’t think it is. I think it just has implications—that we need to reexamine the way we treat the land so that we may restore it to its naturalness and then be able to experience it firsthand. To restore it to the state of existing for its own sake, not just for the sake of humans. Only then can we accept the beautiful and reciprocal relationship of humans and nature. I’m going to read the “update on re-storying” next, and am thinking it might have a response to this.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Kirsten. I was very much privileged to have experienced this. There is some good news in the “update”–but you have a valid point. Such experiences call upon us to respect and care for the land so that others may share experiences like them.

  60. As Henry Cultee stated,”Stories belong to a live land: and if that land becomes only an object of development, those stories can be lost.” When the Europeans came and objectified everything, they tried to diminish the history and heritage of the Native Peoples and the land.

    The Europeans did not understand sacred lands. All they saw was open land. It is when we refuse to hear and listen to the stories of the land, the stories of our elders do we lose our heritage. Unfortunately, my mother and father refused to acknowledge their hertiage up until their deaths. So, I have lost a piece if myslef that can never be recovered.

    • I am sorry, Jeff. I also believe that there is a way in which the dead are wiser than the living– and that our relationships with others don’t die when they cross over from this life. At least I have seen this happen in story: now it is up to you to tell their story and yours in a way that does honor to the possibilities of all of you and your tradition, even for all the grief that is entailed in this.

  61. The more I hear, the more I love learning of the worldview of indigenous groups. In an anthropology class I recently took they talked about how some Native American groups had a way of viewing the world that, while foreign to modern American culture, appears to have been held by Henry Cultee. We read a book that made mention to the Apache, I believe, and how physical places were more than just that. They could be metaphors for right action as well. In this article reference is made to “the place where Wildcat stole fire.” To a modern Oregonian that could be viewed simply as a physical spot to tie a historical story to, similar to that person saying, “I was sitting right there on the couch when I got the news.” That person only uses that point to reference the event in relation to themself. However, “the place where Wildcat stole fire,” is much more than simply a place. In native belief it implies creation, the actions and nature of the natural world and potentially so much more. It is important and sacred to them in a way that is hard for us to grasp.
    Another example is Henry’s name, he is named for the place he lives. His name and the name of the land he lives on gives him a sense of belonging and an idea of his purpose, or role in the natural world. All the stories tie together to create a weave of meaning connecting the people to the land in a way that we have obviously lost. Land is not simply land, it deserves respect as our live giver.
    Yet, it would be fake for non Native Americans to try to accept these beliefs. Instead we must find our own way of connecting to the land as they once did. Because only when it is as important to us as it was in native stories, will we cease to destroy and begin to coexist.

    • Great point about the land and its particular places guiding us in stories. I believe you might be speaking of Keith Basso’s “Wisdom Sits in Places” about the Apache. It is time indeed to seek out our own authentic sense that connects to place in land and community and time– and is the ground of our moral choice as well.

  62. Just reading the words of this article give me a peaceful feeling. Great descriptions, and the stories all provoke reverence in me. It appears that this article is about not letting the stories and the land die. I agree that we need to remember the history of the land and that too much of it is being lost. At the same time, I think that just as important as remembering is making new stories. That’s not a metaphor for making changes. It just means that it’s so very important that we remember what is happening now. These are also the stories of the future, and they tell an important lesson, as well as being a reflection of both the good and bad forces, just like the stories of the Indians.

    I also want to share a place that is rebuilding its story and writing a new one in NY. We have a park here called Sampson State Park . It is located right on a beautiful large lake, a setting that usually demands huge prices here. This state park used to be a very large Navy or Air Force training base, but was decommissioned sometime after the Korean War. As you drive into Sampson, there’s an extensive road system, and it appears that at one time the entire area was flattened and covered in asphalt and buildings. Most of the buildings are gone now, but the asphalt was left, with only main park roads maintained. When you drive around Sampson, most of the land now is trees in a middle stage of growth. The pavement has been broken up over time, and plants are coming up through it. An entire 2000 acres that used to be asphalt is now again making its way and writing its story back into our natural lives. It will never be the same place it was before, but it is starting something new.

    • I’m glad you liked this, Jamie. I was so fortunate to be able to share this to pass it on. I like your point about needing both old and new stories. Thanks for sharing the lovely image of reclaiming-telling a new story in Sampson Park. Hopefully, we will be wise enough so that our stories of the past lead to the future in a sense of renewal, but grief and loss.

  63. I think that must have been quite an experience to see the harbor with the man that remembers. And also to have your grief manifested physically. Ultimately, I think that land ownership is fleeting. When you don’t listen to or understand the land you “own” or live on, you’re only pretending to own in anyway.
    This article is full of rich imagery. I felt as if the stories were alive and in danger of dying out. The stories of the land, like the elders. Ancient traditions sustained the people along with the land and current practices are aggravating both.

  64. Henry Cultee was wise and knew that there are clearly lessons to be learned from the earth’s story. How lucky you were to spend time with him. He knows the wind, water, and seasons can teach us their stories. Some earth lessons we already know, but we tend to forget. Like being kind to those less fortunate than ourselves, that love is truly the most important reason for us all to be here, or to have respect for all living things. The earth may even warn us of the consequences of our actions on ourselves and others. The earth, and people of all walks of life, like Henry Cultee, all have stories and most all of them contain lessons to be learned or remembered. The most important thing we can do- is listen.

  65. I admire so much the steadfastness in hanging on to traditions, history and concepts that indigenous people have. It really is amazing that they have managed to hold on to their cultures through the persistent and ongoing fragmentation, exploitation, racism and economic imbalance that western civilization has out upon them. I fear for the loss of elders like Henry Cutlee and worry that people like him that have the stories and the knowledge are a dying breed. I know that for many tribes the loss of their actual language is a real danger, and the young people are becoming increasingly enveloped in western culture. With the loss of indigenous elders comes the loss of a wealth of knowledge about how humans should interact with the world.

    • Such elders and their knowledge are an irreplaceable treasure. I maintain that in order to care for the land, we need to care for those who care for the land, Laida.

  66. The Indians sense of belonging is shown here. This essay really made me think of how we have lost that ability to hear the lands stories. Sandy Ames was able to hear them. By listening to the Indians speak is the best way to know our land. It is trying to tell us something. I equate this to nature being the teacher in the essay Indigenous Peoples. We have to learn from the land. We have to hear what it is telling us. Would the land have told us to build the skyscrapers that we have built? No, it would tell us of a different use of the land that would be more beneficial to us and nature. With industrialization, we are losing the land’s stories. But we have made this monster, and now we can’t live without these modern day technologies like highways and buildings. If we had a sense of belonging to the land, we would have more parks, more forests, and less polluted waterways. As the essay says, the US lifespan is getting shorter. But if we had listened to the land that would not necessarily be the case.

    • Thanks for your comment, Scott. Great point on listening to the land–and no, I can’t imagine it would have directed us to build skyscrapers! I assume instead it would have spoken up for its companions in the family of life: and asked for more habitat for all lives.

    • Indeed, Scott. Caring for such stories would expand our lives in another way. There is a Chinese saying that our lives do not begin at birth and end at death: our lives are as long as we remember into the past and as long as the legacy we leave that touches the future.

  67. After i read this story, I felt as if I’d read it before. I had a distinct sense of deje vu. I looked but could not find where I would have made a reply so this must remind me of another story. It is so sad. That those people, like the land itself, has fewer and fewer to pass their memories and stories on to. I know their tradition is verbal but somebody should be writing it all down so that when everybody finally wakes up the history won’t be completely lost. So much of such import could be lost forever. That’s more than criminal, more than insane. I listened to the audio recording that Oklahoma made of Wilma Mankiller and was so thrilled to hear in her own voice of her childhood and how she grew up, being moved to a horrendous childhood by lies. Then to survive it all and accomplish what she did. And i got to hear it after she was gone. My grandchildren will be able to hear it. I prefer verbal to visual learning myself but at the very least all these stories need to be made in a collection and published. Maybe that grandmother will be right then because when people have no other way to survive than to turn back to nature they will have the old stories to teach them the right ways.

    • I used the same beginning in the Australian Humanities article you read, so you may have indeed read this before, Cendi! What a great thing to have found this recording: I thought you might like this woman! And you still might be surprised at the stories of value that exist among your forebearers- I am assuming you might find some of these since you found that 1625 date of arrival on these shores.

  68. It does not surprise me in the least that the pioneers “anglicized” changed Khaisalemish’s name. It is not unusual for humans to want to change something in order for it to better meet thier needs or wants. This is most evident in nature as we have changed the landscape, the flow of rivers and nearly everything else we come into contact with. Humans doe seem to think that everything on earth was put here for our convenience and pleasure. Not just the plants, animals and other natural resources but in some cases other people too. In this particular case the pioneers chose to give the gentleman a name that was more common and probably easier to say for them. Just as in most cases we give common names to land formations, we have named animals, we have even named the stars and planets. Imagine for a moment how offended we would be if someone chose to call us something other than the name our parents gave us at birth or the name we have chosen for ourselves.

    • I would change your tendency of humans to change things to the tendency of humans from particular cultures having a tendency to change things, Mildred. It is interesting that Esther Stutzman has been working to re-assign the land’s former names to places near Eugene in conjunction with community groups that have the same concern you bring up in the last line here.

      • Knowing from having lived in Eugene that it is a pretty progressive place, I was wondering how the general reception of the community is on re-assigning the land’s former names, Professor. I find this news really kind of exciting, but I’m having trouble finding anything about Esther Stutzman’s work other than here at your informative site. Knowing that the Oregon Geographic Names Board is operated by the Oregon Historical Society, is there anything you know of, as Oregon residents and students, that we could do to help this along, by contacting them, or do we have to be residents of Eugene/Lane County and vote on getting former names re-assigned?

        • I don’t Odhran. I know Esther has been busy in this respect, not just dedicating the names for the Willamut area at Alton Baker, but an area in Cottage Grove. It would be interesting to contact the Oregon Historical Society and see if they have any perspective on this–and any motive to add some older names to the landscape.

  69. Its always very moving to hear about specific experiences about the affects of disconnection to the land. The pacific northwest is a very beautiful place and there’s so many places that just feel spiritual because of the beauty of the land and sceneary. Its unfortunate how time has changed the sacred land marks of the natives and how the power of the land isn’t even being realized let alone utilized.

  70. Reading this essay made me so sad. It’s getting more and more rare to find undeveloped land yet we still keep trying to take as much as we can find. I have a tie to my hometown and would be heartbroken if it got developed but I cannot say I have ever had the feeling that Henry Cultee had about his home. It’s really sad that any stories that might have been saved about my hometown are lost and it’s happening to more and more areas all over the world. It’s sad that we’ve gotten so wrapped up in what we can get, and the money we can make that we are losing things that are more valuable than money.

  71. Naming oneself after the land instantly creates a sacred connection with it. Cultee says his people did not name the land for themselves but the other way around. It does seem egotistical and greedy that man can come along and put his name on it. If land was shared by the people then whoever comes along and places their name on the land is effectively stealing from large amounts of people. If history has anything say, it really is a starting point for “self-destructive act.” The faster the natives lost land and had it renamed, the faster our world has become polluted. It’s obvious our overall health has declined. I’ve thought that Americans were living longer but reports show that US lifespan has declined. The longer lifespan was only temporary. Reversing this would probably mean reversing our dominance over the land. The quote from Jeanette Armstrong “Before anything else, we are our land/place…our flesh, blood, and bone are earth-body”, is a good starting point in reminding us that we are part of the earth and if we damage it we will damage ourselves. Also, we could all help a little in listening to it as if it were alive instead of putting a name on it and treating it like it was an object.

  72. For natives whose stories and history and entire world view is expressed by and dependent on the land, there is sense of home which others simply cannot imagine or understand. There is also a loss that is, to most of us, unfathomable. We should ask ourselves what it is we feel connected to. What makes us feel rooted, comfortable, at home? For me, spirituality, comfort, and the feeling of being alive comes from the earth. It is in my observations of her movements and beauty that I come to a place of gratitude and humbling awe.

  73. This essay reminds me of growing up in the Pacific Northwest and hearing stories concerning the local tribes and environment. I was always fascinated by them and do believe that they create a feeling of awe and wonder towards our earth. Many of the stories provided answers to the questions about the way things in nature function. This essay leads me to the conclusion that people who do not grow up with a connection to animals or the environment cannot gain a strong connection later on in life. It may not be impossible and every person is different but I feel that it is quite difficult. I really love the concept of “ignoring the eyes of the world” and how so many of our choices that we think of as being good end up hurting us.

    • Hi Ashley, thanks for your comment. You have a very good point about the ways in which these stories bond children to their lands–and illustrate proper behavior toward that land in the bargain. Some research suggests that a child best bonds with nature before the age of ten- but I would not say that this is impossible later in life–witness some of your classmates who found this path later in life.

  74. As I read more and more I honestly just think we are such hypocrites. We want our kids to succeed and teach them to have goals and some us tell them they have a destiny to do whatever they really choose in life. As I got towards the end of the article where the Cayuse spokesperson Young Chief talked about how God placed them in this place I kept thinking he is talking about destiny right here yet we simply don’t listen. It’s sad really.

    To me the hardest part is seeing so many things die off. For instance, the one guy got angry about hearing English but in all honesty it’s about respect for the people that lived on the land prior. You don’t go to another country thinking you will just speak English the whole time, but yet we can’t we can’t do the same for the other we have encountered more often.

    Overall, wherever people go, the land really does tell you a story. Sadly, we aren’t reading or listening to what the land is tell us now.

    • A different kind of “destiny”– fitting into your place on earth– than Manifest Destiny. According to Jacob Bighorn, former director of the Chemawa Indian Schools, traditional Indian cultures considered it their duty to help each child discover for themselves the particular purpose the Great Spirit had given them in life.
      It wasn’t a guy who got angry about hearing English– but a dog– it was a joke Henry Cultee made that is humorous on several levels. There was the turnabout from the boarding schools requirements that the Chehalis children speak only English (and were several punished otherwise). Incidentally, this sort of de-culturalization linked to language isn’t true only on the American continent. It is a habit of Empire: as when the Hapsburg Empire tried to wipe out Czech by forbidding its being spoken by schoolchildren.
      Another level of the joke goes to your last point: listening to its more than human lives. The humorous point is that this conversation can’t exactly be carried on by our attempting to just speak English to the natural world and expect it to accommodate itself to us.
      Cultee’s tongue in cheek delivery of this joke (“just don’t speak English to him) was hilarious.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

    • Funny, Christopher, when you mentioned that we don’t just go to a foreign country and assume we can speak English. That would be arrogant and really thoughtless, I agree. Isn’t it crazy that so many American citizens, including ones I work with, and ones in my own immediate family, think that English is the native tongue of this land and should be declared the one and only national language?

      Didn’t white settlers cast off English rule? Colonists didn’t want English laws, restrictions, and taxes to apply to this “melting pot” nation but today (a short 234 years later in comparison to thousands of years for native tribes) they want the English language and that language alone to become not just part of our white culture but an actual policy of this nation?

      Really, some of my co-workers and family members, when asked why they truly think that English alone is the native language of this country, state that they are really opposed to having to learn another language to accomodate other immigrants. Some have said, “I don’t want to force my kids to have to learn Spanish.” They never see the hypocrisy you mentioned at all in what we forced and continue to force upon the true Natives of this land.

  75. Great article, Professor Holden! This article was very moving for me and brought tears to my eyes. One quote specifically meant a lot to me: “Someday the land will be our eyes and skin again.” This is a wonderful way of saying that one day the land will see and feel for us again instead of us trying to see and feel for ourselves. The land does name itself in its own language, its own words, and we have to be a part of understanding the land instead of trying to alter it (even destroy it) for our often blind and unfeeling greed.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Odhran: and if we are truly of the land–a part of nature ourselves, then we might authentically see for ourselves and be close to the natural world at the same time. It is only when we are alienated from the land that “seeing for ourselves” makes us more separate.
      The distinction lies, as you indicate, in the difference between working to adapt ourselves to the land and trying to reshape the land to our own needs.

  76. That experience must have been incredible. Through your thoughts at experiences, my views of the world are changing. I found it intriguing that the stories the Natives Americans create make a connection between us and the earth, and without the earth, those stories cannot truly be conveyed. I have never really thought much about land ownership until this class, but the indigenous view makes complete sense. Who are we to say we own this land? We may distribute land amongst ourselves, but we will never truly own it. We were given to the land; the land was here before our species even began to develop. It is sad to see that in a quarter of a decade, the Natives are losing precious land which in fact reflects directly upon Western culture losing land. Concrete jungles are ruining the real thing.

    • Thanks for your kind response about this essay, Kyle. I feel privileged to share this experience which I was so fortunate to have. Good perspective about owning the land–odd think for such a Johnny-come-lately of a species to think they can do.

  77. It is interesting to note the arrogance that one must have (or appear to have from the indigenous perspective) when one attempts to possess and dominate the land by both naming after their own wishes and treating it as a commodity. While it was plain to those indigenous peoples, it is even evident to me that the lack of reverence and respect shows a lack of understanding of the way in which the land works to sustain and support the life dependent on it. Hopefully those that cannot see the world as a sacred space can someday come to the understanding that their actions are indeed self-destructive.

  78. I like the idea in this story. That we belong to the land not the land to us. I have always kind of felt that even though we called the land ours, that doesnt mean that it is actually ours. The land is still there with or without us claiming it. But dont think that would work very well with how todays society is, which I understand is part of the underlying problem, but if we didnt all have something to claim our own there would be havoc in the world. By being able to claim the land as “ours” we have a way of keeping ourselves labeled and seperated, which is actually very helpful with how society has become today.

  79. This article is really sad. I grew up around Portland and spent pretty much my entire youth exploring the wilderness that surrounds it. Some places quickly became my favorites and I would be really upset to find that these wonderful spots were privatized, bought, or sold. It just wouldn’t seem right.

  80. “I wonder if this ground has anything to say. I wonder if this ground is listening… The Earth says, God has placed me here. The earth says that God tells me to take care of the Indians on this earth. God says to the fish on the Earth: feed them right. God named the roots that he should feed the Indians on. The water speaks the same way…the grass says the same thing.” This quote just really makes me think deeper about the earth and creation in general and to be more appreciative of the earth/land including every creature because everything has a purpose on this earth. But most of all the idea that the earth is in charge of us and taking care of us in these various ways is amazing. Overall i think the article is quite sad and makes you think really deep.

    • I like your reminder that everything on this earth has a purpose–and a purpose in relationship to other lives, as well, Member. Thank you for taking this opportunity to think deeply and share some of that thinking.

    • I think you are right about this quote, as it really makes you think about how we should treat the earth. Stories of the earth are being lost, as land is looked at as property only. I think it is sad too that land is no longer sacred to us, and I think you are correct when you say the earth is in charge of us, and not the other way around.

    • I agree with you that this article is very sad, as the authors examples are eye opening. We need to look at nature as a resource, but a resource that we must do everything we can to preserve. I think the quote used shows us how we must treat the earth. Everyone is society must appreciate our earth for us to be able to preserve it for generations to come.

  81. Taking the name of the place you were born and live in is something that seems unique among the meaning of names. Meanings are connected with occupations such as Smith, animals such as Fish, adornments such as Lauren and many other things. But our names today are so disconnected from real meaning that when someone has a name that means something rather than just being a name it is somewhat awkward. Naming a child Warmth, Justice, California, or the like, can come off as somewhat distracting and the individual may not even make a connection to the meaning even though it may be obvious. But everyone’s name means something, yet it is usually obscured through translation and time or just ignored if it is obvious.

    Connecting our names with the land seems that it comes out of a perspective that is very tied in with life in a very external way. This really comes out of the comparison between naming ourselves after the land and naming the land after ourselves. In the first case we in a sense take on the characteristics and life imbued in the land, while the latter has a sense of the land taking on the character and color of its namesake which is something that derives more from the inner landscape of that individual. In naming ourselves after the land, we can derive more meaning from that particular environment. If, in another way, we carry the name of an occupation we can derive meaning from carrying out that action. Ultimately, naming ourselves after a place seems to really have a potential to connect us to the land, yet it would also require the meaning of names to actually mean something again.

    • Unique in the perspective of our culture, Andy? Naming oneself for one’s land was a persistent practice in dozens of cultures in the Pacific Northwest with different cultural traditions otherwise.
      Thoughtful point about gaining the meaning of our names through our work– though in the modern day. no Smith I know how any longer takes personal meaning from being named for blacksmithing.
      Good point about the need for names to actually mean something again– but I can think of one way in which names DO mean something linked to wife and children belonging to the man of the family–which is why women’s keeping their own names caused a bit of a stir when it first happened.
      In Roman times, the father’s possession of his children was so thorough he could sell them into slavery if he wanted extra funds: children were considered the father’s property to this extent.
      The similarity between the use of names to signify ownership of people and of the land is striking in the historical context of colonialism–and I think Henry Cultee hit it right on here.

  82. I hope to one day to have an experience like this. I would love to hear the stories of the Native Americans that love d the land and took care of it before we ever came over to the new world. The stories must be so knowledgeable and insightful.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kim. I was very fortunate to have such an experience–it is sadly not one readily available to many these days. What steps might you personally take to see that changed?

    • I agree with you! I have been fortunate to have experienced these stories a few times in my life because my family has done a lot of traveling. Two of these times came from me visiting Alaska and Arizona. We visited a few native american friends of our family and they brought us to a few elders who told us stories about the land. They way they spoke of the land really showed a sense of connection with it. These stories gave me great insight on what the land has offered them as well as what they have done in return. It is really cool to go and listen to some of these people and hear what they have to say. i would definitely recommend reaching out and visiting some places around you.

  83. Jeanette Armstrong’s comment, “Someday the land will be our eyes and skin again”, illustrate a powerful description of a circular concept of time and this made me think about the natural model of reciprocity. I bring this up because, at the beginning of the essay, i had very little knowledge about what was going to be discussed, other than something to do with the abuse of our environment. As i continued to read on I was surprised to find that the essays message was conveyed through names or naming of the land? I had never thought that the naming of a piece of property, after its “owner”, could be conceived as such a sacrilegious event? It wasn’t till I’d completed the essay and even re-read the opening that i understand the relationship between Mrs. Armstrong’s comment and the essays concept. “Brilliant”, i thought, and now i find myself disgusted and sometimes comforted by the names chosen for many of our local areas. I guess Im comforted by those area’s that have names which describe the area, like Crescent Valley. Those areas named after the family who “settled” them leave me with the opposite impression (i.e. Thompson Timber). Ultimately, i am continually shocked at the amount of ways we, non-indigenous, folks have “marked” this land with are presence. I’m finding it more and more difficult to understand how these indigenous peoples have been able to del with these obvious intrusions on there homes and there culture?

    • Hi Ryan, thanks for the comment. These are Lizzie Pitt’s words. Ms. Armstrong has plenty to say on the point of belonging to the land, (see “stay in one place” here), but this is not it.
      I appreciate the thought in terms of the idea of naming and ownership here. Indigenous people have had little choice but to “deal with” the presence of immigrants on their land. And I think their views give us an important way to stand outside of and reflect on our own worldviews.

  84. Sorry about the missed quote. I see that the quote is followed by its author and not vise versa.

  85. This article brought tears to my eyes as I read it and thought of all of the sacred places that are now gravel pits, hotels, or oil fields. When I think of what is lost to human and animal eyes forever, I feel, not angry, but deeply, deeply sad. I know that the Earth will be here long after humans are gone, and that it can and will renew itself, and that comforts me.

    • There is much grief in facing such losses, Michele. But there is a traditional idea from Puget Sound that tears and prayers are the same thing. In this sadness is also the vision for a better world–and the stopping of such destruction of sacred places elsewhere.

  86. It is hard to imagine that all of OSU campus was once just a big open field. The land is now full of athletic staduims, dormatories, classrooms, resturants, and houses. I agree with the author when he says that it is sad how many stories we have lost from nature by exploiting it for finacial purposes. It is hard to protect valuable land these days, and if we decide not to act and respect nature, it will fail to provide services to us. The examples the author uses upset me, because those are perfect examples of the problems we face as a society. Nature is bigger than ourselves and we must realize this to preserve it. This article is eye opening to me, and it upsets me that we continue to exploit the earth.

    • I am not sure what kind of habitat the land upon which OSU now stands once way, Kyle. If it was prairie, it was “open”– but full of complex natural life.
      Thoughtful imagination in going back in history to see natural habitats wherever we live and work.
      We have certainly exploited the earth–but I would hope that we can someday put this into past tense rather than a “continuation” of destructive habits.

  87. I think that this essay has great meaning behind it. People tend to lose sight of what is important in this word because they get disconnected from it. Just seeing a piece of land with a sign that says “Montgomery’s Property No Trespassing,” deters me from thinking about that land and what it has offered and what it has offered us over time. I like how these indian tribes stick to naming things by what they should be named. This gives great insight into the land and all that it has done for us.

    I think a good example of this is a painting. When i read this article all i could think of was a painting of a river that was near our house when i was a kid. the painting was of an few indian people fishing, doing laundry, and children playing in the water. Without this painting and that memory being put down so everyone could relive it, i would have never seen that river for what it really was. Now when i go there i think back to that painting and remember the story that it had to tell.

    Much like this painting these indian tribes are allowing the land to have voice and have memories to be relived. I eel this is a great way to stay connected with the land around you and see things in a different light.

    • Great image of the sign that keeps us separate from the land -and failing to know its story, Jason.
      It sounds like this painting was a particular gift of history as image to you. Very nice analogy. I think all stories create such images of life in our minds.
      Thanks for your thoughtful response.

  88. The idea of the land telling a story is paralleled to our society’s sense of place. In my studies as a forestry student, we always have to consider the effect a changed landscape has on the people. This is the sense of place that some people in our culture still greatly value. Even if we change the land for improvement, such as through a restoration project, there will be people who disagree with it because it changes how they feel about that particular area. People want to be able to have consistency in the natural land, and to some it should be left unaltered. For the Chehalis, they obviously cherish their land. The quote, “he wanted me to see how that land recalled the lives of his people,” is something that can be seen in western culture through people wanting to share their favorite places with generations of their family. This could be as simple as a particular fishing spot that parents and children have been revisiting on a regular basis for generations. It is important that people today retain this sense of place and respect the land and all it has to tell us .

    • Hi Kara, considering the effect on changed landscapes is an important part of decision-making. I like your point about sharing our favorite places with those we care about. As you indicate, such sharing can form strong generational and community bonds, even as we develop a sense of “respect for the land and all it has to tell us.”

  89. After reading this essay I can’t get the sad image of an ugly gravel pit out of my mind. Once a beautiful prairie for singing and dancing now just a lifeless gravel pit.
    I imagine this is how the Chehalis people view much of their land now: just lifeless “gravel pits” that the white man has left his mark on by trying to make a buck. I only hope that what is left of their beautiful stories and beautiful land lives on so that the Chehalis people will also live on.

    • Thanks for your caring response. Fortunately, not all of traditional Chehalis lands have been so ravaged, as some of the pictures on this site indicate. And the tribe is working to restore the Chehalis River habitat all along it.

  90. I often think about how the surrounding areas would look with big hulking buildings, criss crossing roads and smokestacks. Even with these infinite reminders of human interference I can see a beautiful landscape teeming with wildlife. Everytime I go back to my hometown of Yelm WA, and see the Nisqually river that runs through the outskirt, I see at least one Bald Eagle. This gives me hope for a few reasons, first that these birds are now so common when they were once rare (i believe they were endangered?) and that this river is still a good place for animals to want to be.

    • Hi Samantha, and near Yelm (well, at least in traditional Nisqually territory too) is the Nisqually wildlife refuge and the places along the Nisqually River that Frank Pete and his family fished.
      There is at least some wild left in that area: and a very vigorous native culture locally.
      Thanks for your comment.

      • Yes, I have been to the wildlife refuge area several times. We have walked the trails and seen many many animals- that is where I saw my first wood duck. We always see eagles there as well, it is amazing when the salmon run in that area.

  91. I enjoyed Henry’s story about his mother telling him to run against the wind in an effort to embarrass the river into calming down. Later, when Henry speaks of the “eyes of the world “seeing what we admit to know one else I envied them that kinship and their relationship with nature.

    • Thanks for you response, Sheryl. Perhaps you are finding your own stories of intimacy with the natural world.

    • It is quite something to be envied and seems to be a huge loss that we will not be able to see the “eyes of the world” as they did. Our relationship, our respect for our environment can and has improved, but I can’t imagine it returning with half the vigor that is described here.

      • Hi Phillip, we might surprise ourselves as we began to recover our intimacy with the land just how complex the possibilities of this relationship might be–as complex as the ecosystems upon which we rely. Thanks for your comment.

  92. It’s hard for me to imagine being that attached to the land in the way Henry Cultee is. I do enjoy being outdoors, and I am saddened when we lose more forests and wetlands- but I have no stories or anything connecting me to the land. Also foreign to me is the idea of land not having titles, I would not know it any other way. Thank you for the interesting perspective!

    • You are welcome, Tiffany. There are those who argue (like Orielle Lake, author of our quote of the week) that we need some new stories to link us to the land– which we can begin to build in small ways, when (her example) a child asked a question about the natural world. That is, as we answer his or her question, we are creating stories that connect us or disconnect with the natural world– science itself is a story of the land, though it may too often serve to disconnect us rather than relate us to the landscape.
      And what about the times you share in particular places with family or friends? Shared stories of the land that bring you closer to it as well. Thanks for your comment.

    • Tiffany,
      I agree with you. I know that when I travel to different places that are native to the people that live there I have an utmost respect for them and their land. Could you imagine if we still lived this way today or if we were to travel back in time and live the way that these people lived? I think it would be an amazing experience and I think I would come out of it with a stronger head on my shoulders.

  93. It would be really an amazing experience to know people and talk to people that have experienced such a thing. I would have loved to see and tour these areas in which these people lived. I think that the stories these people carry on will live on through their families and even in history.

    • Thanks for your response, Jennifer. I think the important thing is to honor the traditional elders of whatever our home place is–and justice for their communities.
      Sometimes, we must live our own stories of place in urban as well as rural environments–and sometimes the elders of place we need to listen to are more than human lives on the land.

    • I agree Jennifer, I would love to sit around a campfire and hear stories of adventure and heroism of times past. that connect to the natural world. It is so interesting that much of the native history is taught orally instead of being written about in books.

      • And ideas of “heroism” might well change radically depending on the worldview from which stories come.
        But I think most of us love to be told stories. In the days when I worked for the local arts council as a professional storyteller, a UO men’s dorm hired me to tell them stories before they went to bed (they were all decked out in their pjs!).

    • You’re right on. It is amazing what you can learn. My second year as a seasonal firefighter I shared a guard station that summer with a cultural resources technician. They just happened to be a member of the Confederated Tribe of the Umatilla’s. We talked for hours on their traditions and customs. It was one of those things I wish I could have recorded.

      • Hi Bob, it would have been good to record–and also to remember that before the recording devises we are so used to these days, the major recording device was human memory.

  94. What stuck out in this article to me was Cultee’s not knowing how to tell the land’s story with out the land. To me this symbolizes the loss of a culture rich with history and meaning. A culture uncertain how to adapt when the foundations of its existence are swept away by the neglect of another peoples. Cultee said that what is in his heart won’t die with him, but what happens to those friends and loved ones left behind when what was in his heart has no proof of existence anymore?

    • You have singled out a very important point here, Phillip–that it takes our presence on the land to be able to tell its stories. You might like to know that a relative of Cultee’s edited and published some of Cultee’s words in an article in the Chehalis tribal newsletter just this past June–along with a picture of him celebrating his one hundredth birthday at the Chehalis Shaker Church. Oral tradition is both fragile and precious, but as long as there are those to relate it, it continues.

  95. Reading this article brought to mind the film” A Thousand Suns” on the Gamo people, when one of the elders, upon viewing New York City, stated ” I can’t see any land or any fields. There is nothing. These people just live on concrete surfaces.” He recognized the disconnect that city-dwellers have with their roots, with their history, with their land, just as Henry Cultee did. Henry’s story is mirrored all over the world where indigenous people find themselves pushed out, minimalized, destroyed.
    in changing the place names and peoples’ names
    (Henry’s name before it was Henry Cultee: Samamanauwish), we really do a disservice to ourselves and our future. Even in anglicizing names of other countries and cities, such as Torino for Turin, Germany for Deutschland, Peking for Beijing, Westerners have tried to westernize the entire planet. I hope Henry’s story and countless others continue to get out to the whole world, so his legacy and his land is not lost completely, and more humans can appreciate his-tory.
    How many New York Manhattanites know their borough is named for the Manhattes people who inhabited the island before the Dutch stole it from them?

    • That is also pretty much how I felt when I went to live in NY to get my graduate degree; there were blocks without even a single tree– though there is a current tree planting group that it working to change that in the almost forty years since that.
      The burgeoning of “urban forestry” and urban gardens indicates that many city dwellers do indeed feel close to the land– or are in the process of recovering these roots. I find this a hopeful sign indeed–since a growing proportion of the human population now lives in urban environments.
      And Esther Stutzman has been working with local committees to honor some Kalapuya place names in Eugene– along the Willamette River in Alton Baker Park, there are commemorative stones with Kalapuya words on them.
      There is a very interesting book called Mannahatta about pre-pioneer New York City that came out a year or two ago: pretty amazing material there. It would be great if this information helped New Yorkers connect with their natural landscape.

    • I certainly didn’t realize the fact about the Manhattaites. Thanks for the expose! I think that you are totally right about Henry’s story being mirrored all over the world. The connection to land lives through our stories and without the full expression of these mythical narratives, we lose the connection to this space and to our land. It was eery when I watched the film “A thousand Suns”, and I saw the people of the Gamo go to New York. It was so odd to see their confusion of our styles of “crops”. Indeed this stemmed from the fact that we had none, and they pointedly identified this element. I got a little frightened from watching this video as well because I made me think of all the self-sustained indigenous peoples that still exist and how their subsistence farming strategies that have been passed down from generation to generation through story and cultural tradition, will enable the Gamo and other tribes like them, to continue their way of life into the distant future if they are allowed to continue without the constant expansion of globalization and western ideals. I was afraid because I don’t believe that this expansion will discontinue, and I fear for the last remaining vestiges of Native Knowledge that indigenous peoples contribute. Also, I felt fear for the Western Way of life. After all it is indeed fact that the people of the Gamo could continue, had they not been intersected with Western civilization, but with out land use ideologies, Americans and westerners alike are on a one way trip to total annihilation. One resource at a time. Just a scary thought for both of these reasons. Our futures without the futures of the Gamo, and the cement jungle landscapes that cannot hope to sustain life, let alone our false hopes.

      • Thanks for another thoughtful comment, Shana. This gives me a chance to address a point I haven’t yet commented on in your responses–and one that is very close to my own heart: the importance of stories of the land–and all myth and oral tradition in helping us learn from the past as well as place ourselves accurately in the circle of life and time.
        It takes courage to face the fears of what might be in our future– but I hope, as in the stories you value, there is also joy and hope in the visions of our possibilities.
        I think we are above all creatures of choice–and our course is not pre-determined, though we cannot continue doing what we are and expect the changes we need to come about. I also do not believe in the great man theory of history: that there are only a handful of men who do important things that really count. Each of us making our daily decisions count both as our actions join with others–and as they create models for others.
        My hope is that our fear may bring us together in a circle of care for future generations. Thanks for your own care in this regard.

      • I have not see the film but with your analyses makes me what to look it up thank you. Globalization has taken away from the ancient world but we must do what can for the Jungles and the life on our planet the first step is education.

        • Indeed, Arnulfo, thanks for your own part in continuing that “ancient world” that, I think, the modern world cannot survive without. We need some of its wisdom and its values.

  96. Although it is very plain for me to see that our narratives and myths deeply describe our physical and spiritual experiences of life, this essay fully summarized this belief, and put into the words the feelings that I have had for many years. I think that the essay boiled down with this final quote, “No matter the count of our years, when we cease to hear the voices of the land tell their own story we truncate our lives in another way. We set ourselves adrift from the story of belonging to life and land larger than ourselves”. I loved this statement because It really built upon the essay that I read just before, “Belonging to the Land: Some Historical Perspective”. In the first essay I could not help but think that it was seriously terrible to even have the thought of trying to “own” a natural resource. How arrogant are we to name the land after ourselves. This essay nails this belief home by describing this act as “sacrilegious”. It indeed does seem sacrilegious. In Christianity they teach the principle that God created man in the perfect image of himself. Not the other way around. This difference seems the exact same as the difference between owning land and belonging to land. Because in the latter example it would seem crazy to say that, “we created God in our image”. That would seem ludicrous, but this is exactly what is happening when man tries to own the Earth. You cannot possibly even imagine owing the awesomeness of God, and likewise you cannot possibly imagine owning the Brilliance of the Sun or a Waterfall. It sounds crazy and illogical, and when talking about it in terms of Native American spiritual beliefs…It goes against their religion. Just the same as worshipping false idols, in this context the false idols being ourselves. I know that people might think their fresh, but we certainly contain nothing as incredible of the magnitude of the intricate complexities and delicacies that Mother Nature creates. Nice try guy’s! Anyhow, the essay also demonstrates that hearing the voice of the Earth and hearing her tell her stories, we too can have stories that are stored within this land. The consequences for failing to heed this warning ultimately lie (in the words of Locke) Brutish and Short. The problems with believing that we can own land, and name the godliness of it after our own image is not only arrogant but very short sighted. Through narrative and myth we can regain our spiritual connection with our divine creator!

    • Lovely perceptions, Shana. I appreciate your perceptions as a Christian here. Certainly, theologians such as Thomas Berry and Matthew Fox would concur– not to mention, native elders like Nina Baumgartner who felt she was both a Christian and a traditionalist (left sidebar: quote of the way the natural world praises God if humans forget to do it).
      You put into perspective the incredible and dangerous arrogance of placing ourselves in such high standing that we no longer have to follow ethical considerations in the treatment of other lives. And isn’t this both ironic and tragic, since if anything at all gives us a distinct place in the world of creation, it is our ability to make ethical choices.
      And just a note: it was Thomas Hobbes who said this about life being brutish and short.
      I appreciate your thoughtfulness here.

  97. Yes, I agree! The idea of naming land after oneself suggests an underlying worldview defined by a heirachical and dualistic value system. We must see the land as seperate from us and see ourselves as the conqueror of said land in order to give the land our name. However did our culture become so incredibly arrogant?

  98. This article brought up the thought provoking fact that we are disconnecting ourselves from our environment by renaming, buying, trading and selling it. We are also justifying the sentiment that we as humans are somehow above the natural order of things; and thus, we are allowing ourselves to feel no moral or ethical responsibilities towards it. When one feels no obligations whatsoever it is a lot easier to look at something as a mere object to be used for our own advances–and that is just what we are doing with our environment. However, we are only hurting ourselves in the long-run and I think that is what is so difficult for most to understand. When we cause destruction or disconnect ourselves from our environment, it will reciprocate with those same feelings. Therefore, it is important for all of us to pay a little bit more attention not only towards our actions with the environment, but with our listening capabilities as well. We should all feel some emotional and moral connection with our natural environment.

    • You are certainly right about that destroying the environment as a result of treating it as a commodity will come back to haunt us– as we are seeing today.
      Thus it is pragmatic to behave in a more caring way. But I also think there is more to it than that: we stunt ourselves and our presence in the world as well as the quality of our own lives by behaving as if we lived in a world so easily bought and sold.

  99. I truly believe that more of an effort should be done to teach people that this earth is alive.Also that the universe is always speaking to us through nature.This article made me appreciate even more the lessons that were passed down to me from my grandmother and my mother. and how grateful I am for them.

    • It is wonderful that you are grateful for these treasures, Arnulfo–and living by such values supports all of us on this shared–and living– earth. Thank you.

  100. I really enjoy all of these articles. Although they seem to all have the same meaning, each is a new, refreshing story that just reminds us how much more the earth offers than we give it credit for. It reminds me of reading “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books. My mother and I used to always read them before bed, and they are just the type of stories that make your little problems go away, put a smile on your face, and put things into perspective. It is sad to here about that beautiful place turning into a gravel pit. I see places in my hometown where I remember playing in large fields that are now all neighborhoods. Everything is so developed and we are losing touch with all that nature offers. It seems there has been a rapid development in the past 20 years as well. It is interesting to hear my Nana tell me of places in Medford(where I grew up and so did she) where she would walk, or where her family owned their little grocery store, it is hard to imagine how it must have looked before all of the paved roads and unnecessary parking lots and buildings. I am very fortunate to live up on a hill where our backyard is the rest of Roxyanne Mountain, we see deer, rabbits, turkeys, squirrels etc. in our yard daily and I love it. It is a bittersweet feeling however, knowing that soon it will be developed, just a matter of time. I guess the best thing we can do is take advantage of how much land we still do have, especially here in Oregon. After living in Spain for three months I have realized we still have a lot of scenery and nature to be grateful for.

    • Hi Courtney, thanks for the nice comparison with respect to these essays. It sounds like you and your mother did some wonderful sharing. I hope that it is not just a matter of time before your mountain is developed. Neighbors in Eugene stopped the slated development of such an area- which the city now has bought as a park. It took a good deal of work on the part of some individual neighbors- but the legacy they have created will last forever.
      I agree that we have much to treasure-and that means much to care for as well.

  101. This essay made me think of the Disney movie, Pocahontas. The song that comes to mind has lyrics that relate to this type of storytelling. These “stories” are so much more than many give them credit for. I think the problem lies in the lack of understanding. Many of us take the earth for granted, and I think the appreciation that is shown by Cultee in your retelling of this experience is best told through the tradition of storytelling. The lyric from Pocahontas says “you can own the earth, and still, all you’ll own is earth until… you can paint with all the colors of the wind.” I feel like this is a very condensed way to say what Cultee must of been saying through his stories. We can’t have a fulfilling experience on earth unless we begin to appreciate all that it offers.

    • Hi Jenni, thanks for your comment.
      Good statement about the power of stories. I am not sure this lyric applies, since it talks about owning the earth– not a concept of native peoples. And then about personal benefits/experience rather than responsibility. “All you will own is earth” seems to demean the earth on its own- very different from Cultee’s idea.
      Are you making a distinction between the negative view of “just” something we might buy and own and something embued with stories of its own (not a mere benefit for us?)
      Perhaps I am missing the context– check out the essay on “belonging to the land” and see what you think of that.

      • Using the word “just” describes the exact meaning that I take from the song. In the movie, Pocahontas tries to show John Smith how to appreciate the earth not by owning and developing it, but by utilizing what it has to offer. She focuses on the idea that the earth is a spirit, not just something to be traded or purchased. In a way, I think the point is that if the earth is a spirit, that we have to learn how to respect it and not mistreat it, which is what Pocahontas is saying through the song.

    • Jenni,

      I’m so glad someone else said Pocohantas. I have been thinking back to that movie many times throughout this class, and thinking of the differences between how Pocohantas saw the earth, and the way John Smith saw the earth. Storytelling is important, and the land is always honest with her stories. I feel like without stories we would be helpless and much lessknowledgeable. Therefor we should cherish the earths stories, and the stories from the past.

      • I also feel that without stories we might well be “helpless”- since we would not come into this world with any sense of history or culture. Interestingly, the Chehalis told their children that hearing stories would “bring them to a place where they could take care of themselves”.

  102. When I was a child, learning American History from a textbook, I thought taking land away from American Indians was wrong. I still do, but for a different reason. Then, I thought it was wrong because it belonged to them–I thought that we (whites) were stealing their property.

    After reading this essay, I realize that in actuality, we didn’t steal the land from them. We stole them from the land. Stories like this about Henry Cultee and Grandma Aggie show what a deep-seeded sense of belonging and kinship with the land can offer in terms of belonging and our responsibility for stewardship.

    • You have an important insight in seeing this historical dynamic as taking people from their lands– literally, since so many were forcibly moved to reservations.
      You were obviously thinking for yourself at a young age– that, too, is essentially intertwined with responsibility and stewardship.

    • This article brought me to the same realizatioon, Gabe. I think most people acknowledge that taking possession of the land that Native American’s lived on was wrong. Yet, until reading this essay, I never realized that the crime was not only one against the people, but also against the land. That the Earth chooses the people for the land and the land for the people. The promise to care and nurture goes is reciprocal and both the people and the land have suffered without each other.

      • A lovely point about place choosing the people to live there, Val. I really like the insight about the crime both against the people and the earth where they made their home.

    • One way that we can find our belonging once again is taking a good long look at our heritage. My aunt, Gwynne Cameron, has been doing this for the past 20 years. My family has always taken pride in their Scottish heritage, with strong fighting women who fought oppression by the aristocracies of the time. One thing that many Americans will find in their heritage, is that we are not all “white” Europeans, but natives with identities in distinct geographical places violently displaced and exiled, and our cultural heritage was obliterated. “White” American turns into a dangerous concept, one that convinces us that we have been in common interest with all the other “whites” of the time.

      • I suggest you look at “I’m not white” in a profound book on ways to work against racism:'m+not+white+uprooting+racism
        . It is not that we should not look at our particular heritage: in fact, native peoples urged me, “Go to your own ancestors as well.” A sense of belonging and culture is essential to each of us. It is that our society has institutionalized classes of white with privilege and non-whites without it.
        Certainly this is an illegitimate lumping of peoples– but countering it must begin with admitting our privilege as we analyze the society as it is.
        When Cultee speaks of “whites”, he is speaking of a label non-Indians applied to themselves. Can you relate this back to how we might or might not understand the real stories of the land?

        • I feel I may not have conveyed well what I’m trying to get at. I really don’t have a problem with non-indians being called ‘white’, and I don’t think we should deny that we are privileged in our society. I think by understanding a more personal ancestral heritage would additionally help us in changing today’s society.

        • Thanks for clarifying, Emily. See my last note to you.
          Your family’s reclaiming its heritage fits under the outline of the important of “oral tradition and folklore” section here– I was just having trouble stretching it into a reply to Cultee’s stories.

  103. This article was very touching, and I felt lucky to hear some words of Henry Cultee and the beautiful way he lives through the land. His stories made me think that we were born to take care of the land, and the land was made to take care of us. Partners going through this journey of life. Yet every human is on earth for a short time, but the earthsees and hears us all for thousands of generations. The land does keep stories, and you can hear or see those stories when you look at any piece of land. That river that you both went to seems like aquiet and special place where you can look at the environment with fresh eyes, and think about the land in the same way Henry has always thought of the land. I feel like the earth has gotten louder and louder as we modernize, and it seems like those quiet places are where you can hear the earths stories the best.

    • Thank you for your lovely response to Cultee’s words and beliefs, Melinda.
      I very much like your depiction of the quiet places where we can hear the earth’s own stories–as your comment indicates, we need to be still within ourselves to hear these stories of the earth, something industrial noise does not leave room for.

    • Melinda,

      I liked your response…in particular how you explain that the earth “sees and hears us for thousands of generations”. It is very true. A day or two ago was the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. I’m sure there are still detectable levels of radiation in the soils, and assimilated in the trees that will be detectable for many more generations. The earth is getting louder, and brighter. A song or two from the 1980’s mocked the term “noise pollution”. It’s out there, and it can ruin an otherwise great outdoor experience. It seems we have to go further and further to “get away” as time goes on.

      • Thanks for the reminder that the earth records our actions as in Chernobyl, Gabe– the marks we make through our actions are also a part– fortunate or unfortunate– of the earth’s story.
        Noise pollution is an issue that parallels light pollution– and both have ill effects on our health as well as on our ability to be present to our world.

    • I really like how described that land “keeps stories” and that we hear the stories by enjoying our environmental surroundings. I wonder, though, if many of us miss out on this concept because we live in cities and never have a chance to travel or live in a place like Cultee did. As we continue developing land, are we losing touch with the stories that the earth keeps? Is there any way to get those back?

      • As I noted, there is a substantial move toward the greening of our cites– and I also think this is another reason why our national parks are such treasured resources.

    • I love the idea of humans and land being partners through life. To me, this seems like the best way to describe the meaningful relationship indigenous people had with the land. The idea of a partnership because it suggests that we give to the land and it gives back to us.

  104. Here, in Concepción del Uruguay (the city in Argentina I live in), a bookstore with an extensive collection of historical and anthropological local literature, filled with adventure and meaning, was replaced by yet another food-to-go restaurant. The owner is slowly starting to sell his collection, a few books at a time. Really he is selling his collection to us, and yesterday he expressed with tears in his eyes: “Truly, I’m moved. You are the only two that come here. I don’t understand why no one wants to here the story of the land of which they live upon. In schools, this was required literature for us. Now, it is replaced by Mark Twain.” Here, instant gratification, detachment and imposing cultures are replacing people’s connection to the land.
    In Argentina and the US there was a parallel immigration of Europeans. Many of the pioneers that came to these lands and the lands in North America were people who were forced to leave their homelands. What history classes don’t teach is that many of these people were oppressed indigenous people of Europe, lumped into the category of “white” people convincing these poor immigrant populations that there interests and identity lied in the common “white” interests of the aristocracy at the time while being forced to labour in monetary economic systems for their benefit. Because we “white” people in the US are still lumped together in this way and our ancestral heritage has been wiped out, the working and middle classes are still manipulated in this way. But many of our families that immigrated to the US were people who knew what belonging to the land meant and created important partnerships with the Native Americans neighbors who could relate to the oppression and marginalization caused to them, people like Sandy Ames.

    • Thanks for sharing the sad loss in this man’s collection of books so precious to him.
      I think we cannot expect those who live in such poverty and experience a media presentation of northerners as so very wealthy not to assume we are wealthier than they (and by many standards we certainly are).
      Dealing with one’s own oppression by passing it on to others is never legitimate. And you are right that our history books often neglect the words and work of pioneers who spoke up against the whole colonial project.
      I don’t understand just how you mean this to be a response to Henry Cultee’s words: are you critiquing his sense that the land should be named for itself rather than for whites who placed their own names as a mark of ownership on it?
      It is up to native peoples to decide whether they forgive this past– as Grandma Aggie does. Meanwhile, I think it is encumbent upon us to work for justice in whatever way we can– to laud those such as Sandy Ames does not imply that the rest of us have a right to be thought of as nice folks.

      • This wasn’t so much a response to Henry Cultee’s words. At the beginning of the essay it says something about “a story that links human life with something larger and more enduring than a single human individual…..that yields a sense of belonging…..” Americans have very little identity with their past, or with any past except the one that is taught to us insitutionally. Thus, We automatically identify ourselves with that past and in the process we lose our own identity. Knowing more about the history of my own family helps me to understand the injustice that is caused by imposing forces to both the people and the land, it helps me understand that the people who should occupy these natural environments are the ones who understand it and know it to be sacred. I see great err in renaming the land after individuals to create a sense of ownership. Your right it that we should definitely not be considered “nice folks” because of exemplars like Sandy Ames, especially when our past and therefore our identity is replaced by that of the dominating culture, but by looking a little more into our personal history, we can at least invoke a sense of what it means to identify with our ancestors and environment, rather than have a very broad, ambiguous idea of how we’ve arrived to where we are and how we are. Thank you for helping me to explain a clearer idea of what I’m trying to say.

        • Hi Emily, thanks so much for taking the time to clarify this. The sense of belonging that you discuss here is very important–and it is very important, as you point out, that we identify with our history of family and individuals– rather than a history of oppression.
          It isn’t that many of our families were not nice folks in relationship to their own families– the point is, I think, to take that as a model for treating a larger “family” of others– just as we should have a more global view of our “backyards”.
          I also want to clarify that I think responsibility is more important than blame– or labeling. Thanks again for helping to clarify the dialogue on this important point.

      • I really loved this response. I think this story tells well about how a place should be defined by what it comprises. This place should be defined by its history, not by the history of others. While I think it would be tragic to not share Mark Twain and other great authors from around the world, greater importance should be given to the history of that place. As the quote say, “before anything else, we are our land/place…Our flash, blood, and bones are Earth-body”. To care for the individual needs of our place we need to know our place. Every environment has unique needs and knowing the history of our community on a specific area allows us to avoid new problems and not repeat old mistakes.

        Thank you very much for posting about your city. I hope that the digitalization of the modern world doesn’t destroy the preservation of the old. Recently my boyfriend and I decided to look at the movement of the U.S through watching the movies that won best motion picture at the Emmy’s starting with the first film with sound (yes I know silent movies have worth, and someday when I am more mature and with greater patience I will watch them too…but not yet!). Unfortunately we have been halted because all of the rental places have sold or trashed their old films in an effort to survive the digital age. Also the internet doesn’t have these movies readily accesible because torrenters seem to rather spend their time on current movies. To say the least, I’m bummed!

        • Hi Caroline, I think you were liking responding to someone besides me– but I can’t tell whom, since this did not get placed under their comment. It would be great if you were willing to try posting again in order to allow this person to know you were speaking to them.

        • Hi Caroline, I think you were liking responding to someone besides me– but I can’t tell whom, since this did not get placed under their comment. It would be great if you were willing to try posting again in order to allow this person to know you were speaking to them.

  105. “Before anything else, we are our land/place”

    I think this story brings to light a very important concept that “to replace the land’s names for itself with names of individual human owners is not only conceit but sacrilege. It is also a singularly self-destructive act”. I feel that this brings to light an idea I hadn’t really thought about deeply before. The individual ownership of land takes away the rights of a community about how that land, which effects all of them, is care for. I think that as a people we need to feel like we are, as a community, a part of our Earth because then it allows us to make the decisions and sacrifices necessary to be sustainable. Recently I watched a show based on a book a read called “The Botany of Desire”. I would recommend the book, as for me, the single best history novel I have ever read. I talks about history through the perspective of how plants (specifically potatoes, tulips, apples, and marijuana) have manipulated man for it’s gain. The show was good too and interviewed farmers who talked about using pesticides on their crops. One farmer said that he didn’t want to feed pesticides to his children either but that he felt like he needed to so as to be able to provide for his family. I think in a world where everyone is in control of that land, not just the corporations that pay the farmers paychecks (and the farmers), better, healthier decisions will be made for Earth and for people. Maybe in a supersized world we should downsize our communities as well as our consumption making the people who live on the land in charge of the treatment of the land.

    • Thoughtful points to consider, Caroline. Individual ownership of the “commons” that we need for survival has been historically devastating, as those who wrote on the “Tragedy of Ecosystem Services” point out (see the essay, “Attending to the Whole” here).
      Certainly plants were not manipulating us to use pesticides?
      I think you have an important point about communities (smaller ones) controlling the land that sustains them– as it is, our lobbying system means that much legislation is written by those who were never voted into office– not a good prescription for democracy.

    • I agree with the idea that we should all have a say in how our land is controlled. If a private corporation decides to construct a huge oil processing plant, for example, it affects everyone nearby and pollutes the air with toxins. Yet they “own” the land and can do whatever they want with it so we, as individuals, have no say in the matter. If we followed a different code of conduct, we could stand a chance at reversing some of the damage that has been done to the land and to it’s people – ourselves.

      • I think that “toxic trespass” into our bodies is a solid reason to be able to have a say in the regulation of the use of our land (and air and water), Mark.
        Not only must we change to “stand a chance at reversing some of the damage done”, but we are the only ones who can do this.

  106. I really like the concept of stories as facts imbued with meaning. I think that taking native oral traditions and stories seriously is something that has been lacking in natural resource management. These stories are see as sort of fluffy or emotional and fictional. In reality, these stories came about after generations of observing natural phenomenon and reacting to it emotionally and spiritually. These stories hold as much fact about the natural world as many scientific investigations.

    • Well said, Melissa. Stories with generations of depth have much to teach us.

    • In the words of my Native Native American instructor the use of “flair”, as some would call it in oral tradition, is used to capture the attention of the little ones. So long as the main idea or moral of the story is grasped, the small details matter not.

      • And actually the “moral” is there for the audience to decide with some flexibility: the lesson comes in empathy, connection (and often, self-reflection through humor), but as for the contextual details, as one storyteller told me, “We know what our stories mean when it comes time for us to use them.”

  107. When I hear stories such as those in this essay, it makes me sad that I was raised in a society that doesn’t value the land and nature. We are told that the land is just a resource to be used and the electricity generated by damming up rivers is necessary to maintain our lives yet why is it that I just feel despair when the local forests are replaced by strip malls and apartment complexes? When visiting my old hometown I barely recognize the landscape where I grew up. It’s almost as though the story of my childhood has been erased forever. Hopefully, if we can follow the example of the indigenous elders, we can save the land and the stories that it holds and at the same time save ourselves.

    • I am sorry that you– and so many others of your generation– have to suffer the grief of seeing natural places they grew up with destroyed through development, Mark.
      Powerful point that the story of your childhood is erased when the forest you grew up with are clear cut: this is yet another way the land keeps the precious and fragile stories that we live out here.
      I hope that your despair becomes something more powerful as you realize that there are many working on your side to protect these places– it is far from a given that they will win this fight, but the more that is lost, the more we must care for what is left.

    • I had a similar experience, when I left my old high school the closest house to it was 2 miles away. Then 3 years later I returned and there was a highway running through the area and every bit of land surrounding the high school was covered with houses and the farms that were near by had vanished and replace with more houses and supermarkets. On one hand I was amazed at how quickly humans could build and develop land and then at the same time I was sad to see the farms and forest gone.

    • I too am greatly saddened by the views of our generation and those before us as far as use of the natural world. When my parents and I first moved to Boring Oregon( a small city outside of Portland) we lived on forty acres and nothing but forest surround our property. Now, almost twenty years later our land is still deeply and densely forested but the neighboring parcels of land have been sold and developed into apartments and densely populated gated communities. I can walk the edge of my parents property and look out and still see in my mind where my tree fort used to be( where the apartments are now) and the creek that i fished in(now a the front yard to a multi-million dollar home). I am saddened by the extreme need for progress for the sake of progress and the the lack of forethought of what the effects of progress will have on the local people as well as the flora and fauna.

  108. I love how Young Chief asks “I wonder if this ground has anything to say.” I think there are many people in the world who simply do not wonder or do not care what this earth thinks. I would really love to see a world where we did care about the earth and all of its inhabitants! It is really hard to picture, but with more awareness, I think it is possible.

    • Such caring may be a change from the predominant way that industrial society runs today– but there are many who do express such care. It has happened in the past, is happening a bit today– and if we hold to this vision and act accordingly, your niece and nephew may inherit this kind of a world!

  109. We live in a very economic driven society which plexus on being better, faster, & cheaper then our competitors which ends up being ourselves. With our money driven minds we do not make decisions based upon how it will impact others or impact the environment but instead how it will impact our wallets. This idea of capitalism has driven America to be one of the freest and most powerful countries in the world but we need to take a step back and say at what cost.

    • I am not sure what you mean by the word “plexus” in this context, Jake. We might also consider the work of technology historian Ulrich Beck, who argues that whereas our technology was supposed to free us, if we just release it into the environment without careful consideration, it becomes a kind of “fate” that in fact limits our actions. I am thinking of the current cancer epidemic as an example: no one I know with this disease, which is principally the result of environment toxins, feel more free as a result of convenient new herbicides– nor would their loved ones, I would guess.

  110. The oral traditions of Native Americans are extremely valuable pieces of history that are all to often forgotten. Having the opportunity this month to hear just a few for myself for the first time, i understand their importance to Native American culture. This article makes me wish sometimes that we were able to rewind time and start over, but i suppose the only thing that can be done is attempt to turn around the thinking of western culture. Hopefully the lives of future generations will be better than those of today and more like those of the past.

    • Indeed, Josh, cultural diversity and traditional knowledge are treasures that humans cannot to lose. It would be interesting to hear which traditions you were recently witness to.

  111. The Humptulips river is obviously a sacred space for the Cheahlis First Peoples. They know the land and the land knows them. Their beliefs in reciprocity have given them the ability to live off this land for years because they take care of eachother; something obviously importnat to the Chehalis peoples and should be important to many others.
    I also noted the fact that he really believed in the remembrance of the elders because these how the people that the land knew of first and their ways are the ways that kept the land thriving. So to remember the elders and continue their giving ways, those too that come to these lands will thrive.

    • Thanks for your comment, Cyria. I think memory is one of our most important human traits– as shown in the examples you give of how it fosters intimacy with the land.

  112. What an incredible experience, to see a place as one so close to the land sees it, lives it. I was moved about the segment that mentions that the land doesn’t sing anymore and the hope expressed that the land still holds its stories for use at a later time. I think sometimes we get glimpses of these stories and songs but one has to really listen for them.

    • Indeed, Susan. I was extremely blessed to be able to experience, and I do firmly believe that the land keeps the story of people like Henry Cultee. We do need to listen for the land’s singing– and once we hear that, it becomes less easy to stifle its voice by putting up a new shopping center or parking lot where that singing took place. Thanks for your comment.

  113. The description of your journey in this essay is stunning to read. The act not of naming land for oneself but of naming oneself to the land is, I think, the essence of the sacred space worldview. To profess allegiance to the land, not dominance over it, has profound implications for our obligation to the earth. To use a crude metaphor, the earth is like a creature in and of itself. It acts of its own accord, has a heartbeat and a life cycle, and its health must be cared for or it will die. The difference between the Western worldview and the indigenous worldview is the difference between seeking to hunt, capture and tame the wild animal, or wishing it to roam free and bowing in awe and reverence of its beauty and power. The force of nature is bigger and mightier than all of us, and it is in our best interest not to forget that.

    • It was stunning to experience, Marissa. Thank you for such a lovely and heartfelt response. Whatever we might lose in such humility as you express here we certainly gain in the fullness of our lives and feelings and our presence in this wondrous world.

      • Marissa,
        i appreciate your eloquence in comparing the Western and the indigenous worldview and am in constant awe of how diverse human intentions can be! One of my incredibly inspiriting friends who has done hydrology related studies and projects in Ghana and India always comments on how important it is to replenish the soul with an immersive indigenous and nature filled experience to keep perspective of how far human nature has come. Much like “replenishing from the well” of life altering and mind expanding experiences that can lead to innovative solutions for present and future communities.

  114. The movement of conserving our budgets and wallets will always be the developers top priority instead of whats more important to us and our enviorment. Sad to say, but everytime I go back home, it amazes me that there is more and more development on our countryside and foothills than anywhere else in town. I am glad to say that even though my family doesn’t farm as much as we used too, my dad has yet to sell the land we own, because he already knows the outcome of what will happen. Instead, we rent the land to local farmers to work on.

  115. A deep sense of sadness arises in me when I read about the state of the hills and prairies today, as a gravel pit and no longer “alive”. I become extremely conflicted because I do believe in conservation/preservation of an area but I also understand that progress (unfortunately represented as buildings and manipulation of land) is a part of human nature. The true test of our generation will be in our capability in using technology and development to not only protect the stories of the land but learn from nature the ways to keep ourselves and our resources sustainable.

    • I enjoyed reading your comment, Priti. It made me think about how important it is to use the technology we are blessed with in order to do good things for the environment. I think much that has gotten our society to the advanced scientific and technological level has been at some cost to the environment and natural resources. Now is the time to repay the favor, so to speak.

    • Can we redefine “progress” in such a way that it does not mean destroying habitat of other humans or other species? If we think it is “progress” to develop land so as to ruin its biological diversity and resilience, we aren’t going to be around very long– there is no fairness in giving our children a diminished earth.

  116. Reading this account of your visit is a really powerful reminder of why it is so important to respect the land and the environment. It’s terribly sad to me to think that someday all the special places in the world could be gone, paved over for the next big shopping mall or bulldozed for a theme park. I understand progress and certainly enjoy the fruits of our industrial society, like the computer I’m typing this on right now, but do we really have to plow down all the sacred spaces in the world to accomplish it? I just don’t understand how people don’t get the concept that once these places are gone, you can’t bring them back.

    • I agree that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing when it comes to development and “advancement.” I think if people really took time and looked at the numbers regarding the cost, and how much more expensive it is to restore an area than it is to protect it maybe it would make a difference.

      • I have never seen all of nothing strategies successfully applied to complex situations– though it may be important to stick to particular standards or values — as did the people of Gaviotas. We might have to try many times to get it right, but if we hold to particular values, we won’t have to fixing so many things for so long after the fact.

    • Hi Kim, I certainly hope that all earth’s special (living?) places will need to go with so-called “progress”– or humans will soon be going with them.

  117. What a special experience. I appreciated the point of view that you and Cultee express in this essay that the land is a part of human culture. That with the loss of landscapes and the environment we lose a part of ourselves. I think it would help people have a greater respect and reverence for nature if we looked for the sacred and special connection we share, as indigenous peoples do. I know my ancestors and I have not been on any particular patch of land for generations, but there is still much in the land I have grown up on that I appreciate and want to protect.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, Brandt. What a gift to have been on your land for generations– seems that might be part of what led you/taught you to feel protective about other lands as well.
      Yes, this was a very special experience indeed.

  118. I think the point that a land loses its stories once it is developed is really important. When we look at a developed area, whether it is a city or just a neighborhood, we tend to only think of its recent history. When we look at a beautiful new building we tend to comment on the architecture, but overlook the history of the land that the building sits on.

    • Perhaps it matter how it is “developed”– or who we define that word. Many we need to speak of human caretaking instead. Thoughtful point about the building and its land– I would also like to see things built without all these massive machines compacting the soil.

    • Thoughtful perspective, Amanda. Perhaps all “development” should be obligated to carry or transfer the history of its land along with it– this would also imply that it would have to be done in partnership with the land in order to retain its story.

  119. You put in at the end how the average lifespan in the United States is going down, just another sign of how our polluting and extracting from the land is come back to bite us in the ass (excuse me if that offends anyone). We are always told that our technology and our advanced lifestyle keeps us living longer. We have also been told that people who lived as hunter gather’s were uncivilized and lived very short lives. Only a few months ago did I actually learn that people who lived in the traditional way, the way before conventional agriculture, actually lived very long lives (in general) and that they were way more healthy on average then today’s modern people. Is this because we are disconnected with the land and put a crap ton of harmful chemicals in it, while taking as much as we want from the healthy areas? I believe so. Much of how we live is to make more and more money, but what we are not seeing is how by taking and not giving, we soon will not have anything more to take and make a profit from.

    Another part of this I found interesting is how Henry Cultee’s all had names for the land, but the names were the land. They weren’t something like Howdy Ranch or Memory Lane. It was something out of respect and gratefulness that the natives named the land. White men have always renamed everything. They have taken the stories from native people and said they were just that, stories. Instead of listening they decided to rename and claim. Just as the Cayuse spokesperson Young Chief said neither the whites nor the Indians should change a name.

    I do have a question though. Almost all of this class is about natives and there worldviews, but has there been much documented cases of Europeans having a similar worldview ever? I mean there must have been some written words of settlers listening and trying to live like the natives. I just wonder because it would be nice to hear how not all white people in the past just wanted to conquer and use the land for their own purposes. I mean I know of Aldo Leopold and Henry Thoreau, but is there any others that not many people know of?

    • A complete answer to your question would entail the entire history of environmentalism in the US– a list longer than I can give!
      Here is my write up of early native-pioneer cooperation in honor of Native American Heritage Month I usually put up on this site in November that speaks of the Native influence on certain thinkers; in governmental organization, for instance:
      There were a number of pioneers (whose daily lives are sadly not recorded in US history) that learned from Native ways of life, and supported them when others tried to remove them from their land. Also, ancient Europe of 5,000 years ago (from what we can tell: see Marja Gimbutas’ work) was organized (and likely had a worldview) must like that of other indigenous peoples around the world.
      You might be interested to know that the first US Articles of Confederation were based on the Iroquois Confederacy.

    • Laura, I definitely agree with you that our industrialism is coming back to bite us in the butt. Like you, I didn’t really now that indigenous people lived longer until I read one of Madronna’s other articles. If I would have had to guess I would have said that we live longer, hands down, because of medical advances and modern technology. But these are the very things that shorten our lives. With all the pills, chemicals and foods we eat now, no wonder we don’t live as long. You also talk about money and how if we continue to use up the resources there will be nothing left to make a profit from. I think this is a great point! I didn’t make the monetary connection and I’m glad you did.

  120. I have been thinking a lot lately about leaving a legacy through my life, not trying to construct one in my mind, but more of how I can live to influence the lives of my children so my values will forever be evident in my descendants. This means that I must LIVE my values and not just speak them, spend time with my children in order for them to know me and respect me. I believe that coincides with how Cultee feels about the land. Landmarks are almost like scars on a body, it shows that you have lived, that you were and are still involved in something beside yourself, they are something that will still exist even after you are gone, much like your children and grandchildren. Landmarks can influence memories, and those memories remind us how to live and bring us back to who we are. A legacy makes our lives matter, and has the ability to give us and our future hope.

    • Powerful points about legacy, Michael. As you note, a legacy is an important way to extend our individual lives into the future, to honor those who follow us, and to extend the gifts our particular presence and talents into the future as well. And our values are best passed on not by words but by example. Interesting point about landmarks–and a parallel analogy regarding our unique bodies whose scars provide road maps and memories. You children are very fortunate that you are willing to enact this level of presence and generosity toward them.

  121. A friend of mine once participated in the nonprofit historical reenactment group called the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). Granted, this organization is a modern rendition of what people may have lived like in the Middle Ages; however, it is doing something that many institutions in Western cultures do not – teach oral tradition.

    The SCA fosters a sense of “living with the land” much like peasants may have done in the Medieval ages. A subsistence lifestyle, not unlike that of the indigenous people of the Americas, may have fostered strong ties to the land in Europeans of that time. We just don’t have enough records to show that relationship, or they were purposefully destroyed.

    Regardless, there is a need to move our cultural philosophy and worldview into an understanding that we are “of the land”, the land is not of us. A retooling of our collective spirituality is necessary if we are to avoid ecological catastrophe that will ultimately seal the fate of human life, as well as countless other forms of life on Earth.

    • Interesting analogy you propose (or intimate?) , Dwayne, though I would not say the “living with the land” carried out by SCA is intertwined with particular landscapes and their knowledge. In fact, from what I know of it, it seems to be a recreation of European medieval history anywhere that SCA folks happen to gather. In that sense, it is contrary to connection to a particular place. I don’t know much about the oral history aspect of this, but I think it unlikely that SCA oral history was intertwined with particular places as was Henry Cultee’s. To tell the land’s history ( rather than human’s story of the land) that goes with their cultural re-enactment, they would have to return to the place in that culture arose.
      I certainly agree with your sense of the need to understand we are “of the land”– and in this sense, I second the various impulses with which Europeans look to their own ancient indigenous roots–though as noted, I am not quite sure wearing armor and jousting quite does that. Just my own opinion.

      • In light of your reply, I think I jumped the gun on my comment regarding the SCA. I used the first example that came to my mind of what I thought was reflective of indigenous philosophy in Western culture. Careful critique would have shown me that was not the case with the SCA. Thank you for pointing that out.

        I will add though that there are individuals within the SCA (as in many other organizations) who are telling the story of the land. The friend I mentioned above is no longer with the SCA, but has instead been active in her local historical society. She has found a certain value in telling the stories of rural Pennsylvania to younger generations, and they have even begun to incorporate indigenous historical and mythological stories into their local tours.

        Don’t get me wrong, what they are doing at the historical society or the SCA is a very far cry from what you experienced with Henry Cultee. Those are the types of stories that will be hard to reclaim if lost.

  122. It’s a shame that western society and its worldview has been shaped by the idea that the earth is the center of the universe and humans were created as owners. All to often the story of humans and nature is about domination When we lose the urge to dominate and coexist only then can we have a real shot at human survival.

    • I don’t know about losing the “urge” to dominate, but I do think we must create social and economic structures that do not encourage such domination by rewarding it.
      I understand what you are saying about seeing OUR place as the center of the universe, but I don’t see that as a bad thing as long as it is a model of belonging that we extend out from there. There is a difference between loving our people/culture/place/family and using that as an excuse to attack others or think them less worthy of their values and ideals. I rather like the idea that earth is our all– and the sense that we can’t escape to other worlds to abandon our wrongs. Such limits and sense of place teach us responsibility.

  123. This lack of connection with and respect for the land has also led to a lack of connection with and respect for each other. For many families, perhaps such as the family who “owns” and is therefore plundering the gravel under the soil for profit instead of valuing the land for its beauty (I can’t think of a natural area in the Upper Chehalis that isn’t worth valuing for the sake of itself), the money to be made from selling bits of the land cause the family members to tear at each other as well. They fight and squabble over the property, the “resources” available on the property instead of living with the land and trying to become a part of it and each other. Outside of the family, the fights become worse as people work to their own advantage instead of for the good of all. We are becoming more and more insular from nature and each other, which a very dangerous way to live.
    The “mitigation” concept is so unbelievably arrogant as well. How could we possibly think that we can simply “recreate” nature in another space? While I can’t say that I’ve ever been settled long enough in a land to feel extremely deep connections to it, I am deeply a child of the Pacific Northwest and feel strongly that this is home. I do not understand Stevens’ or Palmer’s assertions that one piece of land is as good as another, and my gut feeling is that in truth, they didn’t actually believe what they were touting either. After all, if the land to which they were trying to get the native peoples to move was so great, why didn’t they move there themselves? I simply cannot believe that they didn’t see that paradox themselves but chose to ignore it.

    • Belonging to community and to land (place) is certainly connected, as you indicate, Neyssa. Interesting point about Stevens’ and Palmer’s motives–and, I think, a good one, since prime farmland was reserved for pioneers and it was that land that he treaties were trying to get Indians to move to– so that they would be out of the way of the land coveted by the emigrants.
      This is something else to ponder in terms of a question you asked in another comment you also made this evening– what is it that really keeps us on the move in modern society.
      As for family in-fighting, I cannot speak with authority on this issue, but I do see how the profit motive splits communities.

  124. This article made me unbelievable sad and disheartened. Although this may sound bad, I think it was a good thing. I was so into the article and the descriptions of the land and the way in which it kept stories alive, kept us alive, that I wasn’t expecting what came next; thinking generally now though, I should have seen that coming. All the excitement that was building up in me over the lands secret keeping abilities was suddenly shot down with the harsh reality. Knowing that this is not a single occurring event made me even more disheartened. As I read on, I found myself wanting to be a part of this rich history and wanting to know even just one story from an elder, so that I could pass it on. Then I realized I don’t think I would actually be able to do this because maybe I don’t know how to really listen to the land like the Chehalis elders and would not be able to retell the story in harmony with the land. I began wishing even more that the land would recognize us, recognize me, for the way in which I conduct myself. I now have a longing to belong to the land and not the land to me in the way the Chehalis do.

  125. I have personally long believed that I belonged to the land and no the land to me. I was very lucky as a child to have a family that believed in the story that nature had to share. I remember on my first real backpacking trip to the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming my Grandfather sitting me down after a long day of backpacking and fishing. He related the stories he knew about the history of the area, his stories of the many trips and hours spent on the same rocks we were sitting on as he stared at the peaks around us and speculated towards the impact that the natural world has on our daily lives. I will never forget the the many trips that I spent with my Grandfather in the Wind River mountains and the things that I learned from my grandfather and the look of respect and peacefulness that enveloped him while there.

    I have been thinking a lot as I get older and wondering where my place is in this world and what I will pass on to future generations. I feel that it is the legacy of my Grandfather and his love and understanding of the land that I will try to pass on to future generations. I think that it is traditions like taking family backpacking trips that will help instill a better understanding and it is this understanding and love for nature that I want to pass on.

  126. There were some points that really caught my attention, like the land deciding how long we live. The sentence that said the average US lifespan is decreasing, I did not know that, with all our modern medicine, but the gluttony that created US is now destroying us (heart disease, diabetes, addiction). The correlation between human heath, emotional health, animal health, land health. When I was reading the intro quotes, I thought back to the other night when I was watching a lecture about nutrient recycling and how odd I think it is that we embalm people and put them in casket designed to resist decay and how even in death we try to separate ourselves from the natural world and the natural cycles of life as long as we possibly can, instead of trying to facilitate our return to our life source and, perhaps, live again.

    • Good point about addiction– and the health decline is also due to environmental toxins and cancer rates– especially in younger and younger members of our population–even children.
      And with respect to your other point, our cemeteries are becoming toxic waste dumps because of fluids used for embalming.

      • I didn’t realize embalming fluid is toxic. My son’s father wants to be buried on his family’s land…he was literally born there and he’ll probably die there. I think it would be illegal, unless he was cremated, the thought of which (cremation) is very disturbing to him and it saddens me that his wish will probably not be honored, as, it seems to me, his soul seems already to be embedded in that land and it only seems right that his body should return to it as well. I understand that certain precautions must be taken in burying dead to prevent disease, but if current methods are creating toxic waste, then what’s the harm of burying someone, with all their blood, in their ground?

        • Hi Amy, I can’t give legal advice in this way, but I know there is a “green burial” movement, and, depending on what state you are in, you have the right to specify what you want done with your body after death. The issue over burial standards is as much about control as about sanitation (though I suppose if we were in the midst of an epidemic, that would be different).
          I also understand that soil is an amazing disinfectant and neutralizes large numbers of bacteria very quickly.

  127. I really like this article. Henry Cultee’s story really makes you think about how fragile nature is and how once you destroy nature it is forever changed. There is no going back once natural untouched land is destroyed. In the end I’m very happy the land that Henry Cultee told his story about was turned back into a protected area for nature to thrive once again. Hopefully the natural environment will once again be look as beautiful as Henry Cultee previously described in his story.

    • This a good comment because of the fact that what is taken is difficult to be replaced. The major problem is over population and over consumption. Earth can replace its resources but has difficulty when given too little time to replenish itself.

      • The issue of time for resource replacement that you bring up is an excellent one. This is what is wrong with clear cutting a forest that took hundreds of years to grown and thinking we are replacing it instantly by replanting trees– especially trees of a single species we use herbicides to maintain.

  128. Life doesn’t have to be considered complicated, life can be thought of as simple. Complication can be found in the details of life, but as a whole is simple eat, survive and reproduce. Love one another.

  129. Taking a land and renaming it shows that the ones taking the land do not see the value of the original occupants. It is akin to aliens coming down to Washington D.C. and renaming the White House, to the Greasy Spoon and have that as the new hang out for their race to get food and have bar fights. The aliens do not see it as important, other than they want a new place to hang out. I am sure that Washington would have issue with that; but because they are not the ones being affected, they do not care. I am sure that when the companies and politicians are affected, they then take notice that they are being mistreated. People need to pay attention to what is going on around them, the planet does have a pulse; all the animals, plants and weather tells them how the planet is doing. As any virus, the host has a way of correcting the problem, maybe some of this extreme weather is one of the ways the planet is fixing its problem.

    • The idea that extreme weather is a way of fixing the planet’s illness –us, in our output of carbon– is not only a good metaphor but based on bald fact. If our actions mess up the stable weather patterns humans have enjoyed for the last 10,000, then we will reap the consequences of the unstable patterns.
      Pretty straightforward– unfortunately, humans may have to suffer more consequences of this kind before we finally get it as a species– and unfortunately, as well, some of those suffering the consequences are poor island nations that have little output of carbon themselves.
      Good analogy of renaming Washington, D.C. as a new “hang out”!
      I do think that the politicians and corporate heads will get it when they are effected directly– as in the wallet, which is why our consumer choices are important.

      • Which is why relatively, they will not be affected for a long, long time. They have more money than we do, and since only a complete collapse of the dollar will require a change to our monetary system, they will continue to have proportionally mor emoney that everyone else. I think the change will come when they have to share the same commons – dirty air that makes your lungs ache; a very hot, cold, or greatly spatially altered atmosphere; huge storms that destroy their beachfront condos, contaminated nasty-tasting water or none at all; loss of their favorite food when world-wide famines affect everyone; and finally, a drastic reduction in living standards as oil becomes too costly to extract. Wec an make consumer choices, and we should, but until more people are on board, I think it will be of little consequence.

  130. As I was reading this article, I wondered what would happen if half the modern world cared to educate themselves about the stories of the land. It is sad to think that our hearts are as uncaring and unappreciative as it appears, but I fear it is the case. I liked the passage; “In Henry Cultee’s wise tradition, if we ignore the “eyes of the world”– the eyes of those who sustain our lives–we are liable to construct a way of life that is decidedly short-lived.” As I have written, I have, in the past, worked diligently on the side of domination and human self-comfort with the Northwest timber industries. I know from experience there is very little, if any, consideration given to consequences of the land or the history of the people. There is, however, enough media manipulation to justify the domination and disregard for the land to convince the masses who depend on it for their income that they should see one way of the natural reciprocity—that is, that land is ours to take! Why would God have provided it, otherwise?

    • I can hardly imagine a better strategy of “redemption”– as you put it in your other comment on the essay updating this one, Bev, than learning the stories of the land–which presumes that we must of course listen carefully to the land to hear such stories.
      Thought here is much pressure in our current worldview to “develop in any way possible”, following the profit-first motive, I also think that many of us feel the emptiness and loss of NOT knowing the stories of the land that sustains us– and are working to protect that land so that we can learn its story before it is destroyed.

      • I agree there is pressure to “develop in any way possible.” Maybe we need to examine the “pressure”. It is human nature to progress, but maybe we use curiosity and thirst for knowledge instead of profit and destruction as our measurement of progress.

        • I think “progress” is not a good term to substitute for development.
          I absolutely agree with you that we can come up with a better criteria for “advancement” than economic profit–or at the very least, stop rewarding those who destroy what so many of us care about.

  131. I believe that the Earth has the power to cleanse itself. That’s why it wasn’t a big deal when the oil spill hit the Gulf of Mexico. Yes, it wasn’t good for the immediate area and had some impact but Mother Earth is not going to suffer for that long. Oil is a natural occurring substance on Earth so it can be easily digested. I think what this article tells me is that if humans over populate the Earth and stay on their reckless path of destruction, that the Earth will figure out away to cleanse them from the planet. I do not think we can destroy the planet. I think Mother nature will kill us off with natural disasters before that ever happens.

    • I was also surprised that Mother Nature took care of the oil spill so fast but of course there are consequences that occurred from the spill. I know that the earth seams resilient but I am not sure how much it can take. I am not sure if we will destroy the earth before it can destroy us. But I like your ideas thanks for you comments.

      • “Mother Nature” seems to have done her job well– but the detergents we used for clean up are still having some after effects we had not counted on. And there are still (according to local indigenous peoples who keep track of such things through observation), effects emerging from the Exon Valdez oil spill all those years ago. I believe there was some data on that in a recent publication of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    • You have a good perspective to ponder in terms of developing some humility about our own power, Andrew. It is certainly true that if we behave in certain ways, we are putting our own survival in jeopardy. I also want to be careful that we don’t excuse human actions that poison great proportions of an ecosystem, since nature will just fix it anyway.
      There are still serious negative consequences of the oil spill and the detergent used to clean it on local sea and shore lives that continue to show up.

      • We come back to that same issue, time. Like you said the immediate area is still seeing the effects but over time those after effects will vanish as well. The problem is that human impact is an on going occurrence. Since the Earth takes time to maintain itself, the frequency of which these disasters occur becomes important. If contaminates are frequently released into the water, atmosphere, and soil, it becomes hard for nature to dilute itself. While I dislike pollution, developed nations have linked pollution with production which means less emissions causes the economy to decrease. We have reached a point of no return. The only option now is to research and develop new cleaning techniques such as scrubbers, or particulate control such as baghouses. Find a way to make them more effective.

        • I would not disagree we need new and better technology, but I am more hopeful that we have not reached a “point of no return”–and thus the necessity of accepting our use of the environment as it is. What IS true is that as long as we believe there are no real alternatives, we won’t develop any.

        • Why produce alternative energy that is innefficient not cost effective? eople don’t want alternative energy because it is not a viable option. We should concern our efforts on pushing a product that will be upgraded every year. We should focus on upgrading the systems quicker instead of making alternative energy about profit.

  132. I love this quote “if we ignore the “eyes of the world”– the eyes of those who sustain our lives–we are liable to construct a way of life that is decidedly short-lived”. I totally agree that we are ignoring the eyes of the world and the eyes who sustain our lives. This is for sure why our life spans are decreasing. By polluting our world we are killing it as well as killing ourselves in the process. I love the stories that the natives have to tell they are so real and true and they are so interconnected with nature. Because we have lost our way and our interconnectedness with nature we don’t have the passion to take care of nature like we should. I also like the explanation of the natives that the land is already named and we cannot rename it as our own individual land. I wish this was true today it has been the American dream to own a house and property but today with prices so high it is getting harder to buy a place. With the natives mindset this would not be a problem because they believe we don’t own the land but god gave us this land to take care of it and it will take care of us.

    • Thanks for sharing your own obviously compassionate response with respect to the land–and choosing actions with which to construct our own long term survival.
      Perhaps some day, we shall care for our commons in such a way that all of our citizens will feel that they have something of this land that belongs intimately to each of us.

    • I agree that we have lost our interconnection and passion to take care of the earth. Honestly, I only intermittently feel connected with the earth, though I wish that wasn’t the case. Also, I want to take care of the earth but I don’t feel like I am taking large enough steps or making a big enough impact. If I had been raised with these values I would already be connected and be making a large impact on taking care of the earth instead of having to learn and reform my ways of thought. I am worried that as each generation passes people become more and more disconnected from the earth.

    • I agree with you! We are claiming to own something that is not ours. We are stealing in a way or committing fraud (taking the land from the natives). Where is our integrity in all of this? As I’ve gotten older my eyes have become more open and I have come to the realization that we live in a sad world. A place that is evil. However, those few good people on Earth just don’t seem to make a voice for themselves and when they do nobody listens!

    • It is obvious that we lost our interconnection and passion to maintain our nature. But I wonder that how we can fix this issue. I know that many indigenous tribes are faced to loss of their language which implies the loss of their culture and their knowledge. How do we protect these matters? It is not very easy to recover. I do not know exactly what we can do for it, but we need to take care of it..

      • Thank you for your compassionate response. There are many indigenous groups under “indigenous” on our links page here that give some cues how to support these peoples, consisting most of all in supporting their self-determination of their own futures.

    • I agree with you Christi. The American Dream is somewhat warped. WE should not consider owning the land, but should be thankful that we have it to provide for us. The land gives us shelter and sustenance and instead of thanking it we take it and call it ours. In this view the land is a slave to humans. It has no say in what we do to it, how we act or how we change it. If the land did have a say I’m fairly confident it would be quite upset with how we have exploited it and lost our connection to it. We were meant to act as stewards of the land, working in harmony for mutual benefit. Indigenous accomplish(ed) this relationship, but our modern economic system seeks ownership in order to increase economic activity. ‘Breaking even’ does not compute for capitalism.

    • I connected with that quote as well, as it is a true statement of the pathway we as Western society have taken in the last 100 years or so. The disconnect with our life giving planet will surely end in further destruction and loss of life. If the native cultures had more power and had not been removed from the land, the values and traditions may have had more influence on our current world. I only hope we can continue to inspire more people in power to support the change and save our Earth.

  133. We are connected to our landscape.
    It is what gave us life.
    It is what we will be when we die.
    We must use our imagination, as the article mentions; to create intimacy with nature just as people that were native to the land did in the past.

    I found one important aspect in this essay that was quite creative, original, and special. The land sees into our hearts. If we treat nature good in turn we will live a long life.

    Every time I read one of these articles I feel like my mindset is shifted into a more positve light. It’s unfortunate that people (including myselg) teat the world apart with new building & by assimilating cultures.

    If only we could diversify our minds and create a bond with one antoher that could overcome any obstacle & create a civilization that allowed both people and our environment/nature to survive, what a magnificient place earth would be.

    • I don’t know if its bonds with one another but really the lack of bonds people now share with the world. There disconnect that science has given us from the actual living world is causing humans to become less and less in touch with nature. If people could reconnect with the natural habitat instead of with their Computer, TVs and phones then more people would want to protect its beauty.

      • Time to spend more time in the “actual living world”, Kayli? And use the means of communication we have to write across distances–like these computers– to bring ourselves more information about how to protect the tender and priceless intimacy between ourselves and the land.

  134. As I read this essay, I liked how Cultee pointed out that “What is in my heart will not die with me, but I am not sure how to tell the land’s story without the land”. I believe that this is important because some good experiences with the land always remain forever. But if there is no adequate preservation for the land those good experiences with the land cannot be handed over (shared) to next generations. Next generations will not be able to experience such a good connection to the land as these indigenous people did. Land is not simple. We lost how to connect with the land. We must find our own way to connect with the land.

    • Hi Tomoshiro: you actually have two people speaking in this quote. Cultee said the part about what was in his heart. I said the part about the land, given what he showed me of his traditional connection to it.
      Land and our relationship to it is indeed “not simple”–and you have extended the point of the article in this sense: we need the land to tell its story–and perhaps our own as well, since without it, we will never have such experiences as you point out.

    • I could not agree more with you when you say that we must find our own way to connect with the land. I feel like all that is seen today is poor interaction between people and the land. If we do not know about the past and these indigenous people who valued the land with everything they had, then how can we live through example? You are completely right. We need to preserve these wonderful experiences with the land so the future can have hope!

      • We should both honor these experiences of the past, honoring the cultures of those who cared for their lands so well– and as the ground on which to develop and expand our own personal relationship to the land.
        Thank you for your comment.

  135. It is profoundly insightful to say that “the eyes of the world” see “what is in our hearts”. People nowadays lament over their personal privacy and ‘Big Brother’ watching them. What they/we fail to realize is that we are constantly being watched. How differently might we act if we accept that the land is watching us? And not just watching our outwardly actions, but what our intent is as well. It’s obvious to assume that if we practiced more kinship toward the land it would be much healthier. If we considered that the trees, and fields, and rivers each had their own eyes and either mourned or thanked how we acted, our conscious toward the land, animals and each other would be greatly improved, the land would sing happy songs and the stories would not be lost to the winds of time.

  136. In the Lizzie Pitt’s of Warm Springs quote; “Someday the land will be our eyes and skin again.” The reciprocity of this statement is very true and eloquently spoken. But to add to it and the idea that Henry Cultee was putting forth, we are also its mouth because the land cannot speak. So we must speak for the land and make sure that nothing harmful happens to it. Those who cannot hear it anymore try to do harm. Its not good for anyone to think of being an owner of the land. Naming yourself after the land as Henry Cultee did shows the high respect he both had for nature and the natural cycle that he knows well make him one day return to the land that he loved so much. Protecting this cycle is part of listening to the land and being thankful for what comes from it. Thank you for sharing this story.

    • At least the land cannot speak in a human tongue– is there other ways we can say it speaks?
      I like the way you took the idea of listening to the land further: such listening is not just a discipline we need to learn, but we also need to protect the listeners, witnesses who keep the stories of the land so many of us have forgotten or neglected.

    • Wow, that is an amazing way at looking at things. At first I thought you were going to see that we are the earth’s mouth because we eat from what the earth provides. You’re analogy is much better and is quite true. The land is silent and has no voice. It requires us to speak up for it in order to preserve it. Even areas devastated with radioactivity are silent and does not warn of the contamination we have caused there. But in this silence the land is trying to say something and we should pay attention. It is in the silence that we can gain the wisdom the land is trying to bestow upon us if only we took the time to listen and respect it.

      • Very nice perspective, Trent. And the personal listening that each of us might do with respect to the land also bring us into the intimacy with it that motivates us to care for it.

  137. These native elders, Cultee and Baker, really do have some insightful knowledge and their wisdom opened my eyes to things I had never thought about before. I like how Cultee wanted to send the message how land recalls the lives of his people. We need to take after his stories and start to realize that the land has a mind of its own and is more powerful than most people believe it to be. We must remember our past and the native elders who have earned respect from their relationships with the natural world. If we can begin to respect and acknowledge the past and how we are really connected with the land then we can have hope for what our future will be like. I like the point in this article about how when we replace the land’s names with individual owner’s names it is not only destroying the land and it’s history but also ourselves and our future. I think that if more people can learn about the past and respect these indigenous elders who place value and meaning behind our land and its history then we can come together and save the future.

    • Important points about acknowledging the land’s past and learning from our own choices in the past as well. And I agree that these indigenous elders can allow us to develop a critical perspective on our own lives– as well as the past we might never otherwise acknowledge. I find it hopeful to understand that there are other human choices– and ones that have been more enduring– than the ones we are taking in contemporary Western society.

  138. The “music of the world” is quickly being silenced as new generations displace ancient people and ancient ways of life in the quest to make a living. Perhaps the land knows that I am one of the ‘drift people’ with an insatiable itch to move about. The old places that wear like wrinkles on native people’s souls and being lost by people who no longer know the stories. Perhaps the earth heard the stories so many times by native people that it seemed impossible they could be forgotten and vice versa. Until they did…

    I grapple with the reality that I am part of this silencing; my purchased lot of land that I live on sits on unknown soil with an unknown past. Likewise, the land has a new tenant it has no clue about. Both of our histories new to each other and I ask myself as I type this if I have really gotten to know this earth, like a friend rather than a stranger. As I work in my yard, I hear the wind that spoke to Henry Cultee and which he knew by name; in my ears I hear the wind talking but I don’t understand its language.

    Will I ever understand what the wind is telling me?

    • On the other hand, as Kiowa writer Scott Momaday once put it, oral tradition is always one generation away from extinction, which is why community is so precious and fragile in this context. With the loss of a single generation who no longer pass on a tradition, it can be gone.
      I think Wendell Berry’s idea of the “agrarian mind” has something to say to your profound question here: the agrarian mind is grounded in daily attentiveness to the land, walking it and listening to it–and having our hands in it. And though this is not the same land as it was two hundred years ago, it still has some integrity and voice of its own: I am thinking, for instance, of the billions of bacteria in soil that do things we can barely conceive of– which of course, we can kill off with chemicals, stilling the land’s voice entirely. But barring that, the land still has much to teach each of us–and if we do things properly, perhaps we can even pass those things on, not only in our stories but in the things we plant and nurture and caretake each in our places.

  139. What beautiful moments in time you have been honored to witness, such a gift. The earth found a bridge and hopefully some will walk across. In this reading I especially loved the phrase, ‘Stories belong to a live land,’ I could not agree more. There is an especially old, majestic conifer in my yard and its energy is protective and giving. During a hurricane in 2006 a very tall, skinny tree fell from the woods right into this conifer, the only mature tree in my backyard. It saved my home from damage. Also, its food must be delicious, because the squirrels leave an amazing mess of pine cone debris every year in the radius of its canopy. The stories of Henry Cultee and other elders go back to when fire was stolen and they can actually take us to its physical place. In all the stories told by the elders, there is poetry, fondness, humor and family. How many of us can relay a story beyond our grandparents unless a human achievement is involved? I like the story of my protective and giving conifer. I think all of us could benefit from connecting to an element of nature, for when we do, we develop fondness and family. ‘The land trades stories with us this way. If we know its stories, it keeps our own,’ is what Henry Cultee stated. No time like the present to start.
    For what belongs to a ‘dead land?’ certainly not stories. However, fragments remain like from our reading of ‘putting back the pieces again,’ where Elder Gail shattering her grandmothers bowl and asking everyone to take a piece of it and put it back together. Maybe my conifer is a fragment of a story.

    • Debora,
      I love the point you seem to be making that if we are willing to pay attention to what is going on around us in the natural world, we too have are hearing the stories that nature’s characters are telling. As sad as it is that Cultee’s stories are being lost because people are not telling them, I agree with you that there is no time like the present to start keeping our own stories and passing along those oral traditions, getting future generations back to a slower time, when we took care of the things in nature that take care of us.

      • This echoes your last comment here, Kendra. We won’t have such stories to share with our children– and certainly, stories they care about– if we don’t first garner them as a result of our own listening and attention.

  140. Reading this makes me hope that somehow we will be able to get back to a place, where we are able to connect with the land and the other creatures that give us so much. As I raise my children, I wish for stories like these to instill that appreciation of all that nature has to offer. Then, I realize, as Debora also points out, just as Cultee’s family and ancestors did, we can tell our own stories, that we create in our time spent with nature, and all its characters.

    • Great point, Kendra: we, too, can pass on the treasure of our family stories to our children, giving them the sense of belonging that goes along with this.

    • It is interesting to observe my children’s appreciation for the natural world. I think they have developed a love for the outdoors partly through stories that I have shared with them. I remember learning to love the outdoors as my family and I visited Yosemite National Park every year. As we share our stories with our children, hopefully they will develop a love for the natural beauty surrounding us.

      • Your whole family is certainly the beneficiary of such shared times, Chris– which also become the basis of shared stories.
        It is wonderful both that your children express their appreciation for the natural world–and that you pay attention to this.

  141. Another interesting thing about trees during hurricanes is how they fall. Rarely do they fall on the houses or buildings next to them. How can that be explained by science? In the great northwest you hear about the damage done in the south, but not about what wasn’t. The way trees fall during these horrific weather systems is a shear sign of their love. It would be nice if everybody were keen observers of nature and tingled with awe.
    As for hurricanes they are part of nature too and even though they are destructive to human property, that’s the humans problem. My guess is that the Seminole Indians didn’t live right on the beach or have permanent residences in hurricane prone areas.

    • Interesting observation, Debora. It is also true that many are injured by falling trees here in the Northwest, where some do fall on houses and cars (though I don’t know if fewer than simple geometry would project)– there were a number of trees that came down in the recent unprecedented snowstorm here in Eugene, but those on my street came down on fences rather than houses or people.
      The draining of wetlands (mangrove swamps) is a key issue in hurricane force: when the storms traditionally hit these swamps, it considerably slowed their force. Not to mention, accelerated wind speeds have come everywhere with climate change.

      • Yes, that is correct about wetlands and heavily wooded areas which once bordered the Atlantic Ocean. Not only did they slow the winds but they they also stopped erosion. I remember one beach in my youth and it was incredibly beautiful and secluded and lined with trees. I traveled 20 miles just to go there. However, that landscape is now a resort.
        I do realize that some homes and people are hurt from fallen trees, but the ratio after a storm is quite small compared to those lying next to a home or on a fence, etc. It’s as if they know where we dwell 🙂

  142. This essay parallels what I’m studying in another class right now.
    We just read a few of the treaties signed between the US government and the tribes in the 1850s and 1860s. In all these, their land was taken away and they were given defined boundaries on which to reside, and given monetary compensation and schools, physicians, teachers… all the things they would need to lead a Westernized life. And the pioneers, in a dualistic view, took over the land, thinking that their way was superior and trying to educate the native populations to their way. Well. Isn’t it funny then (and by that I mean not really funny at all) that these same native populations lived in harmony with nature and managed their impact on populations around them and within 200 years of settling the land since the pioneers, we have lost so many species, there has been monumental habitat degradation and there are so many more species in danger of extinction. Species like the PNW salmon, which used to be immensely abundant and now many stocks are threatened and endangered. By coming in and viewing the land, the plants and wildlife as something distinct from ourselves, pioneers and settlers had no problem exploiting it because it was less than them and they did not see their dependence on it. Salmon were so abundant they were left to rot because of overharvesting for cannery operations. It is time to become better in tune with the land and its populations because I really believe that’s the only way we can conserve and restore the land and its other inhabitants.

    • It is important to understand the portion of our history, Jillian– and it was often a poor replacement indeed when the government promised to care for these populations in return for taking the land they formerly subsisted on- since many times, even the barest necessities like blankets, shelter, and decent food were not forthcoming due to graft on the part of some Indian agents and sometimes simple failure of will on the part of the government to follow through on treaty promises.
      As you point out, these massive land exchanges led to some tragic results in other ways in that lands so lovingly tended by generations of native people have been so often misused in the last 200 years.
      The good news is that we can both think and behave differently: we can behave morally toward both other humans and other natural lives, as a few pioneers (who stood up for native rights) illustrated and the best leaders among us of all cultures express today. We just won’t find most of them featured on prime time TV– or, sadly, in many of our children’s standard history books (Check out Lies My Teacher Told Me for documentation on the latter).

  143. The statement, “So I’m rooted to this ground,” is simple but powerful. It makes me think how rooted I am not only to my neighborhood but to the plants and animals sharing the environment I call home. I also think of being rooted through my associations with those in my community. This may last a few years and then I may move on. I may keep in contact with a few individuals but eventually leave most contacts behind. A cyclical point of view is demonstrated by Armstrong’s quote, “Someday the land will be our eyes and skin again.” If this is the case, how would we treat our own body? I am beginning to see how far removed we are from our natural state of being. As I encounter natural settings void of mans disturbance, I can feel the inviting presence of something familiar. You can see the balance and beauty as eternal cycles repeat themselves.

    • I, too, very much like the term “rooted to this ground” with its many connotations–and as you point out, there is a necessary appreciation of the cycles of time in effecting such rooting.
      And just a small fyi: it is Lizzie Pitt who said the words here– Armstrong also had some profound words about belonging– just not these words.

  144. This quote “If for no other reason than this, we must safeguard the places that have elder status in the natural world. Without them we lose the ability not only to tell their stories but our own” really had a profound impact on me. If we lose these elder places, we lose so much more than just the history that is contained within. Every facet of their story and how it interrelates to us as people and our story could be erased and forgotten. To me, there is no worse tragedy than lost knowledge. I also feel that protecting indegenious peoples who have the special collection of Earth knowledge needs protection too. The last few elder peoples that have the stories and connections to the Earth need our protection to help them persevere. If we were to lose them and their stories, we essentially lose ourselves.

    • We do indeed lose an essential part of ourselves with the loss of natural knowledge or enduring cultural knowledge, Travis– that part of ourselves that grew up as human in concert with natural ecosystems and allows us to clearly choose our future.
      Thanks for your comment.

  145. This was an interesting read, and it does seem that the concept of belonging to the land rather than the land being “under” us does seem to be, perhaps, a defining part of the cultural dichotomy between western and Native American thought. One thing that I did find agreeable was how tradition and beliefs were presented-that to treat them with disrespect would ultimately lead to harm and not good. As something of a traditional man myself, I can kind of agree with that sort of message-the notion that if we forget virtues praised in our past, we’ll lose ourselves-if we reject the notion that nothing but soulless bags of meat and bone exist, invariably that’s what we will start acting like and therefore respect for traditions that say otherwise is often, to some extent or another, vital.

    • Thomas, super point. Without tradition and our deep reverence for it, we will lose ourselves. One of our defining points as humans is the importance of our traditions and how we respect those that have come passed on this tradition before us. By not maintaining that memory or act we do become a lost soul that is essentially homeless.

    • A good reminder of the connection between our values/beliefs and our actions– and in this vein, if we have no care for our past, we will never learn from it…throwing out the whole of past human experience is a large price to pay for a “progress” that we have not even closely defined.
      Thank you for your comment.

    • And there ARE some Westerners, many of them scientists, who place their thoughts in the column of belonging– Wes Jackson, quoted in our current “quote of the week” is one of them.

  146. What a beautiful and tragic article. I only gain solace in the thought that one day the earth will be returned to its true self, apart from the terrible destruction mankind has wrought over the years. But in the meantime, I do believe we must protect the land – so that we may still hear its stories. And we must share the stories we still have, so that as Cultee said “what’s in my heart won’t die with me.” To me, that is such a profound statement. I tend to think that once we are physically gone from this earth, all that we cherish and hold dear will be lost. But in fact it will live on in those we love and in the stories they tell about us.

    • Good point about what lives on beyond us– as kept in the story of the land. And perhaps, just perhaps, if we care for the land with enough devotion, humans won’t have to be gone in order for the earth to be “returned to its true self.”

    • Kayla, I feel the same way about being able to return the earth to its old self but that will take years to happen for the simple fact that we have damaged it to a great extent that is almost unrepeatable. We must fight to protect the land so that one day we our grandchildren can enjoy it. With the way things are going with pollution and weather drastically changing because of global warming will we even have land for our grandchildren? I hope so, they deserve better than what we have now. We need to cherish the land now not when its gone.

      • I appreciate the deep feelings here, Moises and Kayla, in terms of compassion for our wounded earth. At the same time, Moises, just as you note that seeing native peoples only as victims as the proper approach, neither is seeing nature that way. Not only does nature have the capacity to heal– but to heal us as we care for her.
        This is not to sidestep any of the damage humans have done to global ecosystems: we bear a heavy responsibility to change our behavior in this regard– and to make restitution in ways that support the resiliency of the nature world.

  147. It is truly sad that modern society is so disconnected from the land that nourishes, embraces, and sustains our very own lives. Most are so unaware of the true scheme of things, as we adjust our focus to such non-natural activities. It is essential that we all have the opportunity to have an ethereal experience that reconnects us with the earth. In those moments of realization we can look within ourselves, while we take a trip back in time to a day without borders and monetary systems. We are able to question in wonder and we open ourselves to see the world and its people with the eyes of a child. We are understood in nature, as the earth can pinpoint our level of awareness, we are more human. If we develop a deeper relationship with the earth on a personal level, we are less likely to perform irresponsible behaviors that have negative impacts on the earth and ourselves.

    • You have expressed a deep connection to the land that “nourishes, embraces, and sustains our lives”, John. An interesting idea that we are “understood in nature”- this is the basis of many initiation ceremonies that send children into the wilderness to find their true sense of self.
      Your sense that having a deep sense of intimacy (belonging) with earth stops us from irresponsible behavior reflects the traditional ethical beliefs of the Okanagan, according to Okanagan teacher, Jeanette Armstrong.

  148. This too me is a sad state of affairs. The fact is, people have lost the ties with nature, land and their history. We can see this in your article that time has a way of replacing, man has a way of overtaking, and in this we all suffer. In this article it is truly heartfelt sorrow that people don’t revere their ancestors in the same way Cultee did. It is sad to see the passage of time has all but removed the history and the tie to his history and nature that he felt. Any people can relate to this, while some of us have experience strife and struggle, been forced from places, forced to abandon our history. Others of us, move on with our life of possession and achievement and let time wash away our connections. I think this is definitely a very important and introspective message.

    • Thoughtful and compassionate response, Melanie. There is much grief in what has been lost– and I also think it is important to remember the resilience of the land and of the culture of profound human communities as well.

  149. Dr. Holden,

    Your stories show a great sense of devotion and feeling, this story like all others is quite moving. Natives have such a connection to the land and the environment, this only makes me realize how disconnected we are to the land and how all we want is to have more and more. As westerners I don’t feel that there was ever a connection to the actual land itself but more to being free and being able to do what we wanted. Unlike natives who care for the land and respect the environment we don’t have the same views of we should see land as a home and not just a place to build one. Its hard to get a clear understanding as to how the natives feel cheated off their land, but in the other hand I can see that they have strength and don’t feel hopeless but grow to the land. I hope the impression for this essay was not to get the impression that they were victims but how they overcame a time where they were cheated off their lands and grew to protect their roots and pass on their beliefs and cultures to the next generation. In the other hand it is impressive to see that there are pioneer families that live as neighbors to the Chehalis and view and understand the land as the natives, it gives me a sense of belief that somehow we will continue to grow and perhaps one day we can refer to the old ways of the natives and love this land not as material but as a part of us. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful and powerful story.

    • Thank you for your kind and thoughtful response, Moises. You bring up a very important point about not seeing these peoples as victims, but as a community strong enough to survive– so that distinctive elders still pass on their traditions and care for the land in spite of the challenges they face (including the pressures of assimilation in the modern day).
      Good balance also in the point about those pioneers who lived side by side with native peoples as neighbors.

  150. I like your metaphor of the “ancient voices of people singing here, etched onto the waves of hills and playing back again like the grooves of a record playing back a song.” Not only does a record play circularly, much like the cyclical time of the seasons, but a record seems to be a rather tangible and permanent version of music unlike an MP3 or CD.

    It is sad to hear of the fate of Henry Cultee’s fishing cabin. Was he eventually forced to leave or was the land developed? I know personally there are far too many places tied to memories of my childhood that define me that are now parking lots, suburban home tracts, or banks.

    Also, it seems emotions can manifest themselves physically such as your “uncried tears.” Thanks for sharing.

    • Oh, I see the update to the story. It is nice to know that it became a wildlife refuge.

    • Cultee was never forced to leave his cabin: that land was his, though he did eventually move into his son Richard’s house– as he got upward in age. He lived to be over a hundred years old. And check out “Update” essay on this story.
      Yours are very important questions to ask– that is, what happened to the real people involved in these stories– and by implication, how can we care for them in return for the sharing they have expressed with us?

  151. I truly appreciate and value the connection that the native people have with nature and the Earth. I think it is beautiful that they pass on their knowledge through stories and music to share with their families and culture of Earth-loving people. The belief that they are not in control of, but, have been put on Earth to nurture it, is something we as westerners should take note of. I support the saying that “we belong to the Earth, the Earth does not belong to us”, as it is very truthful and valuable for the future of this planet.
    The thought of the rolling hills, whispering winds and flowing rivers disappearing is sad and tragic. Having to tell a story or song of the past without actually being able to see its beauty is heartbreaking. The breathtaking landscape of the past continues to transform into gravel pits or dried up rivers, no longer cared for by humankind. We as humans seem to have lost connection with, respect for and the sense of responsibility for our life giving planet. I feel so blessed to have lived in a place where I grew up experiencing nature and falling in love with it. I have a deep respect for this planet and feel as if it gives me wholeness when I take the time to honor it.

    • The difference between nurturing nature and controlling it is a profound one indeed. And in nurturing it, the best memories of your personal experience have a chance of being passed on to the next generation.
      I very much like your idea of the opportunity to experience nature and thus “fall in love with it”– something we want our children to be able to experience as well.

  152. It is truly awful how this land is bought up with only the bottom line in mind. I can only imagine how hard it is for Cultee’s people and his family to no longer be able to take visitors or their children out to see the beautiful land that shaped them. This is a great example of industrial domestication vs indigenous domestication. For the Chehalis, they lived with this land and from it. But for the investors that purchased this land, they merely took all they could from it.

    • And of course, taking all we can from the land without giving back is simply a way of shortening our own lifespan–and that of our children. Thanks for your comment, Gina.

    • Agreed, this unfortunate mindset that most people find themselves in is our greatest weakness. Its sad that as we get older the natural things we used to enjoy may not be their for our children and future generations of families.

    • Taking from the earth just to make our bottom line is utterly despicable if we fail to take the time to give back and really treat the earth with the respect that it deserves from all of us. We owe this land much more than most know.

  153. I think it is wonderful that you were able to spend that time with Henry Cultee. That story is so beautiful and put a smile to my face. What really struck me is how Henry was able to show you how the land recalled the lives of the people who lived there. “The land trades stories with us this way. If we know its stories, it keeps our own. The stories Henry Cultee told me expressed this ancient reciprocity with “the eyes of the world” that sees “what is in our hearts”, even if we hide it from other humans. In his tradition, it was how the land’s eyes see us that determine the length of our lives.” This part from your essay also really struck, it’s something that I have never thought about before. I really liked what you said here, it presents a new perspective to me and really gives me something to ponder. It pains me to learn that this land is no longer what it once was. I hope that as you have mentioned that maybe beneath that gravel pit somewhere, the lands still have a voice and can still sing despite what has become of it.My wish is that these people who destroy the land and it’s stories will become more more aware of what they are doing and realize all of it’s repercussions. Our whole society needs to become more aware of what we’re doing. We are so driven by consumerism and greed, as long as we keep being driven by consumerism and greed, things such as this will continue to happen. We need to put an end to it.

    • Thank you for sharing your personal vision and your hopes, Danielle. I agree that our society would change much for the better if we could inhibit the greed of some among us.

  154. I think that I really connected the best with the quote from Lizzie Pitt in Warm Springs. She said that “someday the land will be our eyes and skin again”. To me this has always been something that hits me smack dab in the emotional kisser. I don’t come from a religious family in the sense of God, sinning and all that jazz because we all feel that many religions and religious people don’t exactly practice what they preach, in a word it comes across rather hypocritical. However as a family we all do believe that there is something out there after we leave our bodies and the natural world behind. We don’t know what it is but we like to believe that we become one with the world that we lived in, melding into the seam-work of life and earth. Most members of my family hope to be cremated after death so that they may be as close to the earth as humanly possible in death. Due to this I just couldn’t help but connect strongly with Lizzie’s comment.

    • Thank you for a lovely personal response, Kelsey. And though cremation is closer to the earth than the general practice of burying poison-filled in the current day, your family might want to look into the “green burial” movement.

  155. I loved the quote by Billy Frank, Jr, Nisqually. It is true. If the birds, the sky, the wind are unhealthy it would mean that we are unhealthy as well. It seems that Native Americans are very concerned with the well being of everything around them, including their communities. I fail to see others being so concerned with anything but themselves. Is it our selfish ways that have made us unhealthy? If so, then why do we not stop? For example, if the doctor tells me my cholesterol is high. I would then try to eat healthy. But if I’m told that the earth is being used up and destroyed. I continue to do as I always have? I hope I haven’t confused anyone!

    • I don’t think you have confused anyone by drawing an analogy between the health of the earth and that of ourselves, Melissa. Perhaps the reason humans don’t stop their destructive behaviors even when they have been “diagnosed” to them is that they don’t real see this connection between their health and that of the land.

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