MNN COLUMN February 2012

I have been up here in Vancouver, BC hosted by the First Nations House of Learning here at the University of British Columbia. This program of indigenous studies is quite a cultural model for other indigenous studies programs, and could even be a model for a cultural and arts center for our tribe. The longhouse is a traditional gathering place for nations in this area and reflects the architecture of the Northwest Coast. Sty-Wet-Tan Hall is marked by four stunning totem poles, made to provide a foundation of understanding for the students, faculty, staff, community members and all who enter. It is the center. There is a sense of home throughout the center that houses offices, a library and gathering places for students and community. It is quite inspiring.

While here I have met with classes at the university, and with community groups. I will be performing my play and music. I visited with women’s groups at the Friendship Centre in East Vancouver. The second group was at a youth center for young women who have dealt with domestic violence and other difficulties. This was a highlight. We met together at their center, and then we took a van to North Vancouver to the Squamish Reserve to meet with the skipper who agreed to take us out on the water together. Wes Baker is his English name. This was not a usual request. The canoes don’t usually go out in winter. We went out in a West Coast traditional Salish canoe out to the water to paddle together. Wes knew the canoe as if it were his own body. He knew the water also in that manner. I appreciated the protocols that made a ceremony of entering the canoe, entering the water and moving through the waters together, and for the return. The canoe culture has revived and grown in the last several years, with many canoes from many of the nations up here journeying miles across water. It takes great strength of working together of mind, body and spirit to paddle a canoe through the waters. And everyone must pull together. As we traveled he told us many stories of the place, of the waters, and one anecdote was of a very generous friend who is always the first one to find the store, or Wal-Mart wherever they go on these paddles. She always brings them something back. They have honored her with the name: “Shopsalot.” He had a great sense of humor. I will always remember this day. It was a special one on the necklace of days.

What has threaded through this time here is the song “Espoketis Omes Kerreskos”. I hear it and sing it constantly. I have been studying how our Mvskoke music is a root of jazz, blues and rock. To even state what has become a very obvious truth rocks the foundation of American music. Hugh Foley, one of our Oklahoma musicologists showed me how this song marks the trail of influence. It is a kind of song line that follows the Trail of Tears.  Take a listen to the Rolling Stones, “The Last Time” and you’ll here one direction the trail led. We were there at the birth of American music.

This morning I head out into the day. This could be the last time, we never know. So let’s act with the kind of awareness and treat everyone with kindness.

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