Program 306 – Elder Wisdom

Adeline Miller

Adeline Miller. Courtesy First Peoples Fund.

Adeline Miller

with Brian Bull

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Arlie Neskahi:
Many years ago, an elder would always remind Adeline Miller that she was “born up in the mountains, during huckleberry time”. Now a tribal elder herself, Miller reminds her children and grandchildren of their origins – through song, dance, and ceremony. It’s what keeps Miller spry, as Brian Bull explains on today’s Elder Wisdom.

Brian Bull:
Adeline Miller remembers a time where people made the things they needed – and stories were shared by elders, not a tv or movie screen. Born of Warm Springs, yakama, klickitat and paiute stock, Miller recalls her rustic childhood in the pine forests and sage covered hills between the Cascades and Deschutes River valleys.

Adeline Miller:
One I lived with was my mother’s aunt. She was one of the cornhusk weavers. She’d make these great big root bags like you see in the museum. It’s only place you see them now. But to them it was nothing to give it away to Indian trade, especially if they were having wedding trade. And she used to make her own dye. She wove her own twine out of that hemp. Taught us how to dig roots. To make sure we dug a lot because we had a lot of people we had to think about. She stressed very much, “Remember your elders that cannot get out. And they’re shut in. They can’t go anywhere and they can’t get their own food anywhere. Remember them and you share.”

Miller’s aunt and grandmother had her deliver food to the elders, as a way to honor and care for them. While she was told not to expect anything back in return, Miller was given many tokens of appreciation:

Some of these old ladies in their time, they say, “I got a basket for her. I got a bag for her.” One old man gave me a cow. Today I pass that teaching on, to always share with the elders. Remember them, because they aren’t going to be with us forever, because if it wasn’t for them you wouldn’t learn anything. You wouldn’t know what, what to expect in life.

I was very fortunate to live with grandmother to learn all this. She’d always tell us to share. Not be mean to one another. It was our sisters. Take care of one another. One day one of these will be gone, you’ll miss her. She prepared us for all of that. And that’s why I always say she was a great teacher. And this is where most of my knowledge I learned from her and I remember.

Huckleberries just before the Huckleberry Feast and picking

Huckleberries just before the Huckleberry Feast and picking. July 2003. Photograph: Rodney Frey. Courtesy Lewis and Clark Rediscovery Project.

Miller learned of her people’s four feasts from her relatives. Each happens at a certain time of year when a particular food is ready for gathering. The celery feast is first, followed by the root feast, then the salmon feast. By late summer, it’s time for the huckleberry feast.

So the huckleberries is the last. We have to take a taste of each of these foods. Then when we’re all through then they say, “Okay, drink your water.” Then you can eat all you can want. That goes on at any feast, and also at funerals they have this last meal with the person lying in state. They wear their traditional, the basket hat or, or the woven hats.

So water holds a very special meaning to us. We’re giving our thanks to the Creator for giving us water, for giving us life. If it was not for water, we’d have no game, meat. We’d have no fish in the rivers. We’d have no plants for our berries. We’d have no roots in the ground. So this is why we always thank the Creator for our water by drinking water before each meal.

Miller worked a number of jobs, including farming, and working at the tribal office. After
Retiring in 1991, she finds herself busier than ever.

Right now I work with the language. I help early childhood school by going over there singing song or recording songs for them and teaching dances. So I feel that to teach them at a young age they know who they are, to be proud that they’re Indian people, that they’ll never be anything other than that.

One little girl come in and she says that she wasn’t Indian. Says, “Nice peoples are Indian and I’m not Indian.” “Well, why do you say that?” “Because I’m not Indian.” “Yes, you’re an Indian.” “Well, your skin is dark and look at mine.” “That don’t mean you’re not an Indian. You’re still Indian.” “I am?” That little child was thrilled that she was an Indian. It’s my reason for sticking with the children all the time. So when they ask me, I always try to be there for them.

We went to one conference in san diego a few years back here and they asked, “We want you to share that laughing song.” I says, “Yeah, sure, we will.” Whole banquet full of people, Fifteen hundred people in that room. A big stage, so we gets up there. So we start singing and what they do, they go around in a circle, singing the song for them. (Sings.)

Got everybody laughing and pointing at one another. We had the whole audience, they were laughing. I says, “We know laughter is the best medicine for all people. So this is why we have this song, laughing song. That’s the best medicine you can ever come across is the laughter, to share. It isn’t you’re ridiculing somebody or making fun of somebody. No, just a song that you, expressing yourself. You’re having fun.”

But one thing Miller remains serious about is caring for the elders. While working as a specialist for senior citizens in hospitals, Miller talked to one elder who told her she was mistreated by a nurse:

She says, “You know that lady come in, put that tray down. She told me, ‘You eat this.’ And I shook my head. I can’t eat that. I don’t like that, make me sick. And she slapped me.” So I went to see the doctor, who her doctor was. That nurse wasn’t there that long. That’s when the doctor says, “It would be helpful if you kind of orientate us to see how, how we are to care for your people. We’ll understand you better and your ways.”

And some of the things that I shared with them was, when you comb their hair in the mornings, do not throw their hair away. They keep that. So that every hair you take off of that comb, you have them put it away where they want to keep that hair. Give them a drink of water before each meal. Always greet them with a friendly face. Or maybe a pat on the hand or shoulder or something like that, they know you mean well.

You say you limit two people to come into your visiting if they’re really sick. My people, they want everybody there even if it’s standing room only. I says, “They feel good about that. That’s their way.” They want to pray, they have a song. Maybe you hear them singing in that hospital. They’re asking for prayer in songs. So, I made them understand how important that was to them.

Miller says by caring for elders, sharing knowledge with youngsters, and being generous with everyone, people can live full and happy lives. It’s what keeps her traditions alive, and her spirits high.

For Wisdom of the Elders, I’m Brian Bull.