with Nico Wind
We’ve discussed the courageous stand of the Chinook nation to reestablish its sovereignty. Now let’s look at another stand being made by the Chinook — to rebuild their culture. Because of declining tribal population and loss of federal recognition, the culture of the Chinookan peoples came close to being dissolved into neighboring tribes. On today’s Tribal Rhythms, Nico Wind tells the story of the revitalization of Chinook music, and shares a variety of their musical forms.
Peggy Disney is intent, lost in concentration. She’s standing in a small auditorium at a Chinook celebration, leading the circle of a dozen drummers.
The song that I sang today was a traditional Chinook paddle song and it was taught to me by Mary Litka. And she is a Ho Reservation tribal member. And she learned that song from her mother when she was a child and she sang it to the people in Chinook at Bay Center and she gifted that song to us. So we have been using it for our cultural events.
It is a Chinook paddle song that was created for paddling momentum during a long journey on the water. They usually would have one drummer and then everyone would join in singing the songs, singing the song as they paddle along. It is basically to stroke to.
Peggy Disney is the daughter of elders Fred and Millie Lagergren, featured earlier in our program. She lives in Bay Center, Washington, and helps run a seafood supply service. Peggy explains that Chinook families own the songs they compose, as well as the songs given to them as special gifts by other families or tribal communities.
And as the elders teach the songs to the young, they are considered a gift from the elders and they are passed down through the generations. And it keeps people in their traditional culture when it comes from the past that way, an inheritance.
Countless songs have been lost, but Peggy and other Chinook people have been working to recover as many as possible.
We received some tapes from the Burke Museum and they were a little on the scratchy side. And they were the wax cylinders that are not that easily interpreted. But through the knowledge of the language that we have managed to learn and hold onto, we have revived those songs. You have heard some of them sung today and it really sounds beautiful.
We have managed to create some copies of the versions that we’ve learned today. And we have distributed those copies to our membership. And through that method, we have managed to bring really quite a well-prepared organization together.
This is a Chinook Changer Song. It’s performed by the late Bruce Subiyay Miller, a well known culture bearer of the Northwest Coast who accompanies himself on the hand drum. Northwest Coastal peoples believe that a cultural hero, known as the “transformer,” changed the world into its present form. In this song, also by the late bruce miller, listen for the Chinook wa wa word “massi”. It’s derived from the French word for thank you, “merci. ”
The Thunderbird is also frequently found in the songs of the Northwest. This next song of Thunderbird is a story-song, and was performed during story telling. At a precise moment in the story, the storyteller would break into the song.
During a time far back in history, the people of the Northwest were suffering from great strife and famine. No food could be found. The Great Spirit sent the thunderbird to spread the teachings of “spirit power.” The rapid drumming at the close of this song symbolizes the transformation of the Thunderbird from a supernatural state into a human being.
The word “massi” in the Chinook song text can also mean “spirit.” This song by Johnny Moses from Tulalip, Washington, uses Chinook words. The use of the bell indicates that this is an Indian Shaker Church song.
Our culture just seems to become more powerful as the days pass. It is a powerful moment. It’s a feeling of historic reality, I believe, you know, to me.
For the majority of us, just the fact that we’re still here in the capacity of Chinook people. I think we’re becoming more strong as the days pass, and I think our demonstration proves that. So I think it’s a beautiful day – even though it’s raining in Chinook territory.
For Wisdom of the Elders, this is Nico Wind.