Narrator: Thomas Morning Owl
Interviewer: Donna Sinclair
Date: April 8, 1999
Place: Education Building on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
Thomas Morning Owl works in the language program on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and is also a member of the Cultural Resources Commission. His family's roots are in Umatilla and in the following interview he traces his lineage, describing the family's connection to the place. An active member in tribal politics, Thomas Morning Owl also talks about efforts at cultural revitalization and the far-reaching impact of dams on native communities.
[Begin Side A, Tape 1 of 1]
TMO: . . . Hello, my name is Thomas Morning Owl. I was born in Pendleton, Oregon, February 24, 1963. Iíll be talking today about some of the things that I know about the Umatilla townsite. . . I graduated from high school in the Spring of 1981. The following fall, November of 1981, I was elected to the Tribal Board of Trustees. I was the youngest member ever elected to the Tribal Board of Trustees, which is the governing body of the Tribe. I was involved with a number of things during those years that I served in that capacity. In November of 1983, I was elected as the Vice-Chairman for the General Council of this tribe, so I took another step in the political arena. So as a young man of 18, I was involved with the tribal politics from that time. . .
[Among the issues Thomas Morning Owl worked with was the Umatilla townsite]
. . . Through my time I was being raised I had a grandmother by the name of Leatt, whose family name was Joe, last name of Joe, her name being Susie Joe. We never referred to her as that. She was Leatt. Her mother was Kimsha who never had an English name, that was all the name she had. And her father was by name of [Niktoway?]. Niktoway assumed the English name, or was given to him like they would do those times in the 1800s. They called him, you always hear of Indian Joe, Injun Joe, or that type of name. Well because he lived on the Columbia River and he was an Indian, rather than calling him Indian Joe, they called him Columbia Joe. [talks about other names for Indians]
. . . Now his people were from the island area just west of Umatilla and the river, from a place called [Pluss?] which is Patterson. And all those island in that river where itís kinds of shallow there are many islands, clear up, then his wife, Kimsha was from around the Umatilla area or those islands in that area. They called that area right there, they called it Umatilla, and thereís two different ways that itís been explained what the Umatilla means. One is rocks, a lot of rocks in the water, kind of sticking out of the water, kind of a rapid type of area, Umatilla. And another person, another person was saying to me in that time when I was working in the eighties that it may refer to "Um" which means the mouth, and Umatilla would mean something like the mouth of something or other, of water. So that would be Umatilla, thatís where my grandmother Kimsha was from. Right now where the bridge goes across from Umatilla, across to the Washington side near the big bluff, that was an area that was called Nixsh. . . and that was another area that a lot of my ancestors and my people are from. So the stories of those people is what I am going to talk about. My family interest lies in that area because thatís basically where our people originated, my family, Columbia Joe Ė Niktoway. Columbia Joe and his wife Kimsha had a number of children. There was a fella by the name of Tom Joe, there their children are Maude Joe, who married George Spino. There was Sadie Joe, and her children, she had a daughter by the name of [Tunshpam?]. Sadie Joeís name was Wialatway, and her daughterís name was [Tunshpam?], Margaret Sohappy. Tunshpam married a person from Priest Rapids by the name of William Sohappy. Their children still live on this reservation, there are some descendants here. Leatt, or Susie Joe had no children. She may have had a child long, many years ago and there was another daughter that committed suicide, of these ones, Maude, Sadie, and Susie. They had a sister that committed suicide in the early part of the century or maybe in the time when they moved all my people from down that way out to the reservation. Her name they never spoke it so we donít her name. Susie Joe was Leatt; she was my grandmother. Actually she was my momís aunt. She lived until 1972 and she was one hundred years old when she died. Maude Joe was my momís mom. My mother is named, her name is Inez Spino and her mother was Maude Joe. And then their family was the ones that were from Umatilla. So thatís my lineage to my family interest in that area. You may find it a little cumbersome, but in the traditional way you can ask one of two questions: Whatís your name? Which Iíd be obligated to tell you just only my name. But when you ask me, "Who are you?" Well, Iíll tell you my name and my lineage to. . . an area so then you can know who my family is, because Iím not a person without my family. So thatís what this preliminary part is all about.
Thereís a number of areas down there where my ancestors were buried, probably being that my grandmother was right from Umatilla area, probably thereís still a lot of relatives that were buried there at the Umatilla site. There was an excavation that was done there in some years, how many years back I donít remember. But in 1972, there was a repatriation of what they call the UM-35 excavation. And that was led by Dr. Leroy Allen of the University of Idaho. And they did an excavation there at the Umatilla townsite and some other areas in that vicinity. And one of the students that I remember quite well was Mr. John Fagan who went on to become a very recognized name in Northwest archaeology. I believe heís got a consulting firm in Portland right now and heís involved with the Kennewick man testing. . . So a number of those excavation and remains were brought back to here and theyíre buried up here in the cemetery.
DS: So they actually, they actually did the excavation and then had a burial here?
DS: Was there a ceremony?
TMO: Yes, there was a ceremony that we did. We brought them back and reinterred them with a number of their funerary objects that was uh, brought out at the time when they were dug up. But that wasnít all of them, thereís still people thatís still buried down there. One particular individual in 1973 when they were proposing to build the new bridge over the river there, they came upon a burial site beneath that bridge and heís still there. Heís, we told them donít bother them when it comes time. . . .
Our tribal interest in that area has been quite, you know thatís our homeland. And it was a major area that we considered, in the wintering areas. And historically itís probably one of the oldest occupied sites in the Northwest, being that another one that would probably rival the Celilo Falls area for one reason or another, but it was quite extensively used over the centuries and the millenia. So thatís one thing that we like to talk about, that Umatilla area. Itís just not only just come to be recognized as a home area within the last hundred years. The history of Umatilla did not start with the first American settlers or Chinese settlers that were there. Thereís quite an extensive history of that area. Itís got all the necessities for being a very good living area in the traditional way of life Ė shelter, water, and wood Ė all that type of stuff is around there. Food is within the area. So thatís a very prime piece of real estate when it comes to thinking about it archaeologically.
DS: So it was a winter site?
TMO: It was a wintering area. Yes, it was a permanent townsite there too.
DS: And fishing took place.
TMO: Yes, the whole gamut of activities associated with that place happened Ė fishing, hunting, digging Ė it was a good area. . . . . . Not too long after my election to the board , there was a number of people who had reported incidents of pothole digging and artifacts hunting in that area, and we were quite concerned with that at the time. We tried to stop it, and as things go, no one would take responsibility for the potholing and the excavations that were happening because they were saying that Ė Umatilla said, well thatís not within our jurisdiction. It belongs to the State police. State police said No, that belongs to the county. And we had to do a number of things because a lot of people were being dug. You walk down there along the river there and you see holes and peopleís bones would be laying out all over the place, just taken out, and all they wanted was just the artifacts. A lot of that was happening. So we got quite concerned about that and we began to go into meetings.
DS: Do you remember seeing that?
TMO: I remember seeing that myself, yeah. Where a number of areas there, they were. But a lot of the, the interesting thing, a lot of the skulls were gone. A lot of the people for whatever morbid reason you know, they wanted to take the skulls, while a lot of the femurs and a lot of the other bones would be scattered about there. I can remember a number of those, because some of those old buildings that were made, historic buildings that are no longer there, but their foundations were, they were pretty much made on a slab. So there was not too much impact on whatís beneath the floor there. So some enterprising and very determined pothunters would be able to dig under those floors, find a lot of things in there.
DS: Can you talk a little bit about what the significance of that kind of digging, culturally. You know Iíve heard, you know thereís a lot of discussion because of the Native American Graves [Protection] and Repatriation Act. And a lot of people donít understand, they donít understand how closely connected that is to life today. So could you talk a little bit about that?
TMO: Well what the potholing and the artifact hunting, why it is such an important part today of our tribal perspective is that we all have a belief, that one day we will be called upon and that day we will all be brought forth and the stuff that is put there with the remains will be given back and that will be for these people to live. Itís not in my time, not in your time perhaps. It wasnít in their time. But then we have a big respect for what the belief of those people were and why they did that that we really have a very keen interest in having our burials stay intact. And theyíre not something that we donít see as, we donít see these people as far-removed from us as you may be able to go into Egypt or something like that. They donít have a direct connection with these people for whatever, so it doesnít seem as though they have. . . a connection with that for some reason. Then to throw in a few Brits and other people that go in there that have no connection to that place, well itís quite, you know, clinical.
But we feel that we have a very deep, deep connection to those people that were there. And more likely they are our ancestors. My people were from there . And so we believe that when they were buried, they should remain there and all the stuff that was put there should remain there, Ďcause itís not up to me, not up to anyone else to disturb. So we have a very, big deep respect for those ways that they have. And thatís the reason, is a lot of people, a lot of the American society says,
"Well thatís a bunch of superstitious backward people, and I donít know why they have a problem with it. Theyíre there, theyíre dead, they donít need them."
But then we believe otherwise, that those are our people there and you donít have the right to desecrate them. And there were a number. Sometimes it would be, almost, if I went into Arlington National Cemetery and started digging for war medals, it wouldnít last very long, theyíd have me booted out there within a matter of seconds. But then this uh, we need to raise the awareness that this is something thatís dear to us as tribal people, and thatís one thing that weíve been fighting against for a number of years is this ignorance factor that if. . . If we respect the cemetery thatís not too very far from the Umatilla townsite where all the non-Indian people are buried, no oneís in there digging them up and theyíre just as dead as those old people, so whatís the difference you know. Why is that protected and fenced off and the Umatilla town site isnít, or at least taken care of in a way that would be respectful there?
Questions that Iíve been asking for years. In 19080, as this problem was beginning to become more and more evident we went into negotiations with the city of Umatilla, the Corps of Engineers, the Umatilla Tribe. We began to devise scenarios that we were hoping to see that may protect that area. And some of the people that we spoke with, that were a party to that, from a tribal standpoint in 1982, was Laura Kradatsky, who, her people are my relatives. Her father and my mother are brother and sister. And at that time she was with what they call the TDO, the Tribal Development Office or the Planning Office. We were a small organization back then in the 1980s, we were very small, we werenít, we didnít have the resources that we have today. And it was one of those type of things that worked against us at the time. Michael Farrow who is now the Department of Natural Resources Director, he was with the Planning Department at that time too. And Antone Minthorn was elected to the General Council Chairmanship at the same time I was elected to the Board of Trustees. And anyway he used to work with the Tribal Development Office. . .
The name that really sticks out is Colonel Dick Kopecki of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Portland District, who at the time was getting ready for retirement. Mr. Hartseeger who was one of the city administrators from Umatilla. A number of us spoke about this problem and we tried to repatriate some of those bones that were there, and then we identified an area and itís been fenced off. I kind of found if ironic that the area we fenced off, that was identified and fenced, subsequently fenced, was the area of the excavation, so there may be some faunal remains that still remain in that area, but for the majority theyíre sitting up here in the cemetery. There may be some more thatís in there, but now theyíre using that area for any other inadvertent discoveries. . . theyíre using that area once again for a repository area. But we worked on that and a number of scenarios came up that we would develop that into a park, grass it in where it wonít be disturbed. But it came to a point where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers even proposed returning the title of that land, from the Three Mile Dam and the corridor of that river [Umatilla], down to the mouth, perhaps one mile to the West, and up to the marina area, in that old Umatilla townsite area thatís held by the uh, Corps of Engineers. They proposed to return that to the tribes by way of land, putting the deed over to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to be held in trust for the tribe. That never happened. It was because of subsequent board actions here on the reservation that that didnít happen. The Board of Trustees at that time voted not to accept that land because we didnít have the resources to manage it, we didnít have the resources to patrol it. Our tribal police was just being established and they didnít have the budget to go down there to do patrols. And we didnít have enough money to contract with the city of Umatilla to provide adequate patrols in that area. As a result we just went ahead and closed off the whole townsite, but people still go into there, fishing and what-have-you. So a lot of these things that could have happed in the 1980s, but didnít. Some of the board felt one way. I was very interested at that time in seeing that brought back to the tribe. I think that was perhaps one of our losses. . .
. . . You know thatís a very historical area there. Itís been inhabited for thousands of years. . . [talks about strata study, continuous occupation for up to 10,000 years]. And then it was only about 100 years ago or so. It was a very historical site, when Lewis and Clark came through. . . but the major impact came with the non-Indian people, the settlers, and the Chinese people. Since then a lot of the tribal people have been removed from that area. So a lot of our direct contact with that area has been interrupted, so we hope in the future to be able to, I hope in the future that weíd be able to basically reconnect, establish an area because thatís where my families come from. Not that Iím thinking of living there, but just to have that area there for whatever the future presents. . .
Now what weíre looking for is the protection of those things that are there, the archaeological sites. The mere placement of that land where it is, is very important, historically that we need to keep the interest as weíre going along, that people know the significance of that site, then maybe it would lessen a lot of misunderstandings that we have from our community to the non-Indian community.
. . . I would like to see one day we open up talks again with the city of Umatilla, to try to come to a mutual understanding to come up with something thatís going to be beneficial to both parties, they and us. . . what weíre going to have to do is cooperate. So many times weíve been in adversarial positions. When push come to shove, rather than sitting down and looking at things, rather than saying, how can we work together for this. Perhaps one day the dam will be gone, the water will be able to flow back in through there, the Three Mile Dam, that area there, because thereís so much, the river itself was allocated out so much that they gave away more water than was there in the reclamation days. And how do you address those type of things?
DS: Were you involved in the Umatilla Basin Project at all? Thatís one of the ways that that was addressed, right?
TMO: I remember talking about that, where they were going to exchange water for water, from Columbia River, and put some water over there. . .
[but he wasnít involved and he left for a number of years and hasnít any recollection of subsequent events and outcomes]
. . . Now today with all the things thatís happening, theyíre building in that area, theyíve got the freeway going through there, theyíve got the prisons that are going in there. I feel that we may be at a crossroads, we might be at a unique are that we can begin to develop something thatís going to be mutually beneficial to the tribe, to the non-Indian community, to the State, to the County. Because the importance of that area Ė first off youíve got Umatilla Indians, youíve got Umatilla River, youíve got Umatilla County, Umatilla City. Now so thereís something there that always loops back to what historically, in our language it still comes through to the meaning that there must have been something there at that area.
[End Side A, Begin Side B]
TMO: It was important in the past, in the prehistoric past, in the historic past, itís important to us now, and I believe it will continue to be important to us throughout the future.
DS: Now your grandmother, did your grandmother actually live there or did she live?
TMO: Oh yes.
DS: She did. When did she come to the reservation?
TMO: They moved them here to the reservation after the time when my grandfather Tom Joe was alive. They lived over there in the Blalock area by Patterson, for a while there. They also, they would, that whole area there they kind of live in that area there. The islands in this area over here, by the confluence area [of the Umatilla and Columbia Rivers].
They moved them up, my grandfather Tom Joe, he was a young child or maybe the older child when they moved him away from there. Because to the time when he died he carried a scar on his neck, and I think they live right across from Umatilla maybe, someplace right in that vicinity. When they first started putting up fences, I donít know how they put up the fence, but it was barb wire, and then he ran down to look at the train because it was running down the hill there some place. And they went down to watch the train go by, him and his sisters, and then he was running down and where they were beginning to put up this fence there was a barb wire there and he ran into it and cut his throat, and then all his life he had a scar there from the incident. So it was within three generations our people moved up from down that way. My momís mom was born down there some place.
DS: So it wasnít right after the treaties were signed.
TMO: No, it was later after the treaties when they rounded them all up and brought them down here. And then thatís why a lot of the Umatilla people, those ones that had descendants live on the south side of the reservation somehow. I donít know how that, that might be a whole different story, but those are the people that were brought there. Some of those people were brought this way, some of them were sent over to the Yakima. . . [Names some of the families living at Yakama, families arbitrarily separated]
DS: Do you remember either your grandfather or grandmother talking about what it was like to live there or what it was like to come to the reservation?
TMO: My grandmother who passed away in 1972 is the only one that I remember. She is the one that was from down that way, and she said they brought them up this way. [would make a good audio clip here]
They had everything good down there Ė they had fishing, good fishing, they had different things, but then they would travel, and I remember her talking about a thing called [stish] which is those prickly pears. Said they used to burn them on a fire and then they would burn them on the fire, singe off all those things, cut Ďem and then they would eat that stuff from inside of there. Said it tasted like, she said it taste like squash or something. And she always wished for that.
"Gonna go get some!"
But she would talk, she talked about different things. When she died I was nine years old. She lived for a while in her later years in a nursing home. I remember her though. She was a good lady. She would talk about different things like that and as a child you know, certain things I remember because I thought I want to try them. But [stish].
DS: Did you ever get to try that?
TMO: No, never have, never have done that. But I had a ball, and I donít, I had a ball. I think that it was hers that she had, that she brought from down that way when she was a girl. It was a little rock ball, it must be about maybe two inches in diameter. Looks like itís made out of granite if I remember right. But itís perfectly round, perfectly round rock ball. And they would roll it, and I always wondered what they would. Then I thought, and she goes they would use those things for different things and she would say it would make a really good [koplatch?] or um, war club or something like that. I donít know what happened to it now, but itís probably at the house some place. . . And she says she brought that up from the river when she was a young girl. Weíve had it.
The one thing that she always, my other grandmother. See my momís mom died before I was even born. My grandfather George Spino, he was from [?] area, Klickitat area. He died before I was born. So Susie, Susie Joe and Tom Joeís wife, Annie Joe, they were you know, a really integral part of my life. She, Susie Joe, she worked with Dr. Bruce Rigsby doing some language research back in the 1960s, when I was a little baby. . .
[talks about a picture of his family in the book With One Sky Above Us, the photographer E. Latham was on the Colville Reservation at the turn of the century, Columbia Joe had a son, Jim Joe on the Colville]
. . . Apparently this guy had a number of wives. And they used to live like that down there. A man would have more than one wife and they would live in a long tent. Thatís what, my grandmother talk about they live in a long tent. And it was open on top she would say. It was open maybe about a foot or so. And if it rained sometimes that rain would come in right there. But they would have fires in the middle of the longhouse. I think she said they had three fires. But the old man he always was on the west side of the long house, and then they would, him and his family and his wives. But she would tell a story about one particular old man. And I canít remember which one it was, which one of the grandfathers. It was either Umashaat who was Kimshaís father, Umashaat, or it may have been her, Kimshaís parents was Umashaat and [Kastalut?] which means no teeth. Kastalut was her mother. Umashaat was her father. Kimshaís, and then Kimsha married a man by the name of Niktoway who was Columbia Joe. And Niktowayís parents was [Akay?] and Ahi Katya. Ahi Katya and Akay. Anyway, I think it might have been this Umashaat or maybe even have been Niktoway, one of them had five wives. Either this Niktoway or this Umashaat, or maybe Akay. And anyway he had five wives that lived in a long tent there, then they would lay, and as it went round in order. Then he would tell a story thatís funny, that one of the women, one of his wives would come and grab him and wake him up and drag him over, maybe two of them would come over and grab him and drag him over to by where they were laying. He would just get comfortable and then another two would jump up and they would run over and grab him and pull him across the longhouse. . . Then they would just play with him like that way just to, well he couldnít get no sleep or something. Heís just lay down and get comfortable, then theyíd come and grab him and theyíd take off again. [laughs] And theyíd tell a story about that. Theyíd "Aaaay," my grandma did [in Indian]. Must have been her father maybe. Might have been her father because she would talk about him like [in Indian]. He looked really funny.
DS: So your grandmother would talk to you in Umatilla?
TMO: Oh yeah, yeah.
DS: Cayuse, right?
TMO: No, Umatilla. Umatilla.
DS: Is that very different from Cayuse?
TMO: As a matter of fact, yes. The Cayuse language is now extinct. The last two people that spoke actual Cayuse died in the 1940s. And I donít remember who, who they were. But itís a really different language, a whole different language than what weíre, what we speak today. Even the Umatilla has changed over the years too. But she never, I donít ever remember her speaking English. Susie. Leatt. I donít ever remember her talking English.
DS: So you grew up speaking Umatilla in your home?
TMO: Um-hum, yeah.
DS: And is that common or is that uncommon?
TMO: No. No. No, that isnít. Thereís only very few families still retain that. Thatís why our language right now is dying. We donít have the language like we used to. She would sit, she couldnít walk, Susie. Something happened to her hip down there along the river. They had her on a., something happened, a horse rolled on her when she was a baby, I think they had her in a baby board. One of those skins, and they had it hanging on a saddle and the horse rolled with her and it crushed her hip, so she couldnít walk. She would crawl around. She would crawl around, when I was a kid I used to think she was playing with me, crawling so I would crawl behind her. Then when theyíd get ready to go someplace theyíd have to lay a blanket out on the floor and then she would crawl on the blanket and then weíd slide her out the door or out to the car. Susie. I remember her good. That was, that was my momís aunt. She lived with us [laughs]. And thatís uh, she would talk, but then the language is, you know, thatís all she spoke and thatís how she got to work with Dr. Rigsby. Heís now in the University of Queensland, Australia. . . .
[talks about Dr. Rigsby being at WSU, his collection is there. He recorded Susie and took photos of her]
DS: . . . In the schools here, are you teaching the language?
TMO: No. Basically what weíre doing is recording and documenting the language right now. Weíre doing the recordings and documentations. Weíre working with Dr. Noel Rude from the University of Oregon. Heís a really good man, heís our tribal linguist now. So, I hope to get it into the schools here in the not too distant future. . .
DS: So how did you get into tribal politics so early? I mean you were awfully young to be in such a position.
TMO: [laughing] I donít know, I donít know.
DS: Did someone, did someone say, "Hey you ought to do this," or did you?
TMO: Somebody sent around a nomination petition, a nominating position. And then they say, well this is how many signatures we got for you to be on there, run for the board. I go, "Okay, well." Since that many people had already signed it I signed it with my intent to run. I didnít think I had a chance to even get on the board. I just kind of thought, well you know, Iíll respect their wishes, they wanted me to run. I won. [laughs]
DS: Have you been involved ever since, or did you go to college after this?
TMO: No, I never have went to college. I never have went to college.
DS: You got your education through?
TMO: Through that type of work right there. After I was there in, after I was at, 1984, April 22nd, I went to the army. Went into the U.S. Army. When I got out I spent some time up there with my dadís people in Canada, different things. I donít know, I just think I was knowledgeable in a traditional way and thatís what people looked at. Helped out a lot. Thatís how I got involved in politics here.
DS: So your fatherís family is in Canada?
DS: From what group?
TMO: The Blood Reserve in Southern Alberta. You know, Blackfeet, Blackfeet person. Thatís how I got the last name Morning Owl, from those people.
DS: I did want to ask you about, you know we talked a little bit about the islands. And your family living on the islands, so I know you heard about that. When the dams came in and covered the islands with water almost completely, not completely in Blalock, but. Do you recall that happening? Do you recall discussion or, or?
TMO: I remember them talking about that and what they were going to do. Some of the people, they said, leave them there, because the dam was completed in 1965. The John Day Dam, the one that would have impacted those areas there. And a lot of people say, well just leave them there because the waterís going to cover them up where they canít, people wonít get to them. Then uh, I think they did some excavations, brought some of them up. But I think thereís still a lot thatís down there on those islands. Thereís one island in particular where they used to live out there, Ďcause Grandma would, my grandmother would talk to me, say that they lived on the island because it was safer there and they would keep a lot of horses on one side or the other. And basically, there was a place to go across there some place. They could go back and forth. There was no bridge there, but I think they used to swim it or something. But they could get the horses on either side. And they used to try to keep them on the north side there, to keep Ďem from being stolen. Because our enemy tribe would come up from the south, and they would come up and take horses, that type of stuff, and it was safe to be there. And they would have the canoes or [kouk?] that they could get around with going back and forth. . .
[remembers his grandmother pointing out where she lived before the waters covered the islands, but he was a small child and didnít pay attention]
DS: Do you have children of your own?
TMO: Yes, I have.
DS: Are you teaching them Umatilla?
TMO: Oh yeah, yeah, I talk to them all the time. But they answer me back in English, but then this, well they answer me back in English. At least they have the understanding. I think that if they understand, theyíre halfway to learning it, to speaking. . .
DS: Could you talk a little bit about the cultural significance of retaining language?
TMO: I believe that in order to remain who we are, weíve got to strive with all of our being, the tribe has got to put it down. Instead of just saying itís a priority, but make a it a true priority to keep our language. Because the language is your identifying feature. It may have caused some problems in the past, but I think weíre past that. Weíve got to try to come back and bring our language along with us, because this language has been spoken for thousands of year, thousands of years. And when the American policies of assimilation were introduced, heck yeah! They were effective, yeah they were. [this might be a good audio clip too]
Some of the people that know the language but wonít speak it, theyíve been taught to not think of it as something that needs to be carried on. But I think if weíre really going to remain who we are as a distinct people, the language is a vital component of that, and I think that we need to really, really strive to instill that, that type of thinking into our kids, our children. Because you know if that language lived here for thousands of years, why did we lose it within a few years? . . . To have our language here vital in the 1970s, more so back into the 1940s, till now. You know, what is that? Fifty years? Two kids, two kids worth of time. To now. Itís appalling that our language is dying. But then.
DS: So what is your goal in that?
TMO: My goal, my goal would be, my goal as it relates to the language, I think that weíve got to. First off Iíve got to get the people to start thinking about what the importance of the language is. Thatís the first goal. Second is to get them committed to it, basically trying to sit down and learn it. Not so much sit down, but, one day I would like to see us all speak the language again. Itís going to change, yeah itís going to change, itís not going to be the same. But then if weíre all totally committed, it will be something thatís going to be unique. Because you listen and see the aboriginal people in Australia, theyíve got something thatís unique to them. Theyíve even made English unique for themselves. Amazing people. The Maoris are bringing their language back, the Blackfeet are bringing their language. The Israelis, they had no language. They had a language in the beginning, and then when they were brought back into what they considered the homeland, or whatever, however that came to be in 1940, they were so zealous, such zealots about establishing themselves a language that they brought their language back from wherever it was, I donít know. It was a biblical language, you know, now theyíre speaking it. Probably the only case in history that language has ever come back from that point, and Iíd like to see that happen here with us. But weíve got to make ourselves, discipline ourselves to do that.
DS: Do you see that beginning to happen?
TMO: I would like to see it happen. I know the interest is there, and what we need to do is basically get everyone, everybody to start doing it as much as possible. . .
[talks about kids knowing more Spanish than Umatilla because they are exposed to it, wants to be in the position to offer classes in the Umatilla language in the schools, Language of Heritage Studies at the University of Idaho]
DS: . . . It seems like the Umatilla, the Confederated Tribes, have had a real revitalization in the last say twenty years.
TMO: I would say within the last ten years. . . yeah, weíve come a long ways.
DS: How has that come about?
TMO: I have no idea. It was, I donít know.
DS: Do you think that some of it is, can be attributed to federal legislation like NAGPRA?
TMO: I think that may have to do, because itís given you a tool to work something with, you know, itís given you a tool that we didnít have before. Opportunities. And I think up to now our leadership has been aggressive enough to make things happen. Theyíve defined the areas that they wanted to address, and theyíve done it. And from that, man just, weíve done more in the last few years than we have in the last fifty years. All this is a tribute to it, all of this. . .
[give credit to Michael Farrow, Director of Natural Resources, Laura Kradatzsky, and others who have stuck with developing the tribes position for a very long time]
. . . If we can generate that type of energy to pick ourselves up economically, weíre barely beginning to tap the resources to bring ourselves forward. Weíve got to drag them kicking, screaming, whatever you know, as long as they kick and scream in the language! [laughs]
[talks about kids becoming more interested in the traditional culture and fostering the environment for them to learn. He was the only Indian in his class of 43 people in the school in Pilot Rock. Says it helped him because he became very determined to carry on with the things that were important to him and didnít have to adhere to negative peer pressure from within his group]
Archive * Documents Archive
Oral History Archive
Bibliography & Web Resources