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Litefoot graciously acquiesces a selfie with one of the group.

Litefoot is Gary Davis. And Gary Davis is a man with a mission. That mission is to inspire people to get up off the couch and take action.

At the last Mt. Hood Cherokee meeting, our new friend Gary Davis stopped by to share a few words. An enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, Davis spoke about his interesting life story, but the story paled when he drove home a message at the end of his talk, about hope, tenacity, longevity, purpose, action, and faith.

He grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma but fell in love with a woman who lived in Seattle. She turned out to be smart and capable, as well as beautiful, and Davis knew that there was something for him in the Pacific Northwest. It helped that he’s a huge Steve Largent (Seahawks) fan. He’s lived in Seattle with his beautiful family (they all came to the meeting too!) since 1997.

Litefoot was gracious and generous with all of us.

Davis took the stage name of Litefoot and began rapping for his friends on the reservation as a teenager. His first rap album was produced in 1992. His music touched a nerve for some and resounded for others, bringing up painful or powerful topics from an Indian’s perspective, in contemporary music. He reached even more people with his first movie in 1995 when he was The Indian in the Cupboard.  He added television roles to his movie roles. And all the while he kept making music.

Back in the early days, Davis said, he knew what he wanted to do and he had a meeting with Chief Wilma Mankiller and told her about it. “I knew Oklahoma was not the rap  or hip hop capital of the world. What I wanted to do was bring a message to the people. People were hanging their heads. Other people recognize what we have to be proud about that we don’t even realize.” The Chief could have reacted in any number of ways to a young punk making modern music, and she chose to ask him to sing at a function for her. “But there’s one thing,” Mankiller said to him, “I want you to speak.” Davis said he thought he was nobody and had nothing to say, but he did as she asked.

The messages of positive action poured out of him.

It wasn’t that there was nothing on his mind, but more like too much on his mind. “Things have gone on for so long that people can’t even find a beginning point in order to find something to say. I prayed for the right words and 15 minutes later I stopped talking and people started clapping.” He knew speaking was for him. The high only lasted until the end of a show when a girl met him and demanded, “What did those Pilgrims do to you?” Davis said he thought to himself, “Brother, you have a long way to go. You have people with privilege who don’t even know they’re privileged.”

Since then he rapped in Kodiak, Alaska all the way across the continent to North Dakota and Maine. He was invited to perform in Rome. In 2005, he and his wife Carmen Davis started the Reach the Rez tour, to bring a positive voice to native people. To “get out ahead of drugs and suicide” he told us, “not once something has already taken place.”

Davis is every bit as active as he says people should be. I mean, he walks the talk. His message resonates with me personally. I can get a little uneasy among my Cherokee brothers and sisters, and I begin to feel like an outsider when I don’t find people who think about our heritage the way I do. So many Indians are about spirituality and artistic expression to connect to their indigenous heritage or to send a message. But that mooshy stuff simply doesn’t really resonate with me. I totally get that there is a power in activism through radiating your positive energy into the world. I totally believe that people’s lives are changed through creating or experiencing artwork. But…uhh…it makes no sense at all to me. Listening to Davis made me feel like I belonged again. Here is another one of us, and this man is about practicality and action. I am that kind of Indian.

Davis gives us his perspective on how things get done in Indian Country.

Members of the Mt. Hood Cherokee group listened as Davis inspired us.

He told us that someone once gave him a critical message: “No one cares.” We can moan about how poorly our ancestors were treated, or about how hard it is to get ahead now, and how racism and how cultural appropriation weakens our power, but it will not get us anywhere. People have too much going on in their lives to give us their effort and attention, and there are competing stories of need. “I care, because I am one of you,” Davis said. “But in general, people just don’t care.”

The answer is to become your own change. Do something. Volunteer, help build a home, help get legislation passed so that kids have access to better education. “I’m willing to think outside the box. It may not be the most comfortable for me, but I do what has to be done, in order to make it happen. People sometimes only see you for how they see themselves. They’ll say ‘We’ve tried that and it didn’t work.’ or ‘Nobody has done that.’ But don’t let their words limit you.”

Davis grew more animated as his message became animated.

“If it doesn’t speak to you; if it doesn’t resonate with you like you’re on fire, then get out of there! What is it that you’ve been born for? I love education, but it’s not the be-all end-all for everybody. What’s your thing? We need to know our own value. We need to know how brilliant we are.

“So many of us, so many Indians, have important things to do and we need to get out of our own way. Sometimes people live their lives as though on accident. Ask yourself ‘Why am I doing this?’ If it is just about checking the box, it’s not the right reason. We are who we’ve been waiting for. There’s nobody coming, man. It’s up to us. We’re good enough to do this. We’re capable enough.

“We weren’t still supposed to be here in 2017. We were supposed to shrivel up and go away and die. Most of America doesn’t even want to get out of bed in the morning and see that we are still here. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Are we gonna sit here and talk about what they don’t do for hundreds and hundreds more years, or are we gonna do something?

“You can make excuses, or make a way. Just start. Take a step.”

Litefoot is working on his 12th album, scheduled to be released June 27th on the birthday of Warrior Kai McAlpin. This sweet little Cherokee tyke was sick with cancer on the day Davis spoke to us, and died three days later. It allowed us to hear Davis say “Kai is…” and we thought of Kai that day, alive and loved in Oklahoma.

A view of Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden from the entrance.

A view of Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden from the entrance.

On Wednesday, my regular day off, I wrapped up a draft of the Mt. Hood Cherokee quarterly newsletter much earlier than I expected to. I sent it off for review by another Cherokee in my group, and then I had a whole day in front of me.

It would have been a good time to vote. I’ve got the ballot sitting on the table, and it must be received in Tahlequah by June 27, 2105. I know exactly who I want for Chief, and I’ve known for at least a year. I know who I want for Deputy Chief. The holdup is because there is also an At-Large Councilor position open, and ten candidates for it.

The Cherokee Tribal Council includes 15 members representing citizens in local districts (local being the northeast corner of Oklahoma), and two additional representatives representing Cherokees who live elsewhere. You guessed it, I’m one of those “elsewhere” Cherokees, so electing the At Large Councilor is actually something I really care about. We are rather excluded way out here, and I’d like to have a representative who keeps us in the loop.

The Cherokee Phoenix has posted interviews with all the candidates online. I have resolved to read every one of them before I make my choice. I’m saving it for another day, however, because for the first time in weeks I had a break to go do something unproductive, and I wasn’t in the mood to stay indoors and study election interviews.

One of the few new blossoms

One of the few new blossoms

The woman at the ticket counter came outside to feed "her pets," as she called them. See the rhodie behind them? That is what most of the flowers looked like this day: brown and wilted.

The woman at the ticket counter came outside to feed “her pets,” as she called them. See the rhodie behind them? That is what most of the flowers looked like this day: brown and wilted.

Flowers hover above us.

Flowers hover above us.

A friend of mine was free to join me, but only for 2 hours, so I pulled up a map of Portland and scanned for nearby city parks I haven’t explored yet. I found something I had never before seen in Portland: a rhododendron garden. It was meant to be, since I had just been raving at the photos from a rhododendron garden posted by my former University Advisor who lives in Boston. It’s late in the season here, but I thought it might be worth a try, in hopes of finding late bloomers.

The garden is also named after me, so that is another reason to go! Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden is next to the Willamette River on the east side, where I am. It was only a 20 minute drive. It had been raining all morning and we practically had the park to ourselves. I can’t tell you how many times I was reminded of when M and I visited The Butchart Gardens.

You will almost certainly have seen rhododendrons because they grow all over the world, in different habitats and elevations. I grew up thinking it was an Oregon native, since it grows wild and profusely in the forests here. This showy plant is indigenous to Asia, and is the Nepal national flower. It likes mild climates and lots of rain – hello UK!

Most of the flowers at the garden had browned, wilted, and dropped, because of the season. But as the photos show, there remained plenty of colour to gaze at. We were also distracted by the many ducks and geese. The woman who sold us tickets to enter (only $4) said that people in the neighborhoods drop off their domestic ducks when they get tired of them. (I have heard that people also do this in Laurelhurst Park, in another part of town.)

Towering flowers

Towering flowers

one of the waterfalls

one of the waterfalls





Dogwoods were blooming too!

Dogwoods were blooming too!

The pink is lovely against the tree trunk.

The pink is lovely against the tree trunk.



Water droplets make the salmon blossoms seem even more succulent.

Water droplets on salmon blossoms.

This shade of pink seems to be the most common, and is the colour I most frequently find in the wild.

This shade of pink seems to be the most common, and is the colour I most frequently find in the wild.

This lawn is used for events such as weddings.

Events, such as weddings, are held in this space.

I know this photo doesn't look like much, but they were otters! I am excited to show you a pair of otters.(You'll have to trust me.)

I know this photo doesn’t look like much, but they were otters! I am excited to show you a pair of otters.(You’ll have to trust me.)

It was raining when we left the car, but the weather slowly changed as we walked the grounds, turning warm and muggy – but no longer wet. Is that better weather? I’m not sure.

It was a nice stroll. We didn’t get very wet, and there were a surprising number of rhodies still blooming. Then I returned home and filled a couple more boxes with stuff, getting ready for my move.

Tara came home from their last day of school. Last day of high school and last day of that chapter of life. In celebration we went out to eat and properly stuffed ourselves at Olive Garden.

A wood duck tucks his bill into his feathers.

A wood duck tucks his bill into his feathers.

A Mallard copies the pose of the wood duck.

A Mallard copies the pose of the wood duck.

I love this photo. He seems so curious and open.

I love this photo. He seems so curious and open.

I am not familiar with this duck and will have to look it up.

I am not familiar with this duck and will have to look it up.

This one must be domestic. What a pretty brown colour.

This one must be domestic. What a pretty brown colour.

Babies!! They came bobbling after us, hoping for treats. Mom and dad Mallard hovered nearby.

Babies!! They came bobbling after us, hoping for treats. Mom and dad Mallard hovered nearby.

Here, it's so damp that even the tree trunks grow moss.

Here, it’s so damp that even the tree trunks grow moss.

On of the funnest things about rhododendrons is that they can grow into tree-sized bushes. I like the effect of flowers over my head.

On of the funnest things about rhododendrons is that they can grow into tree-sized bushes. I like the effect of flowers over my head.

One of the bridges in the garden.

One of the bridges in the garden.

The ostentatious blossoms are individually gorgeous, and when grown in bunches, inspiring.

The ostentatious blossoms are individually gorgeous, and typically in bunches, so multiple beauties packed together.

This scene reminds me of turn of the century landscape paintings

This scene reminds me of turn of the century landscape paintings

Author: Julia Coates

Author: Julia Coates

I finally made it to another meeting of the Mt. Hood Cherokees. I made a point to go today because we had guests Julia Coates and Jack Baker, both At Large Tribal Councilors. And it’s the 175th anniversary of the arrival of Cherokees in Indian Territory following the Trail of Tears.

Julia has recently had a book published, Trail of Tears. (Check out her book at Powell’s!) I wanted to meet Julia because we’ve had brief email exchanges. I also wanted to hear about the book.

Aaaannnnddd, I did want to learn a little about what’s going on in the Nation. We’ll be voting for Principal Chief in a year, and there is Great Rumbling Afoot, and I wanted to try and educate myself a little before I vote. Not that I expected to get all the information I need, out of one visit from two people, but it is good to add this extra information to what I’ve been gathering.

Most of the meeting was focused on culture and heritage, which is what our At Large group is all about. Thank the gods our group leader makes an active effort to avoid politics, and re-directs us when possible, back to learning about being Cherokee and leaving the other stuff outside the door.

Today I learned new information about the Trail of Tears, the name given to the ethnic cleansing of American Indians from the southeastern United States to the present-day Oklahoma. At the point of bayonets, the first people left. By 1839, 46,000 Indians had left their houses, their farms, their possessions, their friends, even their savings, in Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, and other states all the way up to New England.

Cherokees accompanied other Indian tribes, up till then all of them at some stage in the process of learning the ways of the white people, attending schools, running businesses and plantations. All trying to find a way to maintain their culture, tradition, and languages, but in a way that made sense to the white colonizers.

That part I knew.

In having an intimate gathering with a woman who had studied and researched the Trail of Tears, new facts were revealed. I didn’t know, for example, that when the Indians were told that they had to give up their lands for white settlement, they took it to the Supreme Court. And Won! But President Andrew Jackson ignored the decision and kicked them out anyway.

Prior to the forced removal of Cherokees, the Army had apparently given them months of notice. The Indians were told to put their business affairs in order, to pack, and to present themselves to be penned up in stockades built just for them. I learned that it was one of the first known uses of the phrase “concentration camp.”

But the Indians were modern people and many of them educated and wealthy. And -just imagine how you would feel being told to pack up and move simply because other people wanted to build a settlement on your land- finding the whole idea preposterous, they refused to comply. While they understood that packing extra shoes and a coat and some food would be a good idea, since the Army was bound to show up any day, they also understood that making those kind of preparations would be a kind of complicity. In protest, in an inspiring display of dignity, they refused to prepare at all. Perhaps some of them held a feeble hope that soldiers would see how pathetic it was to boot a woman out into the street in a housecoat clutched by a toddler. Or how despicable it was to shoot a deaf man for not responding when he was told to move.

Apparently the obvious cruelty of enforcing the crime did not stop the soldiers from obeying orders.

After being rounded up in the concentration camps, the Indians were marched West. They walked to Oklahoma with only the clothes on their backs. They walked. The ones that didn’t die on the trip were at risk of dying from disease once they landed in Oklahoma.

The thing that struck me the most about Julia’s readings today was learning that the Indians had a warning, and yet chose to go on with their lives until the very last moment. She told of one woman who saw the soldiers coming with their rifles, and fed the chickens first. That is some kind of powerful force of will. It’s the kind of pride that takes ultimate courage. They couldn’t expect to be heroes you see. Chances were no one would ever find out and tell an individual’s story. The resistance of the people sent to internment camps in 1838 was pure, distilled integrity. A pact made within their own souls, or between a soul and it’s God. Incredible courage.

One more thing I learned (since I deal with pain by making light of it): I heard for the very first time about Uktena – a mythical Cherokee beast. It’s a dragonlike serpent with a crystal in its forehead. Since dragons are my totem, and my name is Crystal, and I’m Cherokee…I think there is no better mythical beast for me!

JP Johnson and me at the Mt. Hood Cherokees event

On February 25th Tara and I attended the monthly meeting of the Mount Hood Cherokees, who hosted cultural specialist JP Johnson and COTTA Technical Assistant Ryan Sierra, both visiting from the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

The Community Organization Training and Technical Assistance (COTTA) Program was formed under the request of former Chief Chad Smith when it was becoming evident that many groups claiming to be able to teach Cherokee culture were not authentic and were misrepresenting true Cherokee culture. The Cherokee diaspora was paying careful attention to the wrong information! Now COTTA maintains a center to assist satellite groups such as the Mt. Hood Cherokees, and also offers assistance to anyone who contacts the group on their website.

Ryan Sierra talks to us about how to strengthen our group and maintain ties to the Nation

Recently we’ve been able to learn from storyteller Robert Lewis, and stickball players Ryan Sierra and Jessica Harkreader. This time we had the privilege to listen to JP Johnson talk without pause on history, traditions, language, and religion of Cherokees. JP said that once he began researching, he could not get enough knowledge. To our great benefit, he is now employed by the Nation as a Cultural Specialist. He is a veritable encyclopedia of Cherokee facts, as well as an embodiment of knowledge, since he lives as authentically he can by speaking the language, participating in stomp dances, and other activities of Cherokee traditional life.

JP’s command of this body of knowledge is so profound that he simply began talking and allowed himself to wander through all the digressions that came to mind. When MHC members asked questions, he was able to answer in depth. JP revealed his motivation to keep the culture alive, and why he feels so strongly about it. When he talked about the original homeland of Cherokees, in North Carolina, he told us with tears in his eyes that there are only 332 people left who can speak the language there. “That’s terrible,” he said. He did not say what a devastating loss it would be if there were no more speakers in North Carolina, but told it clearly to us nonetheless.

We learned details of stomp dancing, and the importance of keeping the home fires lit (because we can go to the fires for medicine), typical traditional garb for stomp dancing and how men and women have different roles when they dance (women wearing turtle shell rattles on their legs). He also talked about the violent tradition of stickball, how several tribes played it, borrowed each other’s rules, and how modern Cherokees have had to adopt safety rules to avoid accidental serious injury and even death. We all faced East and JP sang a prayer for us at the conclusion of his talk.

We ate a potluck meal then, and as always I am warmed by this tradition of eating together. It reminds me of the potlatches from my early childhood along the Umpqua River. All cultures have eating traditions, and it makes sense to bring food to a single table and then share it amongst everyone. We are symbolically ingesting the companionship, the traditions, the learning. We are gaining sustenance from the gathering.

As we wrapped up our meal, Ryan Sierra took the floor and talked business. He explained the mission of COTTA, and described some of the basic steps toward becoming a chartered satellite group. He explained taxes, steps toward voting in Nation elections, financial expectations from the Nation, and that kind of thing. He insisted that he is always available for questions and happy to help.

Tara and I left before he was completely finished. I had only planned for 4 hours, and it was time to go. The time went by quickly, as always. One of the senior members of the group came up to me this time and thanked me for coming. I haven’t been active with the board, and so they recognize me, but don’t know me. His thanks seemed very genuine and it made me glad that I continue to make the effort to show up, even if infrequently.

Posing with the storyteller

The Mt. Hood Cherokees invited Robert Lewis to Portland to tell us some Cherokee stories. Miss T and I brought some food to add to the potluck, then pulled up chairs and had three hours of fun. (The event was four hours, but T had a commitment before we could go.)

Mr. Lewis explained that he got into professional storytelling by accident, when he found himself in an emergency situation: with a group of children on a school field trip in which 30 third-graders needed to be kept still and quiet for about 10 minutes. The only thing he could think of was to tell the kids a story his father had told him, about how Coyote put the stars into the sky as a special job for The Creator of Everything.

He works for the Cherokee Nation, sharing and teaching cultural knowledge in the form of storytelling, and also teaches art at Northeastern State University, where he gained his formal education in literature, music, and humanities. He works a lot with kids, and says it is his greatest joy to watch the look on their faces when they “get it.” He told me it was his very first trip to the Pacific Northwest. I offered to take him on a quick tour of Mt. Hood and the Columbia River Gorge, but his schedule allowed only storytelling and travelling: no exploring. I told him that was positively sinful. Next time, he needs to insist on a couple of hours of free time!

Mr. Lewis told stories for an hour and a half, pulling audience members into the center of his performance space. Each character in his story had to be acted by someone from the audience as Lewis narrated, and told each character what to do and what to say. We took turns playing roles such as Opossum, Rabbit, A Beautiful Woman, The Creator of Everything, Bullfrog, Panther, Alligator, and Bear.

Each story had a lesson, of course. We learned why Rabbit and Opossum aren’t friends anymore, how Rabbit got big ears because he already has knowledge,where the first Cherokee clay pot came from, how Thunder is a Mighty Warrior, how Woodpeckers came to be, how the Stars got into the sky, why Opossum has no hair on his tail, how Rabbit’s song is so powerful he sings it from his heart, and even why you shouldn’t do what everyone else is doing just because they’re doing it!

Then it was time to eat. Mr. Lewis blessed the meal and we invited the guest of honor and elders to take their food first. Then we began to eat from the tables piled with goodies, as always. When we were finished eating, Lewis told stories for another half an hour. Then he had to jump in his rental car and zoom off to Eugene to tell stories to the central Oregon Indians!

I was proud to see my girl eagerly anticipate the event for the last two weeks, and then attend with me, fully committed. Once there, Lewis recognized her willingness right away and pulled her twice onto the floor to participate. I am hoping to continue to gift some of our Indian heritage to my child.

Chief Smith and me

I met Cherokee Chief Chad Smith last night. What an honor. It seems to me like a pretty big deal to have the Chief out here in Portland, all the way from Oklahoma. It IS a big deal. But the gathering was rather small, perhaps 150 people. Mark, Tara, and I went together, and Tara made a berry dessert to contribute to the potluck feast. It makes me feel pretty good that they were quick to agree to go with me and support my interests.

The potluck was amazing. Piles of food of all kinds. There was no way to sample it all, but we did our best, returning to the table periodically. I was pleased to find plenty of salmon to try. Mark liked the buffalo and hominy. Tara was excited about the desserts, and went back for more sugar a couple of times.

The Mt. Hood Cherokees, who are eager to build a stronger local community, invited Chief Smith. He began his talk by reminding us that the Cherokee Nation is a government, and he believes it should be run like a business. In his talk he included several examples of how to build a strong community, and he repeatedly explained that it couldn’t be built on handouts. Being Cherokee does not mean entitlement, but rather results in an obligation to give to the community.

Cherokee Chief Chad Smith shares his vision of the Nation

All the resources, strength, and opportunity will indeed become available to members of the Cherokee Nation, he told us, if only we commit ourselves to investing into it. If our goal is to “give” and not to “get,” then the end result will be the benefits we seek.

He took questions afterward. There was some talk about how to expand and improve the Nation’s healthcare system and in particular to have more native doctors at the facilities, and Chief Smith reminded us to help our children excell in math and science. A man shook his head and waved his hand as though to dismiss the idea as beside the point. “I am serious,” retorted Smith. “You want Cherokee doctors, but we are happy to find ANY doctor willing to work for us, there just aren’t many Cherokee doctors. The only way to get more is to encourage your kids to go to medical school. The only way they can consider that is to graduate high school with a strong academic background. And in order to get there, your children need to study math and science in the younger grades.” It was an excellent example of how members cannot expect the handouts (Cherokee doctors) without the investment (committing themselves to helping their children succeed in school).

dancer at the close of ceremonies

Questions covered the saving of White Eagle corn (so named because of a white lip on the kernel that is in the shape of a bird in flight) which had been nearly extinct, what opportunities are available to students, and how to improve contact between local and national communities. Chief Smith said that he felt the more important question was how to build the local community, not how to connect to the one in Oklahoma. A woman stood and made a plug for the local group NAYA, that is a great resource here. I’ve worked with them a little bit, through the VA.

Gifts were presented to our honored visitor, and the gathering concluded with a Navajo dancer. Mark, Tara and I had to leave in a hurry to get our girl to her afternoon volleyball game. We were all glad we had made the time to go to this meeting.

One of my many guises

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