Thursday, September 11, 2014


Twenty-four years ago, my father took me to a stream in British Columbia where the water flowed red with tulmn (red ochre). Before that, he learned about the tulmn deposit from a Yakama tribal elder who ironically, traveled hundreds of miles outside of her direct cultural area to collect the red earth from that specific stream bed. 

To be honest, I once regarded the tulmn river as a curiosity of nature or an interesting side show to our vacation. However, after my father passed, I felt an inexplicable longing to return. In time, I came to realize that my father showed me something important that I failed to appreciate in my youth. 

Years passed, but I never got the chance to return, until now. 

This week, a close friend helped me remember the general location, and my friends from the Colville Tribes arranged transportation for my daughters and me.

When we arrived in the general area, nothing looked the same as I remembered. So much can change in a quarter of a century. In particular, human development can alter the course of nature and cause the water to flow in other directions. Plants and trees can appear where once only grass grew. 

At one point, the environment looked so unfamiliar that we almost turned back. But in the end, we finally parked the car, searched on foot, and quickly found a small pool of red water sitting amid the cattails and skunk cabbage. Perhaps the water flows in springtime, but now in September, the stream was reduced to a collection of muddy bogs. We were able to skim small amounts of red earth from the upper layer of the tulmn deposits. 

Everything seemed different than I remember, but it was quite emotional for me to return to the sacred red ochre stream of my father.  

Skunk cabbage grows near the red ochre. 

Red pools of water. 

tulmnetkʷ is a word I have never seen or heard, but Salish languages allow for the creation of new words based on many possible suffixes and prefixes that can be added to a root. In this case, I used tulmn (red ochre) as the base, and added the suffix -etkʷ, meaning water. Based on this combination, tulmnetkʷ would mean 'red ochre water.'  

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Bad Fog

Years ago, Martin Louie took my father as a son. As a result, we usually called him Grandpa Martin, but sometimes we affectionately called him “The Old Man across the River.” Martin was an elder and spiritual leader who lived at Inchelium, near the western shore of the Columbia River. He was a colorful character, often remembered for his wisdom and humor.

From time to time, Grandpa Martin shared the most profound sayings. Recently, I found a partial transcript of his stories. The following paragraph contains an excerpt. He said:

inxaʔcin, isx̌ax̌paʔ, inqaqnaʔ, istəmtima, ink'ík'waʔ, kʷu c'q'misəlx, kʷu nc'q'mnitkʷsəlx iʔ k̓əl saʔtitkʷ, məł kʷu cusəlx, ‘lut aksk'əłʔitxm i təmxʷulaʔxʷ. k'əłʔitxməntxʷ iʔ tmxʷulaʔxʷ, məł yaʕyaʕt way' suxʷxʷ iʔ skəkʕakaʔ iʔ kəl wist. yaʕyaʔt way nłxʷtl'ilx, mi kʷ xʷt'i…lx, məł iʔ skəkʔakaʔ wikənts t'i kʷ xʷʔu…l ixiʔ t astk'síc'aʔ.’

In English:

My ancestors, my paternal grandfather and grandmother, my maternal grandfather and grandmother, they threw me out of bed, they threw me into the river, and they said to me, ‘Don’t sleep while the world goes by. If you sleep while the world goes by, all the birds will leave and go to the mountains. They will be gone into the bushes before you wake up, and the birds will see you as a bad fog surrounding your body.’

This was a story I had never heard before. In particular, the words ‘bad fog’ caught my eye as an enigmatic or mysterious phrase. I wondered about the meaning, so I decided to ask sʕamtic'aʔ – one of our fluent speakers of the Okanagan language.  

She said, “xʷʔul is like steam that might come up from a boiling pot, but it’s also like what people say nowadays when they talk about an aura – it’s your energy.” In that exact moment, a two-year old boy bounded into the room and pounded a drum with a stick. sʕamtic'aʔ pointed to him and said, “x̌ast i sxʷʔuls. His power is good.”



The Salish text from: i‿ƛ'ax̌əx̌ƛ'x̌aptət i‿scm'iʔm'ay's.

The photograph from: The Grand Coulee: Savior For Whites, Disaster For Indians by Blaine Harden ( 

The Salish text in this post is not 100% correct. The blog font prevents an accurate writing of the font. For a correct version, click here

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Prayer Vigil

Several weeks ago, I participated in a multi-faith prayer vigil in Nakusp, British Columbia dedicated to the health of the Columbia River. During the service, my friend Shelly Boyd offered a prayer in the Colville Salish Language. I also offered a prayer in the Spokane Language. 

The Valley Voice, a local newspaper, reported the vigil and included our photograph (above). I was happy to read that the author also mentioned a dream that I shared during the vigil regarding the return of the salmon. Jan McMurray wrote, "Moses spoke about a dream he had where the salmon came back to the Columbia River. 'I'm hoping to see this in my lifetime,' he said."

To read the whole article, click this link, download the paper, and turn to page 3. On the same page, the Valley Voice also reported a Salish language class in Nakusp held by Shelly and LaRae. 

The vigil also included a pastoral letter written by the Catholic bishops of the Columbia River Watershed. The letter read in part: 

The Columbia Watershed and all creation are entrusted to our loving care. As persons created in the image of God and as stewards of creation (Genesis 1-2), we are challenged to both use and respect created things. The watershed is ultimately God's; human beings are entrusted with responsibility for it, concern for its species and ecology, and regulation of its competitive and complementary uses. The watershed, seen through eyes alive with faith, can be a revelation of God's presence, an occasion of grace and blessing. There are many signs of the presence of God in this book of nature, signs that complement the understandings of God revealed in the pages of the Bible, both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.

The full letter may be read here

Boats in the Columbia River near Nakusp. 

The waterfront in Naksup. 

Musicians participated in the prayer vigil. 

More musicians...

Members of the community gathered. 

The Columbia River...

Concrete steps lead to the water. 

The mountains tower above the water.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Our visit to Nauvoo was a wonderful experience, but it was occasionally lonely for me. The people were wonderful, but I missed my own culture and spirituality. 

Toward the end of the pageant, Daniel - a Native man from Kansas - drove six hours to see the show and connect with members of the cast. He was in the pageant himself several years ago, so he knew many of the same people. I am not sure how he found out about me, but he heard there was another Native in the cast, so he tracked me down, and we had a great visit. 

Out of the blue, he said that he brought a hand drum and that he wanted to sing. So the two of us went into the Grove - the same grove where Joseph Smith once preached some of his most important sermons - and sang from our respective traditions. It was an amazing, impromptu ceremony that totally lifted my heart. By the end, any heaviness or loneliness simply fell away. 

I'm still grateful to Daniel for helping me that afternoon. 

Temple Halo

On the last night of our performance in the Nauvoo Pageant, the cast sang, "The Spirit of God like a fire is burning." Just then, a light was shone on the temple directly behind the stage. The humidity was so heavy in the sky that the flood light created an otherworldly halo around the temple. As soon as the bows finished, I ran backstage and grabbed my camera. I had to experiment quickly with the settings, but I was finally able to capture the effect on camera. 

The photograph gained instant popularity and has since been shared hundreds of times. 

Family Portrait

Our family picture was unique this year because it included pioneer style clothing in Nauvoo, Illinois. It also included Rhonda's mother Glenda. 


The organizers of the Nauvoo Pageant prepared a "cousin finder" using the LDS genealogical services. If you entered your family tree, the computer would prepare a report showing everyone else in the cast who was related. Supposedly, I was related to the majority of the cast, but most of them were like 12th cousins 7 times removed, through dubious or unproved connections. 

On the other hand, Rhonda was 4th cousins with a member of our district, and her connection is solidly proven through their common ancestor James Holt. Now that I think of it, they almost look alike. 

Holt was an early Mormon convert who settled in Nauvoo and later served a mission for the church in Tennessee. Through miraculous means, he learned of the prophet's death on the same day, even though he was hundreds of miles away. When the saints traveled west, he settled in southern Utah. Rhonda's grandmother gave us a typed copy of his diary. 


While in Nauvoo, I had an unexpected mission reunion with Elder Clark and the former Hermana Bragg. They approached me during the country fair, and we later had a chance to talk at the end of the show. It was a delightful surprise - wonderful!  


The city of Keokuk, Iowa was just a short drive from Nauvoo, about 15 minutes south along the eastern shore of the Mississippi River and across the bridge. We visited several times, once because the Peña family invited us for dinner, and several times for shopping. 

Keokuk has a number of abandoned buildings, including this church.  

One of the church spires now sits 
on the ground in the back alley. 

A brick spire...

A stone reads: "This is life eternal that they might know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." St. John XVII.III.

A corner sign reads: The Tee-Pee Lounge Cocktails. A Confederate flag is in the window. It was just too racist to ignore. 

Keokuk was named for a Sauk leader who lived in that area during the 1800s. He was removed to make way for white settlement, but ironically, images of Indians are now common throughout the city. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Suicide Race

Photographing the Suicide Race was a bear because of the limitations of my camera in low light and of my skill level. I should have just taken a video, but instead, I tried to get a series of still pictures. Well, I pasted them all together into a moving .gif.  

Country Fair

During our rehearsal week, we also worked the Country Fair. 

As part of the fair, we all dressed up in pioneer clothes and worked a variety of stations. My daughters helped with the country dance. Rhonda, Dakota, and I worked the branding station. There were a variety of other stations, all revolving around some skill or craft from the 1800s. 


The kids in their pioneer clothes...

Whitney and McKenna...



At the branding station, we branded wood cuts with a hot iron. The iron featured an image of the temple that we burned onto every piece of wood. 

The branded wood was given away to visitors as a free souvenir of the Nauvoo Pageant. As we branded the wood, Rhonda placed the pieces onto a table. 

A close up of the wood...

The reason I grew my beard...

Rhonda and her brother...



Merchant Family

The Merchant family in Nauvoo.

Temple Symbolism

The Nauvoo Temple was finished in 1846, but later destroyed by an arsonist. The remaining stones were toppled by a tornado. The temple was re-built in 2002 with the same exterior design. I will not attempt to explain the symbolism here; rather, this post will include links to another blog that does an excellent job explaining the meaning behind the architecture. 

The temple included "moonstones."



And "starstones..."

The tower once had an angel weather vane, but the re-designed temple replaced the weather vane with a classic Angel Moroni statue. 

The five-pointed star was said to represent Venus: the Morning Star. 

The outer gates. 

Joseph and Hyrum Smith were said to have paused 
near the temple before surrendering to arrest in Carthage. 
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