Monday, June 29, 2009

Uncle Speedy

Francis Eugene Bonga
1953 - 2009

May he find safe and swift travels to the other world, unfettered by the cares of mortality. May the loved ones who went before arrive to meet him on the way and make his crossing light.

Thanks to my Auntie Mary Ann Rima for the picture.

Dreams & Memory

With my uncle's passing, family members reunite after years of separation. Old memories return to the present with vivid colors, sounds, and emotions. Dreams and waking experiences mingle together.

In the last 15 or 20 years, I spoke to my uncle Speed only a handful to times, but a few months ago, I dreamed that I received word of his approaching death. In the dream, I rushed to see him, but I did not arrive in time. I saw him sitting at a window in the upper story of a building. He drew back a curtain and smiled at me, then simply faded away. I awoke in tears.

Only a day or two later, I received a telephone call saying my uncle had been hospitalized with almost no chance of recovery. My dream seemed prophetic. I dropped everything and rushed to the hospital. Thankfully, I arrived in time to see him and express my feelings. We sat and laughed like old times, as though no time had passed at all. Indian people are like that; we never forget our enduring family bonds. As I stood at the door to leave, I said, "It's been too long uncle. I love you."

He smiled and said, "I love you too." We hugged, and that was the last I saw him.

We learned of his death while traveling in Wyoming. Oddly enough, I would have arrived in time to see him again, but our detour to the Casper hospital delayed our return by several days. We arrived in Spokane less than 10 hours after his passing. In that sense, my dream was somewhat prophetic again.

The photograph above shows my uncle Speed standing at the front. My father is wearing the number 15 shirt.

At times such as this, family memories and old hurts return to visit. The memory of other loved ones who have passed fill my heart with renewed sadness. Somehow all the grief of every death comes alive all at once.

In this picture, my yaya Minnie stands with her children in July of 1962. My father is the oldest and tallest of her children. I can't say for certain, but he looks so terribly sad in this picture. I can only guess what burdens he must have carried, even at that young age.

Thanks to my Auntie Mary Ann Rima for the pictures.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


The delay in Casper forced us to abbreviate the remainder of our trip.

As I mentioned, we made a midnight drive to Cody, arriving some time after 1:00 in the morning. We got up early the next day and visited the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, where a friend from my graduate program now works. She met us at the door and showed us a few of the exhibits. The museum is much larger than I expected, but we had to leave after less than two hours.

We continued our hurried way through Yellowstone National Park, stopping to appreciate the lakes and thermal areas while daylight remained.

Rhonda and the kids near Yellowstone Lake. Hot steam rises from thermal vents on the shore.

Steam drifts into the trees above the Mud Volcano. Of all the thermal areas in the park, this one was my favorite. The vent spewed boiling water and mud into the air, and also made a low grurgling sound, like the throaty growl of a mythical monster.

Whitney and I near the Mud Volcanos. The smell of sulphur was palpable in the air.

Dakota near a pool of boiling mud.

Of course, no trip to Yellowstone is complete without a stop to Old Faithful.

The place seemed such an irony to me. Constructed above one of the largest volcanic areas in the world is a flurry of human development. A massive lodge sits only a few hundred yards from the geyser, offering panoramic views of every eruption from within air conditioned comfort. An iron clock is set every hour to predict the eruption of thermal heated water, within 10 or 15 minutes. Tourists congregate in ever growing numbers as the indicated time approaches.

A pamphlet states that over 2000 earthquakes affect the park, but most are never felt. However, Dakota and I felt the ground shake for a few seconds during dinner at the lodge.

For all the hype, Old Faithful proved something of a disappointment. Perhaps we would have appreciated the geyser more if it had not been overshadowed by a freezing rainstorm. The temperature dropped 20 degrees and a bone-chilling rain sent everyone running for cover. When the geyser finally erupted, the weather had turned so nasty that we could hardly see. This photograph was taken after the rain cleared somewhat.

Evidence of forest fires were not hard to miss. In some areas, miles and miles of timberland still stand burned and limbless. But in other areas, new life has begun to appear.

We arrived at Mammoth Hot Springs at the north end of the park, just after sunset. Our half-day trip to Yellowstone National Park ended all too soon. I guess we'll just have to return.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


My family became more familiar with Casper, Wyoming than we ever imagined possible.

Toward the end of our family vacation to Martin's Cove, Rhonda's mom suffered some health complications that required a trip to Wyoming Medical Center. Her condition caused enough concern to make us drive 70 miles back to Casper in the middle of the night, dodging antelope and deer on the highway, I might add. But then one thing led to another; she was admitted for testing, and ended up spending several days in the hospital. Everything turned out well, but the doctor kept her in bed for three days before finally giving the okay to travel.

Meanwhile, our family got acquainted with Casper more than we ever hoped or desired. I must have walked up and down the main street a dozen times. We ate cafeteria food and paced the halls as we waited for any scrap of information the medical staff deemed appropriate to share.

She was finally released after 8:00 yesterday evening. We were so tired and frustrated that we decided to leave Casper immediately and made a midnight drive to Cody, Wyoming. This time the dark highway stretched out before us as a welcome relief from the monotony of the hospital corridors.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Independence Rock

Independence Rock stands above the high plains of Wyoming as a natural monument to the early pioneers of the Oregon Trail. Travelers hoped to reach Independence Rock before the 4th of July to ensure an arrival to the Oregon Country before the first snowfall. Many passersby inscribed their names on the rock, though contemporary inscriptions are punished. One generation's graffiti is another generation's treasured artifact.

My children and I climbed the rock and enjoyed the wonderful view.

Of course, I had to do the LOOK, yet again, from another another landmark. Is this another tradition in the making?

On a more serious note, I recently spoke to a group of LDS missionaries regarding my persepctive of history. The pioneer legacy is something they obviously cherish, especially as they consider the religious conviction that compelled their ancestors to brave the unknown dangers of the frontier. And yet, the opening of the various historic trails caused the decline of indigenous cultures in western North America. The frontier opened a new chapter of discovery for the American pioneers, but marked the heartbreaking decline of indigenous lifeways.

Even as I stood atop Independence Rock to see the endless Wyoming plain, the effects of that place reached my ancestors hundreds of miles away. More than a half a million people crossed that place en route to the Oregon Country, which at that time included the traditional territory of my Spokane and Kalispel Salish ancestors. My great grandparents directly experienced the effects of the westward migration, often through tragedy, sickness, forced assimilation, and death.

How can I reconcile these opposing forces of history? How can I reconcile the anger and the grief with the equally compelling desire to create peace in the world today? No answers immediately appear, but perhaps one of the great mysteries of life is that sometimes horrible things happen, and we are left with the choice of how to respond. In the end, history is done, and my personal response of either bitterness or acceptance is the only choice that remains.

Martin's Cove

From Wikipedia, we find a partial history of Martin's Cove, Wyoming:

"In November 1856, about 500 Mormon emigrants in the Martin Handcart Company were halted for five days in the Cove by snow and cold while on their way to Salt Lake City. That autumn two handcart companies, the Willie and Martin companies, began their journey dangerously late and met disaster in the cold weather of Wyoming. Although the number who died in the Cove is unknown, more than 145 members of the Martin Company died before reaching Salt Lake City. A few days prior to their arrival at Martin's Cove, the company was met by a small rescue party with food, supplies, and wagons that LDS Church President Brigham Young had sent from Salt Lake City, Utah. On November 4 the company and rescuers forded the bitterly cold Sweetwater River and sought shelter in the cove."

The LDS Church currently operates a visitor center nearby.

Rhonda's father and step-mother are serving as missionaries at the Martin's Cove site. They invited us to visit them and to participate in a personalized re-enactment of the handcart companies.

Rhonda's mother also visited Martin's Cove. Several months ago, her mother suffered a heart attack, so she could not hike the trail with us. But in the spirit of the historic handcart companies, we committed to carrying her. She was a little embarrassed, but it was an honor to pull her in the cart, and it added a sense of realism to the re-enactment. And besides, she otherwise would have never gotten to see this place from the sacred history of her religion.

In all, we hiked more than five miles, pulling a handcart the whole way. We were exhausted and sunburned by the end, but we felt happy. I love visiting places in a way that allows us to participate in history and culture.

Desert Garden

More prickly pear cactus.

Bitterroots are a staple food of the Salish tribes, and they were quite abundant at Martin'a Cove.

The Mormon pioneers prided themselves on transforming the wilderness into productive, arable land. As they hearkened back to the biblical verse, "The desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose..." (Isaiah 35:1), they often saw themselves as the fulfillment of ancient prophesy.

They did transform the deserts of Utah, but in my view, the desolate places of the world were not so barren as they once imagined.

On the day we visited Martin's Cove, the desert did rejoice, and I felt blessed to see it. Everywhere we looked, the flowers of edible plants bloomed in their full magnificence. Indeed, all the world is a Garden of Eden, but modern humans have forgotten the connection to our living Earth Mother. We see ourselves in enmity with creation, but with a false and unnecessary separation. Perhaps we can still remember in time to make a difference.

As I consider all the ecosystems of the world, all of them are beautiful in their own way.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Sweetwater River

When the Martin Handcart Company reached the Sweetwater River, many were so incapaciated from hardship and cold that they could not walk. Rescuers from Salt Lake City carried the people across the river, even as chunks of ice filled the water. Four young men in particular were immortalized when they spent almost the entire day carrying the survivors across the river, in spite of great discomfort and suffering to themselves.

In memory of this tragic and heroic event, Dakota, Whitney, and I forded the Sweetwater River near the site of the original rescue.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Devil's Gate

Dakota and his grandpa Ron near Devil's Gate, Wyoming.

On Sunday, we attended church services at the LDS visitor center near Martin's Cove. Most of the missionaries in attendance are retired couples, like Rhonda's father and step-mother. They're a friendly bunch of people with a sort of humble, country charm, and they all seem motivated by a solid conviction of their faith. No doubt, the Mormon ancestors who perished nearby sanctified the ground with their suffering and death.

After church, still dressed in our Sunday best, Ron, Dakota, and I hiked to a place known as Devil's Gate, which is a small, but striking canyon carved into rock by the Sweetwater River. Four of the most important historic trails once passed within a stone's throw of the river: the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, the California Trail, and the Pony Express. Before the westerward migration, Native Americans had also created a trail along the same route.

Of course, standing at such an historic and picturesque location, I had to take a self-portrait using my now-famous pose, "The Barry." This is dedicated to Paul, and now also to Tim and Robert.


Driving south into Wyoming, we encountered herds of antelope every mile or so; hundreds in all. Rhonda's father would later claim that Wyoming has more antelope than people. That may be true.

We passed through miles of sagebrush country and finally arrived at a little place called Martin's Cove. It derives its name from an ill-fated Mormon handcart company that got stranded in a blizzard in late 1856. They left too late in the season and many froze to death. The LDS Church now operates a visitor center nearby where Rhonda's father is serving a mission.

As I considered the fate of those early settlers, I couldn't help but wonder what foods they might have found on the plains, if anyone had cared to educate them. Of course, the antelope are extremely abundant. We also found prickly pear cactus and sego lilies (pictured below).

In all fairness, most of these foods would not have been available during the winter, but with a little planning, they may have collected them en route.

Sadly, hindsight is always so clear...

Sego Lily... the Mormon pioneers did in fact eat the bulbs of this plant in other times and other circumstances.

Prickly pear cactus... this plant is a food for Native peoples, especially in Mexico.

Little Bighorn

My daughters at the Native American portion of the Little Bighorn monument.

South of Billings, we entered the Crow Nation and stopped at the Little Bighorn National Monument. General George Armstrong Custer made his famous last stand nearby on a grass-covered hilltop, now marked with a large monument and scattered tombstones. A park ranger recounted the fateful story as an epic struggle between gold-hungry settlers and the last free bands of plains Indians fighting to preserve their way of life. It's tempting to view those events as though they belong to some far-removed ancient history, but within the whole span of human existence, the conquest of Native peoples happened only yesterday. Actually, some degree of conquest continues to the present day.

A quote from Sitting Bull stands at the entrance to the museum: "You are fools to make yourselves slaves to a piece of fat bacon, some hard-tack, and a little sugar and coffee." His words were prophetic. The greater part of the conquest happened when Native people became dependent on Euro-American trade goods, like the ones mentioned by Sitting Bull. Metal cooking pots did more to change our way of life than guns and war. Makes me wonder how many modern conveniences continue to erode our traditional ways. In many cases, cultural survival in the twenty-first century requires a conscious effort.

Red tombstones mark the location where Native warriors had fallen during the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The tombs remained nameless for many years, until their descendents returned to honor their memory.

A large stone marks the place where Custer's men were placed in a single mass grave.

White stones mark the place where US soldiers fell.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

One World Spokane

Virlinda serving organic meals at One World Spokane.

Real dishes create a sense of variety, community, and home.

Murals outside One World Spokane.

Within the last few months, several co-workers have mentioned a relatively new dining experience to arrive on the Spokane scene: One World Spokane. After some initial skepticism, I finally decided to give it a try.

One World Spokane operates under a rather unorthodox business model. In short, patrons choose their own portion sizes (which minimizes waste), and then pay whatever they believe is a "fair and reasonable" price. What's more, certain items on the menu are always free for those who may just need a meal for the day; no one is turned away. The menu always changes, but the food is always organic and high-quality.

Virlinda served the food and made sure I felt welcome (she is photographed above). She patiently explained the foods I had never tried, along with the philosophy behind One World.

In a society dominated by fast food and corporate chains, One World Spokane is a refreshing experience. I whole-heartedly recommend One World to anyone who cares about strengthening the sense of community in Spokane.

Check out their webpage here:

Community Garden

IMG_6846, originally uploaded by sulustumoses.

IMG_6849, originally uploaded by sulustumoses.

My experience at One World Spokane became a lesson in sustainability and community, and included a visit to a small community garden on Pittsburg Street. The garden is an inspiration, especially for those seeking alternatives to the depersonalized, corporate model so prevalent today.

IEL Graduation

2009grads007, originally uploaded by sulustumoses.

The graduation season culminated in our commencement ceremony at the Institute for Extended Learning where almost 200 students graduated from ESL, GED, and High School Completion. It's the one day of the year when all the teachers and faculty dress in academic regalia and honor the graduating students.

In this photograph, all the teachers from the night shift stand together.


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