I never thought I would hear Shannen Doherty say “Lamprey.” As we watched the fictional show “Blood Lake: Attack of the Killer Lampreys” from Animal Planet with my young daughters they asked, “What are those?!?” I replied, “That’s what we ate last Saturday at the namegiving ceremony.” They recalled the foods and as I saw the realization that food on the table may look different in nature, I got a flashback of my childhood. Eating and seeing this food on the ceremonial table and the words family would share about our brother asúm (the Yakama word used to describe eel-like lamprey). Our relatives talked about the Treaty discussions and our hunting, fishing, and gathering rights. They told us children to listen because one day we will have to speak for the resource, that cannot speak for themselves.
My mind flashes to last May, when we went to eeling, which is what we call fishing for asúm (lamprey) at Willamette Falls in Oregon City, OR.
We got a message warning that the State of Oregon might give us tickets us for not fishing within a state season. This shocked me, not only because Yakamas set their own fishing seasons, but also because “Willamette” comes from a Yakama word originally pronounced “Wa’lúmt.” This describes the color of the water. There are other Yakama words in the area such as “Wapato Lake,” which describes a wild wetland potato and is traditionally spelled wáptu. Yakamas connection to this land lives through the language.
We are reassured by our connection to the area and our elders’ teachings that “Sovereignty is a living thing. It is your choice to practice those rights, but fail to practice them long enough and they will die.” We went to Willamette Falls, got the asúm and took to the families for ceremonies. We also took some asúm (lamprey) to our elders. The meal that accompanies ceremonies is important because it is one way the family expresses a sense of gratitude for each person being in attendance.
One of the ceremonies was completed that week; another ceremony would take place in August. Just prior to that August ceremony, while we were headed back from gathering huckleberries, we got a flat tire in Oregon. My uncle and Oregon State Patrol helped me change the tire. As we made room to get the tire out of the car, I carefully moved the baskets of berries and explained to the officer that these were for an upcoming family ceremony and then thanked him for helping me get this food home.
How is it that we can have the Oregon State Patrol used as a threat against our people getting lamprey and yet so helpful to our people gathering huckleberries for the exact same ceremony?
Perhaps it is the Creator’s way of reminding us to let people know a little about what is taking place today. If they understand just a little more of our rights than perhaps they will help us speak for the resource.
Why take it all so seriously?
You see, while I was not given a fishing citation last May, I was scared. In 2011, Yakama fishers and Warm Springs Fishers were given fishing citations for getting asúm (lamprey). The Oregon State Patrol took away all the asúm (lamprey) and let them spoil on the hot asphalt. These fish were meant for ceremonies and subsistence, yet they were wasted in front of our people’s eyes.
Upcoming events to commemorate the Treaty of 1855
On Monday, Warm Springs and Yakama Nation will meet along the Willamette River to discuss this incident and our rights at Willamette Falls. This will include Tribal Councilmembers, elders, fishers and youth.
On Friday, June 6, 2014, at 10am the Yakama Nation will have the Annual Treaty Day Parade and salmon bake at the Cultural Center in Toppenish, Washington. This year’s theme is “Iwitux’sha útni pamimun tiicham támanwit” (Celebrating Tradition Lost and Returning).
I think of this theme, this experience and the show. As we watched “Blood Lake” I had to explain to my three and four year-old daughters that “Blood Lake” is pretend and confirm the words they heard from our elder Russell Jim at the ceremony about our asúm are true. Maybe you know a little about the Treaty of 1855, Willamette, and asúm (lamprey) or perhaps you know a lot. Either way, the upcoming events are a good place to continue to learn and share the knowledge regarding our rights in Willamette and our other usual and accustomed areas. It’s been decades since the late David Sohappy, Sr. asked, “How can it be illegal for Indians to do what they’ve done all their life?” This question still ripples through our historic rivers and veins.