Thunderbird has among its powers the power of memory. During the time’s when active cultural genocide was happening at a full press – when the colonial governments had made it illegal to gather to pray and sing and study the cultural wealth of the land and her peoples – those children who were schooled in the old ways – in secret – on the islands and forests and caves – practiced the Thunderbird song – that memory would be strong. We still call on the Thunderbird as memory must be practiced and strengthened that we can know who we are.
The first time I witnessed this place was with a good friend, Tim Hauth, whose life was cut short by Melanoma. He was an amazing drummer and great warm, quiet and get it done kind of guy who traveled Turtle Island with our band of Bliss Gypsys. He loved the good earth and did what he could to encourage us all. The world was made a kinder place by his gentle impassioned ways. His passing was 4 years ago this February 6th. Memory keeps him alive yet.
Chief Sealth is said to have had both the powers of Thunderbird and the North Wind. He remembered and he could speak softly with words that would carry far.
“Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every hillside, every valley, every clearing and wood, is holy in the memory and experience of my people. Even those unspeaking stones along the shore are loud with event and memories in the life of my people. The ground beneath your feet responds more lovingly to our steps than yours, because it is the ashes of our grandfathers. Our bare feet know the kindred touch. The earth is rich with the lives of our kin.
The young men, the mothers, and girls, the little children who once lived and were happy here, still love these lonely places. And at evening the forests are dark with the presence of the dead. When the last red man has vanished from this earth, and his memory is only a story among the whites, these shores will still swarm with the invisible dead of my people. And when your children’s children think they are alone in the fields, the forests, the shops, the highways, or the quiet of the woods, they will not be alone. There is no place in this country where a man can be alone. At night when the streets of your towns and cities are quiet, and you think they are empty, they will throng with the returning spirits that once thronged them, and that still love these places. The white man will never be alone.
So let him be just and deal kindly with my people. The dead have power too.”
Chief Sealth – Duwamish and Suquamish
As quoted in the poet William Arrowsmith’s 1960’s translation of the Victorian Henry Smith’s remembered version published in the October 1887 Seattle Times.
I am not so sure he saw his people disappearing (this may be the Henry Smith’s immersion in colonialism coming through) though he was witness to unimaginable genocide. At the time this was first published in print it was illegal for an Indian to stay the night in the city of Seattle. Today the Duwamish have a long house agoing along the Duwamish River in West Seattle and the songs are being sung, the people are dancing and the spirit is alive.