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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


October 20, 2001 - Issue 47


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 At Family Reunion, Roots Go Deep


 by Julia Silverman-Spokesman Review writer-October 14, 2001


art Family by Cecil Youngfox

WORLEY, Idaho _ For most Americans, tracing their roots leads them back to Ireland, Germany, Africa -- somewhere across the oceans their ancestors crossed to come to the United States.

But Richard Mullen and his family need cross no seas to find their history, which they celebrated at a family reunion and anniversary party here Saturday.

Their forefathers and mothers, members of the Coeur d'Alene, Spokane and Colville Indian tribes, roamed the Inland Northwest "since the creator put us here," Mullen said.

On many reservations, stories of family lore have been passed down from generation to generation only verbally, around home fires and at powwow dances. It's only recently that Native Americans have begun to use the Internet to research their family history and to write down what they find -- both from that research and from listening to their seniors.

Mullen, the Coeur d'Alene tribe's cultural preservation officer, has gone back five and six generations, to relatives who have traditional Indian names. That is the last generation before many members of Inland Northwest tribes converted to Catholicism, with the arrival in the mid-1800s of priests from the East.

Mullen discovered relatives such as Susan Natatkin, the great-great-grandmother who fought in the battle of Steptoe Butte alongside her husband. When he was killed, Mullen said, Natatkin kept fighting, even though she was pregnant.

Saturday, the name of each member of the Mullen family tree was displayed on a neatly lettered index card, and laid out in formation atop a long folding table. Guests clustered around, tracing their branches on the tree, elders recalling names long gone.

In the kitchen, Mullen cousins Susan Sam and Roberta Hendrickx hovered over the oven, Sam kneading dough into small balls, Hendrickx letting them bubble in the hot oil to turn into the fry bread that is a staple of Native American gatherings. There were chunks of salmon and chicken dumplings and slabs of deer meat and huckleberries, pulled from freezers and thawed for the occasion.

"I don't know half the people I am related to," Sam said while shaping the fry bread. "I was walking at a stick
game in Montana once, and this old woman yelled out my name. I thought, `Who is this old woman yelling at me?' But when I turned around, she said, `I thought it had to be you.' It turned out she was one of my aunts."

The eating went on for over an hour, and when it was through, guests put the leftovers in plastic bags and foil tins to take home. The Coeur d'Alenes consider it rude to leave leftovers for the hosts.

They also left with presents from the Mullen family: hand-beaded jewelry and cloth with which to make blankets and clothes, and glue sticks to attach bingo sheets for games at the Coeur d'Alene casino.

"It's called a giveaway," said Valerie Fast Horse, who serves on the tribal council with Richard Mullen. "The reason is that it is customary for us not to hoard wealth but to distribute it. The more you give, the more you get."

There were other traditions, too: Alongside the deer and salmon were macaroni and cheese, and hot dogs for the children. Mullen's parents, Joe and Daisy, celebrating their 45th anniversary, received a DVD player from the tribe.

Just holding the reunion was a sign of change, Mullen said, because families used to do most of their catching up at weddings and funerals, which could stretch over entire weekends.

With changing times, though, weddings and funerals are mostly shorter affairs, Mullen said, so there's new interest in celebrations like a family reunion. "Here, every person is related to one another," Calvin Nomee said. "We all have to work together to preserve our history for our children."

In a speech paying tribute to his parents, Mullen urged family members to bring their children with them to every powwow, every stick game, every family reunion.

"The person I am is because of those people who took the time to take me around, to shake hands," he said. "When you go to a gathering, take your children and do the same thing -- shake hands, shake hands, shake hands."

   Maps by Travel

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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