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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


March 6, 2004 - Issue 108


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Tribe Revives Traditional Naming Ceremony

by Paul Daquilante of the News-Register

GRAND RONDE - As a youngster, Grand Ronde tribal member Jim Holmes remembers being read to from a book shaped like a rabbit.

The title escapes him. Maybe it was "Peter Cottontail."

Regardless, he always was asking his parents to read to him.

"He wanted us to continually read to him," said Jim's father, Merle. "About the time he was starting to talk, we started calling him Rabbit."

The name stuck through Jim's childhood and into adulthood.

His father is a descendant of Chief Joseph Shangretta, a well-known medicine man in Grand Ronde before the turn of the century.

"I've been a member of the Medicine Society for about 12 years," Merle said. "Someone said I should give my son the formal name of Rabbit."

The name was researched, and it was determined Rabbit was pronounced Il-la-lik in the Warm Springs tribal dialect and Wa-la-lik in Wasco tribal language.

"When I told him I was going to give him his name, the Medicine Society supported me," Merle said.

So, during a Saturday ceremony that began about 12:30 p.m. with a traditional Native American dinner of elk, venison, salmon, dried corn, roots and berries, and lasted until early Sunday morning with medicine dancing and singing, Jim was given the name Rabbit in both tribal dialects.

Merle sought the assistance of Warm Springs Chief Nelson Wallulatum and two Warm Springs medicine men. They traveled to Grand Ronde to lend their support.

Afterward, Jim was filled with emotion.

"Honestly, how many people even know an Indian chief," he said. "I was given a name by one. It's a pretty big honor for me. It's a big happening.

"It's a spiritual type of thing. There's a lot of personal fulfillment, and I'm excited for the community."

Nora Kimsey, the oldest living Grand Ronde Tribal elder at 95, said she doesn't remember a naming ceremony ever taking place in her lifetime. Her son, Marvin, took part and said he was honored to do so.

Native Americans from as far away as Idaho traveled to Grand Ronde.

Trevor Edson from Boise was there. Merle said Edson is a friend of the Holmes family, members of which attended his wedding.

One part of the day that stood out was the gift-giving. Throughout the naming ceremony, a select group of people came forward and received a treasured gift from Merle.

As he looked on, his son, whose arms were spread wide, was draped with colorful blankets and shawls.

Individuals stepped forward to receive them. They were given by Merle in honor of his son receiving his Indian name.

"He has been gathering items for months," said Brent Merrill, editor of the tribal newspaper, Smoke Signals. "There's a room in his house stuffed with things. In our culture, wealth and stature are measured by what you give to others, and what you do for other people."

The gift-giving culminated with Jim Holmes removing first his shirt and then his moccasins, and handing them over to friends.

For every individual who received a gift, the moment was packed with emotion and importance.

Merrill received a ribbon shirt made by his grandmother. He slipped it on after receiving it and wore it proudly the rest of the day.

After the ceremony, Merle Holmes was telling Merrill how good he looked in it, and how it should be warn to events like powwows, perhaps even to a funeral.

"This is a huge deal for me," Merrill said. "She makes beautiful ribbon shirts and I've always wanted one."

Hours of medicine dancing and singing concluded the ceremony, and Merle Holmes said the activity was certain to lift his spirits and leave him with a good feeling about life.

"I love the old songs," Merle said. "They are as old as time itself. In my own family, my great-grandfather was an Indian doctor and a chief, so it means a lot to me to see this happen.

"When he died, and when his generation died out, we lost all of that old knowledge that is important to me. It's something that is important to me, something I believe in."

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