Armand Minthorn is the spiritual leader for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation in northeast Oregon. Photo by Anna King
Lynn Sue Jones, 65, kneads a massive heap of fry bread dough in the longhouse kitchen in northeast Oregon. Photo by Anna King
From left to right, Margie Wahenaka, 57, Linda Jones, 66 and Brenda Shippentower, 65, make Indian fry bread recently at the Umatilla longhouse in northeast Oregon. Photo by Anna King
MISSION, Ore. – In the Northwest, some Native Americans celebrate New Year earlier than the rest of the western world. In fact, tribal New Year is December 20 . The Umatilla tribes of eastern Oregon hold their ceremony just before the winter solstice.
Armand Minthorn is the spiritual leader of the tribes that live on the Umatilla Reservation, on the dry side of Oregon. The celebration is called kimtee inmewit .
"This goes back to when the world was new," Minthorn explains. "The first food that was created was the salmon. We call nusux. The second food was the deer. We call the deer nukt. The third was the bitter root we call sliiton."
Minthorn explains that Indian New Year is the time to celebrate the return of the sacred foods.
These foods will come back to the Indian people as the sunlight hours begin to stretch again.
To honor these sacred foods the tribe sings, drums, dances, prays and shares a meal together at the longhouse.
In the community kitchen some elder women prepare meat stew and Indian fry bread. Lynn Sue Jones is tiny with a soft, round face. She kneads a mass of tacky bread dough to a loose rhythm.
"We can be able to face our demons and take care of our health a little better," she says. "Just want to see another year to begin with."
Lynn Sue Jones is 62. She is taking on new responsibilities this year -– raising two granddaughters –- three and five.
"I just want to ask the creator to give me the strength to do right by them," Lynn Sue says. "I want to teach them the longhouse way."
The tribes' children sing to the elders during the community meal. Lynn Sue Jones' sister, Linda Jones, listens nearby as she stretches small balls of dough. She flattens each one, then floats them in the sizzling oil.
Tribal elder Linda Jones teaches younger women and girls how to gather the traditional foods for the tribes. Every year she goes out to the mountains and bluffs to harvest the wild celery, bitterroots and huckleberries.
Jones says the foods are sacred because they nourish the people, but also, "When our elders pass on and go back to the ground; this is how they come back to take care of us, in these foods."
Some of Linda's long, long hair is silver. She worries not enough young people are living the tribes' traditions. Sometimes she has to gather the sacred foods — alone.
"Everything is passed by word of mouth and that's how we were brought up and that is how we do things," Linda says. "Whoever will listen. It ends up coming down to that — who's going to listen."
Jones hopes to kindle enough interest in the ancestors' teachings, so the Umatilla tribes have enough hands to bring in the sacred foods this year and in the years to come.
On the Web:
Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation:
Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation Cultural Center:
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