AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
In eastern Oregon, Native American tribes are holding their traditional New Year's ceremonies, which begin at the time of the winter solstice. Anna King of the Northwest News Network visited the Umatilla Tribe and has this report on the ceremony, which welcomes to the year's new foods.
ANNA KING, BYLINE: Armand Minthorn is a spiritual leader of the tribes that live on the Umatilla reservation on the dry side of Oregon. The celebration is called kimtee inmewit.
ARMAND MINTHORN: This goes back to when the world was new. And the first food that was created was a salmon we call nusux.
KING: Minthorn explains that the Indian New Year is the time to celebrate the return of the sacred foods.
MINTHORN: The second food was a deer, and we call a deer nukt.
KING: These foods will come back to the Indian people as the sunlight hours begin to stretch again.
MINTHORN: The third is the bitter root we call sliiton.
KING: To honor these sacred foods, the tribe sings, drums, dances, prays and shares a meal together at the longhouse.
(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
KING: 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.
LYNN SUE JONES: We can be able to face our demons and take care of our health a little bit better. And I'm glad I'll be able to see another year, to begin with.
KING: Lynn Sue Jones is 62. She is taking on new responsibilities this year - raising two granddaughters, three and five.
JONES: I just want to ask the creator to give me the strength to do right by them. You know, I want to teach them the longhouse way.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN SINGING)
KING: The tribe's children sing to the elders during the community meal. Lynn Sue Jones's sister, Linda Jones, listens nearby as she stretches small balls of dough. She flattens each one, then floats them in sizzling oil.
(SOUNDBITE OF SIZZLING)
KING: 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, bitter roots and huckleberries. Jones says the foods are sacred because they nourish the people but also:
LINDA JONES: 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.
KING: Some of Linda's long, long hair is silver. She worries not enough young people are living the tribe's traditions. Sometimes, she has to gather the sacred food alone.
JONES: Everything is passed by word of mouth and that's how we were brought up and that's how we do things. Whoever will listen. It ends up coming down to that, who's going to listen.
KING: Jones hopes to kindle enough interests in the ancestor's teachings so the Umatilla tribes have enough hands to bring in the sacred foods this year and in the years to come. For NPR News, I'm Anna King in Mission, Oregon.