YAKAMA NATION — After years of protests by Native communities, Columbus Day was replaced by Indigenous People’s Day, a day to honor tribes’ histories, culture and language.
In a letter released Sunday, Yakama Nation Tribal Council members wished people “Kwathla Tiinmamí łkw’i,” which translates to Happy Indigenous People’s Day in their native Ichiskíin language.
“My favorite word in the language is átawit, which means love,” Yakama Nation historian Emily Washines said. “This day, every single day where we can utilize Native language … that is a good day.”
It’s a good day because there have been days in the not-too-distant past where using their own language wasn’t a given, but something that was taken away from them.
“At one time, we were banned from speaking the language, you know, boarding schools and forced to learn the English language,” Yakama Nation Tribal Council member Jeremy Takala said. “But we’re trying to turn that story around and incorporate language within our tribe.”
Takala said they do adapt to modern things, but take special care to ensure they never let that adaptation affect their identity or who they are as a people.
“We have cultural history, we have our customs and traditions, our faith that we still carry on today even though, you know, we’re in 2022,” Takala said.
A big part of Indigenous People’s Day is sharing language, stories and history — things people might not have learned in school. The letter written by tribal council encourages people to start that learning now, saying “to observe Tiinmamí łkw’i, explore the history of this land.”
“I think it’s just as simple as, you know, picking up a book or visiting a museum close to you to actually see who your neighbors are,” Takala said.
Washines said another way to learn more is by supporting Native businesses and artists, asking them more about the history of their products and about whether they can or should be used by non-Native people.
Here’s the full letter from the Yakama Nation Tribal Council regarding Indigenous People’s Day:
Kwathla Tiinmamí łkw’i – (Happy Indigenous People’s Day)
For the Indigenous People of this land, who are the descendants of the 14 tribes and bands of the Yakama Nation, this word in our native Ichiskíin language can be translated as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day”, which you are invited to recognize this Monday October 10th. A root of this translated word, Tiinmamí refers to “the people”, as in the humans put here by the Creator to care for this land.
The Tiinmamí survived on what this land provided since time immemorial and developed a Tiináwit, ‘way of life’, that protected and honored the balance between natural resources and the People. Today, our People still practice the traditional way of life and use our voices to advocate and speak for all the resources that cannot speak for themselves: the roots, salmon, berries, game, and medicines, that have sustained the People on this land for thousands of years.
To observe Tiinmamí łkw’i, explore the history of this land. Centuries before the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria sailed, the Yakama ancestors and those of the related tribes and bands, lived, traveled, traded, and practiced traditional and religious ceremonies across this region. Those ancestors formed a regional network of extended families, trade partnerships, and cultural alliances from the mouth of the Columbia River and all of its tributaries to north of the 49th parallel.
Yet when Columbus sailed under the morally repugnant colonial doctrine of Discovery, he brought to this land a foreign philosophy which claimed dominion over non-Christian lands and peoples to enrich European monarchs. Indigenous People have resisted such claims and persevered against atrocity and adversity to preserve the Tiináwit so that today we all might rediscover how to live in balance with the Creator’s gifts of plants, fish, clean air and water, and this land.
In 1855, Chief Kamiakin and 13 chiefs and headmen, negotiated the Treaty with the Yakamas making a Nation-to-Nation promise with the United States and its appointed Territorial Governor. The land of the Yakama Treaty-Territory exceeded 10 million acres and has become nearly a third of Washington State – today’s thriving economy of agriculture, colleges, and industry – in exchange for the Yakama’s Treaty-reserved rights to continue fishing, hunting, and gathering at all usual and accustom places.
Those chiefs and headmen negotiated under threats of violence, bloodshed, and war with the U.S. Calvary because every element of the Yakama Treaty is an essential Tiináwit. Many ancestors died or were taken prisoner in conflicts with the Army in their resistance to retain the Treaty-reserved rights and privileges exercised as sovereign indigenous people.
Today proud descendants continue to live throughout the Treaty-territory practicing, honoring, and teaching the heritage and tradition preserved by these ancestors. For more than 165 years the Yakama way of life has been endangered by threats that are not of our own making. Early 19th century pressure from large numbers of immigrating miners, ranchers, and land-patent prospectors who poured into the Pacific Northwest brought sickness, conflict, and violence towards our People.
During the past century, when competing interests clashed, it is the Indigenous People who lose cultural and ceremonial sites, access to foods and medicines, and ability to practice spiritual and cultural traditions. The Yakama ancestors and their relatives were born from the hills and valleys of this region; they have witnessed the larger society’s need for more commodities that leave a heavy burden of toxins and radiation in the soil, contaminate the rivers with chemicals and bacteria, and make our trees susceptible to insects and fire. Yet the Tiinmamí persist.
Yakama People continue to lead on healthy forest management, restoring habitat for fish and wildlife, and fighting to clean-up rivers and waterways. The Yakama elders teach us to take care of our foods like salmon, berries, deer, and roots so that they will be here for seven generations to come.
Does your way of life provide so much for your children and grandchildren? I call on all of us to explore and discover a Tiináwit that restores more to this land than is extracted so that we can all benefit from the mountains, valleys, and rivers that sustain all of us.
Kw’ałanúu, (Thank you)
Delano Saluskin “Shi-I”, Chairman
Yakama Nation Tribal Council
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