|Having listened to some of the oral traditions and songs, and having observed some of the dance and regalia of the powwow, you are now in a better position to appreciate not only the stories and songs themselves, but also how the Schitsu'umsh come to know, view and interact with their world. You will have likely begun to realize that it is a very different approach from how Euro-Americans typically come to know their world. The following discussion will reiterate what you may already be discovering, outlining some characteristics of one of the primary forms of Schitsu'umsh epistemology - the knowledge that is handed down from the First Peoples. Understanding how the Schitsu'umsh approach knowing their world is a key to understanding what it means to be Schitsu'umsh.
|| Listen as Cliff SiJohn opens up his heart and asks: what really matters? Can you reach out and touch a "wounded" person? What is "true heart talk?" |
Part 11 of Interview; To begin the SiJohn Interview; To conclude the SiJohn Interview. (interviewed and edited by Rodney Frey, August 2002)
What Is The Source Of Knowledge?
While there are many ways to consider what is "knowledge" (what is knowable), one of the most essential forms of knowledge for the Schitsu'umsh was established and handed down "since time immemorial" by the Amotqn (Creator) and the First Peoples, such as Coyote, Chipmunk and Crane, Rabbit and Jack Rabbit, and Chief Child of the Yellow Root. It was they who created and prepared the world for the coming of human peoples. Through their adventures and sometimes misadventures, the First Peoples transformed the landscape and rid it of "man-eaters" and other monsters. In so doing they embedded certain mi'yep or "teachings from all things" in the lakes, rivers and mountains they traveled. These are teachings that guide and inform what it means to be Schitsu'umsh and instruct in how to relate to other peoples, be they animal or human. See Frey (2001:8-13) for a discussion of some of these teachings.
This sort of knowledge is thus knowledge established from the very beginning, as "tradition," "since time immemorial." Knowledge is as a "trail," carved out of the landscape by the First Peoples, guiding one to the best berry patches, hunting spots, and camas fields. Nevertheless, much of the trail remains a mystery, yet to be revealed. And when not well traveled, the trail can also be overgrown with brush and forgotten, only to be remembered with great effort. Knowledge is thus not something invented and brought forth anew through man's curiosity, creativity or genius, expanding in an ever evolving fashion. All that is knowable is already embedded in the landscape. It is thus a mi'yep-endowed landscape. As you walk the lake's shoreline and look out upon the waters you are reminded of the teachings Coyote and the Rock brought to the lake. The camas, deer, mountains and lakes all have an inherent meaningfulness, intrinsically anchored to the actions of the First Peoples, the past creation time continued into the immediate landscape.
What Are the Ways Knowledge Is Passed On?
The knowledge handed down from the First Peoples is conveyed through a variety of ways. Among the most important are in the oral traditions told by the grandmothers, in the songs sung around the family's drum, in the regalia worn and dances participated in by young and old, in speaking the language of the grandparents, and in walking the trails to the berry patches with an auntie or the hunting areas with an uncle. Mi'yep knowledge can also come during a fast from food and water while on a mountain summit. If the sacrifice is worthy, an Animal, such as Bear, Eagle, or Wolf, will visit the vision quester and bestow a "gift." The young person will be given instructions, mi'yep knowledge, and a song, a suumesh, the voice of one's guardian spirit. The First Peoples of the creation time are also the Animal Spirit Peoples of the surrounding mountains, lakes and prairies, who now have come to a young vision quester. Indeed, the landscape is intricately interwoven with teachings of all kinds, in all places.
As Lawrence Aripa once commented, the stories he told are like "textbooks, that you're to learn from." Whether it is the oral traditions, or the songs, regalia, or dances, all are like "texts," to be learned from.
These are texts spoken and heard, worn and felt, and moved to the beat of song, texts that come to life. This is one reason why so many elders feel that books cannot effectively convey the knowledge that is most cherished and revered. The written word is "dead, no longer alive." See Orality vs. Literary in "Approaching This Module: Pedagogy" and Frey (1995:141-147) for discussions on the contrasting and critical implications of orality (and a culture based in the oral tradition) and literacy (and a culture based in the written word).
|| Alfred Nomee talks about the importance of listening to the grandparents and parents, and of what can only be gained by walking with a grandfather or grandmother along Sheep Creek or some other special place in the landscape of the Schitsu'umsh. (interviewed and edited by Rodney Frey, September 2002)|
How Does One Gain Mi'yep Knowledge?
The mi'yep texts are thus experienced in a participatory manner. In reference to learning about his religion, one elder said, "you can't stand on the outside, but must go into the sweat house." As intensely as the heat of a sweat house ritual is felt, so too is the dance or story thoroughly and deeply engaged and undergone. And one of the most important ways of engaging a text is to actively "listen" - listen to the oral tradition, to the song, to an elder speak, to the wind in the forest, to the cry of the eagle. In the act of thoroughly listening to a grandmother tell of Coyote, the listener travels with the Coyote, swirling around with the First Peoples in the unfolding story. The listener is re-united with the creation time and with the landscape now traveled, in an all-inclusive kinship, chn isteemilgwes - "I am your relative; I am part of all," (with the connotation that it is "useful for the heart" and makes you feel good). A sense of self identity and of place are so interwoven that each is indistinguishable from the other. It is in the act of participating in the stories that the teachings ingrained within them are revealed to the listener. Knowing is less a matter of a "belief" in, or "theory" about something, as it is actively living it. See Frey (1995:147-154) and Frey (2002:191-199) for discussions on the techniques of storytellers that transform listeners into participants within the stories.
As a participatory learning process, the listener necessarily accesses meaning and, in turn, contributes to that event in his or her own individual and unique way. As a story is told and engaged, with its many layers of meaning, each listener would discover those teachings appropriate to his or her level of maturation and background. With the passage of a year and the acquisition of new experiences, upon rehearing the same story, new teachings are revealed. With the trails in the story's landscape well anchored and fixed, and intricately numerous, the teachings important for any given individual are revealed when that individual is ready to receive them. This is why Aesop-like moral endings are not typically added to a story. Doing so could impose a limited range of lessons offered, precluding the many possible discoveries that await the many different listeners. There is thus an idiosyncratic dimension to what is known, individualized for each person.
© Coeur d'Alene Tribe 2002
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