Native Heritage Bus Tour a Success!
Last May, participants in the museum’s Native Heritage Bus Tour program were treated to a tour of Moses Coulee with Wenatchi Band descendant Randy Lewis as guide. This was a rare opportunity to learn the text to an ancient storybook. Randy’s beautiful words, woven in a tapestry of English and Salish, represent hundreds of years of oral tradition and the lessons of a childhood steeped in the lore of his people. For many, the experience was profound.
“The tour was wonderful… the BEST tour I’ve ever taken anywhere,” said tour goer Margaret Scott. “Randy was incredible. I especially appreciated his use of Native American language…had never heard it spoken in so much telling.”
Each turn of the road was a new chapter. Giant stone river otters revealed themselves just above the Columbia River waterline. The Owl Sisters appeared on the opposite river bank. Saddle Rock’s two bears, iconic stone monoliths, made an appearance.
This was the first time the museum has arranged a tour of the Moses Coulee area with Lewis. Stops included a visit to the memorial for Sin Scintq, sister of Chief Moses, traditional root-digging grounds and paint gathering locations.
Lewis, who grew up with a strong understanding and sense of place within Native American Columbia Plateau indigenous society, is a master story teller. His life experiences include fishing at Celilo Falls before waters from the construction of The Dalles Dam inundated the Columbia River site, putting an end to an 11,000-year-old 9-mile-long fishery. Besides Wenatchee Heights and Celilo Falls, Lewis lived with extended family in Okanagan County and Ellensburg. All of those different experiences contribute to the wealth of knowledge he is eager to share. Lewis’ enthusiasm for the history of his people, the stories of his ancestors and their relation to the surrounding landscape comes from a hope for deeper understanding and respect of ancient cultures.
He hopes that deeper appreciation will transcend to how people approach the discovery of Native American artifacts.
“It was not uncommon to stumble across artifacts in the orchards when I was a kid,” Lewis said. “Columbia River lithography is just incredible and prolific. We were always uncovering points, arrowheads and beautiful jasper pieces. We learned from the elders to put them back where we found them, apologize for the disturbance and cover them back up.”
Besides visiting legendary mythical sites and prominent geologic landmarks such as the Owl Sisters, Lincoln Rock and Saddle Rock, Lewis shared his knowledge of village life for the people who lived in tule lodges along the banks of the Columbia River, catching and drying fish, hunting and gathering vegetables in the surrounding hills.
Lewis’ stories, some happy and some sad, covered the creation myths of the Wenatchi people as well as the trickster god Coyote, who turned the infamously greedy salmon sisters into pillars of stone. The retelling of the saga of the elemental beast “Speksmin,” who terrorized the Wenatchi people until slain by a pair of magical twins, explained the formation of some of the most important cultural landmarks of the region.
The museum is working to arrange another tour to a different location next spring. We hope you join us.