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July 22, 2002 12:00 am
TOP DANCER AT TAMKALIKS: Nez Perce Vern Ellenwood of Lapwai, Idaho, was named the Bob Eaglestaff Memorial Men's Traditional Champion at the 12th annual Tamkaliks celebration in Wallowa over the weekend. (Observer photos/PHIL  BULLOCK).
TOP DANCER AT TAMKALIKS: Nez Perce Vern Ellenwood of Lapwai, Idaho, was named the Bob Eaglestaff Memorial Men's Traditional Champion at the 12th annual Tamkaliks celebration in Wallowa over the weekend. (Observer photos/PHIL BULLOCK).

By Bill Rautenstrauch

For the Observer

WALLOWA — The 12th annual Tamkaliks celebration, a beautiful display of Native American traditions including dancing, drumming and singing, unfolded over the weekend at the Wallowa Band Nez Perce Trail Interpretive Center at the base of Tick Hill in Wallowa.

As in years past, members of the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Cayuse and other tribes came together with residents of Wallowa County and elsewhere in a three-day gala meant to soothe the wounds left by history.

"I thank all who have embraced Wallowa band descendants, and all those in the community who have helped to make Tamkaliks what it is," said Anthony Johnson, a Nez Perce who was among speakers addressing spectators Sunday.

Tamkaliks, formerly known as Wallowa Band Descendants Friendship Feast and Pow Wow, was born in 1991, the result of hard work by a coalition of Native Americans and Wallowa County community leaders. The prime movers were Terry Crenshaw, a Wallowa High School history teacher, and Wallowa Band descendant Earl "Taz" Conner. Both men are deceased.

That first year, people camped on the Wallowa High School sports field, and danced and ate in the school gym. In subsequent years, the event — scheduled always for the third weekend in July — was held on a small parcel of land in Wallowa owned by Charles and Dodie McDaniel.

In 1994, the non-profit coalition known as the Wallowa Band Nez Perce Trail Interpretive Center, Inc., purchased a 160-acre site near Tick Hill. An adjacent 160 acres was added later. The annual gathering was held there for the first time in 1998. Its name was changed then to Tamkaliks, a word meaning "the place from where you can see the mountains."

By 1999, construction of a permanent arbor for dancing, feasting and services had begun. The open-air, circular structure was completed in time for the 2000 celebration. A road making a loop around the Tamkaliks site was built, and water and power brought in. Also, volunteers built a trail leading to the top of Tick Hill.

This year, to the delight of many, a sweat lodge was completed and made available for use.

"It (taking a sweat) gives us a way to connect with the country, and it's really a beautiful thing," Johnson said.

Dave Lundquist, a Wallowa County artist and coalition member, was presented Sunday with a sacred feather for his work on the sweat lodge. He said the building of the lodge was long overdue.

"It's the first nee-me-poo (Nez Perce) sweat lodge here in a long, long time, maybe more than 100 years," Lundquist said.

Dancing, drumming and singing began Friday evening, with other sessions taking place Saturday and Sunday afternoons. A grand entry each day was led by Native American war veterans.

Master of ceremonies was E. Thomas Morning Owl, a former chairman of the General Council of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Morning Owl was spelled at the mike from time to time by his cousin Fred Hill Jr. Both men are noted for their fluency in the Umatilla language.

Randy and Nancy Minthorn were this year's whipman and whipwoman. Traditionally, the whipman and whipwoman keep order among dancers. They are charged with teaching young people respect for Indian heritage and ways.

Crenshaw and Conner were honored in a special way this year, as scholastic awards by Tamkaliks were named for them.

Each year, an American Indian high school senior and one from Wallowa County share the scholarship. The portion of the award going to the Wallowa County student is now designated the Terry Crenshaw Memorial Scholarship, and the portion going to the Native American youth is named for Conner.

Another whose memory was honored was Bob Eaglestaff, the noted Lakota dancer and educator who suffered a fatal heart attack while dancing in the 1996 celebration. The Men's Traditional Dancing Contest was re-named the Bob Eaglestaff Memorial Men's Traditional Championship.