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The Drummers Return--

As promised, I'll continue my story about Clarence Burke.


In the mid 70s, on my first drive to the Umatilla Reservation offices, I saw a totem pole in front of the main building. A parody of a totem pole, really, with a pink flamingo and other figures that didn't fit with the Plateau culture of these tribes--the Walla Walla, Nez Perce, Cayuse and Umatillas.

Behind the building, a pick-up game of hoops was going on.


"Hey, take our picture!" the young guys said.


"Who are you, that I should take your picture?" I responded.


"We're Umatilla Indians," the biggest guy said, not missing a beat. So I shot lots of film--and I kept shooting, over my years living in that place.


It was a great time on the Reservation, a time of re-discovery, resurgence of traditions that were on the verge of being lost. Young men were seeking out the elders, to resurrect the ways of the old religion--the Washat, as conducted by Smowhalla and his ghost dancers from back in the 1800s.


An exciting time to witness--but there were conflicts and cross-currents. My presence was welcomed, but photography was not allowed. A book written about the religion in the 50s, "Drummers and Dreamers", could not be found anywhere--the library's copies were always gone--liberated from the prying eyes of outsiders.


That's why this photo is so meaningful to me--aware that this was a historic moment, those guys rebuilding the longhouse and the religion felt the time had come to document their gathering together. Clarence Burke, second from the left, tribal chief and spiritual guide was one of those consulting elders. Andrew George, left--was another amazing and powerful elder--(don't be fooled by the cane and bum leg).


I could say more--but it's not really my story to tell. Like those hoopsters from that early encounter--these young men (and women) were proud of their identity and rebuilding the institutions that promoted the values that define a culture--respect for Mother Earth, the salmon, the values of a traditional life and the heritage provided by generations of ancestors.


And nowhere, at no time, was any mention made of pink flamingos.

See Through the Water


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Taken on January 24, 2009