Suzanne Stone, Northern Rockies Representative
Last weekend, Defenders helped cosponsor the 28th Annual Edmonds Community College PowWow, and I was fortunate to be able to attend. This year, the international tribal gathering honored the “Teachings of the Wolves,” which have renewed importance both for Native American communities and those of us working to restore a gray wolf population to the Pacific Northwest.
Defenders recognizes the deep historic cultural ties that many tribal communities have with wolves. Wolves have been demonized by politicians as being uncontrollable threats to livestock over the years and many ranchers have remained resistant to implementing readily available nonlethal tools that can dramatically reduce or prevent livestock losses. Some politicians have used these conflicts as platforms for promoting anti-wolf campaigns in the Pacific Northwest region. Thus, the recent PowWow was a welcome break from the heated rhetoric attacking wolves and provided a rare chance to learn from tribal leaders who have strong cultural ties to wolves.
We have met several times with leaders of the Quileute Tribe, whose reservation is located on the Olympic Peninsula, a key future recovery area for wolves. Just a few years ago, we helped organize a Mission:Wolf ambassador wolf program for the Quileute school and village dance center. Almost all tribal members participated in the event, from the elders to young children, and celebrated by presenting their sacred wolf dance.
When we heard about the Edmonds PowWow event honoring wolves, it was obviously essential to have the Quileute there to share their stories, dance and drumming. The organizers of this event agreed, and our support enabled the Quileute representatives to attend the event.
Participants at the PowWow were especially honored that tribal elder Roger Jackson was able to attend the event and even danced their sacred wolf dance. He told stories about the Quileute wolf society and the ceremonies that have been handed down from generation to generation. PowWow participants from several tribes danced while drummers performed a traditional song – listen here:
Tribal member Marco “Jacob” Black, who was the inspiration for the Jacob Black character in the popular Twilight series, spoke about the tribe’s respect for wolves and told their origin story in which the orca transforms into the wolf on land. He spoke of the importance of honoring the elders and encouraged all the young people to speak in the manner of their grandmothers and grandfathers – with respect. Like wolves, their voices are the voices of their ancestors.
As wolves struggle to disperse and return once more to key parts of their historic range in the west, there is an urgent need for a strong community of support and understanding for this much maligned and often persecuted species. Many Tribal members relate to the plight of the wolf in very personal ways. They want to honor their cultural heritage by sharing their spiritual deep respect for wolves and other native wildlife. As in the teachings of native leaders, their wisdom in regard to our natural world is needed now more than ever.
“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
– Chief Seattle, Duwamish (1780-1866)