“DELICIOUS! THANK YOU.” Lindsey licks her fingers after accepting a sample of pit-smoked salmon from the man in the woven-cedar “basket” hat.
He smiles. “You’re welcome, sister.” He hands another sample to Ayako.
She smacks her lips. “Mmmm.”
He laughs and turns back to tending the slabs of filleted salmon on grills angled over a long open fire pit. “We’ll be feasting soon. You go dance now.”
Inside the Kwamish tribe’s new long-house community hall, drums are revving up, calling them back inside after the “circularity” meeting that Ayako facilitated with Lindsey’s help.
“Hey, we rocked, gal!” Ayako gives Lindsey a high-five. “All of us!”
She sweeps an arm to include the tribal adults now being joined by kids of all ages, heading toward the hall. They’re trailing in from the gravel parking area or the clapboard church across from it, dressed in dancing regalia: dark shirts with rows of miniature wood paddles dangling, dresses with fringe or feathers, some with small blankets over their shoulders decorated with applique images of Northwest-style creatures in geometric patterns of red and black.
The meeting earlier has surpassed their expectations, most of the adults speaking up about what they value, what they want for their children, how the salmon and trees and whales are part of their larger family and must be honored and protected. And now it’s time to dance! And feast!
Lindsey takes a moment to breathe deeply, gazing out at the magnificent view over the open Pacific Ocean here on the edge of the continent. It’s a perfect early fall day, air crisp and clear, breeze ruffling whitecaps over the deep blue sea, distant sound of surf crashing against the rocks far below the cliff. An eagle soars overhead with its shrill cry.
Turning back toward the long-house, she tips her head in a silent thank-you to the carved wingspread eagle topping the tall totem pole in front of it. She nods to the bear with salmon, frog, and raven also carved into the pole, then stoops under the “blessing” cedar frond tacked to the oval doorway, letting it brush her head. Nana’s coached her a bit on etiquette, like showing respect and humility when entering a gathering, bowing to let the cedar fronds cleanse her. She hasn’t seen Damon since she arrived two days ago to meet Nana, who’s been hosting her. He wanted to stay in the background of the project, but she supposes that eventually he’ll show up again.
She blinks as she enters the hall, eyes adjusting from the brightness outside. There’s a fire in the rock-lined pit at one end of the soaring space supported by thick, stripped tree trunks and topped by more cedar trunks as roof beams. Light streams in through opened skylights that let out the smoke. At the far end of the long hall is a gleaming wall of cedar planks with a mural of tribal-design eagles facing each other above killer whales.
Several men in basket hats or feathered headbands are seated around a huge drum, beating out a pounding rhythm. A few women in fringed dresses, along with children in everything from decorated shirts, feathered headgear, or appliqued blankets are moving in free-form dances around the wooden floor. Older women are seated around the perimeter, beating smaller hand drums or shaking rattles and chanting. A scent of woodsmoke and cedar-sage smudging fills the air.
Lindsey grew up attending local tribal celebrations, and loves the energy summoned by the drums, the joyful dancing. She’s nodding to the beat as a line of kids dances past her, stomping and spinning, circling the hall, uttering bird cries and animal growls. She startles as a man in a wooden Bear mask touches her arm and beckons her into the dance. He lumbers convincingly around her like the animal, swathed in a bulky blanket, then herds her into the dance. She throws out her arms in surrender and joins the line, stomping, turning, swaying along.
Finally she spins out of the dance, joining some of the women along the side. One of them hands her a rattle, and she sits to join the rhythm.
A hoarse “Caw, caw!” breaks through the drumbeats, and a general cry goes up as the dancers part to welcome a new arrival.
The man is wearing a painted black raven mask with a long beak, and a black shirt with fringy ribbons and feathers. He crouches, tilts his head to give sideways looks at the other dancers, then raises his head as he pulls a hidden string to make the lower beak open and clack shut in quick snaps. “Caw! Caw!” he croaks, and chases the children in the distinctive bobbing, crouching style of Raven. The children shriek in glee and run as Raven pursues them, hopping and crouching. He dances then to the drumbeat, eerily embodying the bird. Lindsey’s mesmerized, smoky dimness swirling around her, as reality seems to shift and sway, and it is a giant raven dancing before them, feathers shimmering with magic.
Then, bobbing his head, the dancer approaches the sitting women and singles out a graying elder. He pokes her with his beak and tips his head, spreading his “wings” and preening before her. She laughs and pushes him away, saying something in the native language.
Raven hunches, manages to look offended, then spreads his wings and dances off. “Caw! Caw!” He merges into the shadows, vanishes.
“That Chadis’kwis! Always the trickster.” The women laugh, shaking their heads.
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