Loving our land

By Michaela Carstens


A little boy and his grandparents go to Cascade Head where his ancestors are from. They tell him stories about hunting and gathering, their ceremonies, and how they loved their land. He learns about the importance of taking care of our Earth the way his ancestors did.

Keywords: Indigenous people, salmon, smallpox and measles, fire, giving back to the land

Today my grandparents and I are visiting Cascade Head. It is in Tillamook County, Oregon. My grandparents tell me that my ancestors used to live here and would perform ceremonies, hunt, gather, and would give back to the land. We come from a line of indigenous peoples.

My grandparents say that a wave of disease wiped out a bunch of the people who lived and hunted here on Cascade Head. Smallpox and measles were vicious diseases that left this place a ghost town. Now, it is a reservation that people are about to visit to celebrate and protect the land.

But, before I continue, I should start at the beginning of the story. My ancestors thought the land at Cascade Head to be sacred. The soil was rich and fertile, the forest was full and strong, and there was an abundance of animals and fish to eat.

Once, my grandparents told me about a ceremony that their parents and grandparents used to perform while gathering fish to eat for the winter, this is known as Burning Cascade Head.

During this ceremony, the natives would gather sticks, brush, and other items that would stay lit during a fire. Once that task was completed, they would set flame to the pile. Because Cascade Head is on the headland, they would light this fire at the top of the nearest hill.

This large blaze would attract the salmon in the sea and make them swim towards the estuary, where my ancestors would catch them, then store them for the winter.

After waiting the allotted 4 days for as many fish as possible to gather, they would hunt for hours and hours until they caught all of the fish they needed to survive the winter. It was a very efficient and environmentally safe way to catch fish.

However, my grandparents told me that there was a special ceremony that would be performed for the very first fish that swam into the estuary. Rather than capturing and storing it, they would celebrate it and have a special feast.

The natives allow the “most honored fisher” to capture what they call the “First Salmon” and prepare it for the ritual. The salmon is carried to the feast on a cedar plank in a bed of ferns. Then, they eat the sacred foods—salmon, venison, roots, and berries.

Next, they celebrate the water that connects them and the fish in a ritual called “passing of the cup.” They dance in long lines, singing, and giving thanks for all that is given to them by the land.

The salmon bones are placed back in the river. My ancestors would specifically place their heads facing upstream so that their spirits might follow the other spirits. They also brought the bones into the forest and places them beneath trees.

By doing this, my ancestors fertilized the trees and something they called Skunk Cabbage. Today, scientists use isotope analysis to trace where the source of nitrogen in ancient wood in the forests came from. They found that it can be traced all the way back to the ocean.

Salmon fed everyone, including the forest and its animals. Doing these rituals and replacing the carcasses of dead animals back onto the Earth was very important to my ancestors because they wanted to celebrate and give back to the land.

After the wiping out of our people from smallpox and measles, there was a group of settlers who showed up to Cascade Head. They found that the place had been deserted, but it was perfect for living. They set up camp and started changing the land. My grandparents tell me how disastrous this was for the animals and land.

The settlers put a dike in the water, resulting in the forcing of salmon back into the salt-water from the fresh-water. They also ruined the land, making it only available for pasture.

Today, my grandparents often talk about the disappointment they face due to the lack of respect some Americans have for the land, especially their sacred lands, like Cascade Head.

There are reservations and conservationists that protect lands that are in danger or are important. But, the Earth climate is still declining at an alarming rate.

Visiting Cascade Head with my grandparents and hearing all of the stories of my ancestors has given me insight into the importance of protecting the Earth.

Cascade Head is a beautiful place that is full of vegetation, animals, and history. This place is incredibly important to my ancestors, and now myself.

I can’t wait to get home and tell my parents and siblings about all of the stories grandpa and grandma told me. I bet my friends will think the story about making a huge fire to catch fish is awesome. 


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