Cowlitz Tribe members welcome solstice with storytelling

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In a ceremony once practiced by their ancestors, members of the Cowlitz Tribe gathered at the Cathlapotle Plankhouse in the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge Dec. 21 to celebrate the first day of winter.

The following description from a news release submitted by the tribe highlights the ceremony’s mood:

“The blazing fire carefully stoked to life by Robert Harju, the tribe’s firekeeper, was surrounded by descendants of ancient peoples who recognized the subtle changes of seasons, sun and moon patterns, and the movements of the earth. Cowlitz drums filled the air during the exact time of the (winter) solstice exchange followed by prayers and the telling of stories by the elders.”

Several tribe members told stories. Mike Ilyall, a Lewis and Clark scholar, described “the ancient Cathlapotle village life,” and how the variety of different languages confused members of the expedition. Cathy Sellards talked about her family lands being chipped away by eminent domain. Phil Harju shared his historic St. Martin family roots in the Columbia River Gorge. Darlene Rhodes explained what it was like growing up on a reservation.



The eldest matriarch, Juanita Clark, told a tale about the presence of ancestral spirits and how their energies communicate.

In her prayers, spiritual leader Tanna Engdahl talked about transformation and renewal, the birth of the sun and the shift of the earth toward the light. 

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