“Get back up there and sing another song.” After singing my first song I turned to sit down and she said to me, “Where do you think your going?” I was afraid I had offended her by singing, but she was intimidating and insistent. When I finished with that song and had set down, Judy said to me, “Gary, now you’re a real Paiute.”
This happened in 1986 after my Paiute mentor, Art Cavanaugh, told me I could begin singing with the rest of the singers for the dance. I was very nervous, because people at this rez didn’t know me and had never heard me sing. And this is where Judy Trejo entered my story. She is a well-known singer who had always been polite to me, but never very friendly. After that incident we became fast friends and today I sing some of her songs too.
Mary Ann and I have been attending the Pine Nut Blessing for over 25 years. When living in McDermitt, NV back in the 1980s, it was then that Art and Ethel Cavanaugh, highly respected elders and singers asked me if I would be interested in learning their traditional round dance songs. I told them I would be honored to do so and began a journey that continues to this day. Long ago I became a recognized singer and am welcomed back each year to sing.
A few years ago one of our Paiute friends told us his story about standing with two elders just after the Ceremony MC announced my name as the next singer:
First Elder: Is that the guy that I’ve heard before?
Second Elder: Yes, he’s been singing for a long time.
First Elder: But, he looks so tibo – “white.”
Second Elder (With a little chuckle): Well, that’s because he is, but we don’t think of him that way, he’s just one of us.
We cherish these memories and thank Creator for our Paiute family and friends. These and so many of our experiences reflect the heart and vision of Wiconi International to serve our Native communities in the spirit of Jesus with the hope of creating a preferred future. We thank you for your ongoing support of our efforts among our Paiute family as well as the Portland/Vancouver area.
During my first year singing the following happened: (Click Here To Read the Rest of the Story).
While attending the Blessing we stay with Raphael Bell, Ethel’s son and we consider each other brothers or in Paiute, he is my Pabe’e or older brother. When departing one year, we had made our rounds saying goodbyes to the people, including Raphael, when he showed up at our house saying, “I just had to come by for one more chance to say how much I’ll miss you.”
For many years the Northern Paiute, Shoshone, Washos and other tribal people have been dancing during the Tuvah Nesootuhi or the Blessing of the Pine Nut. Long ago these people would have gathered first in the spring of the year before the Pine nut grew to pray to Creator asking for a full harvest throughout the year. Then they would gather again in the fall after the harvesting was done to give thanks for all they received. They also believed the dance would bring healing for those who needed it and participated. Early in our attending the dance, our Paiute companions would tell us, “get up and dance and you will leave here in good health.”
Although there have been many changes to this gathering throughout the years, the general “structure” remains the same. While newer activities take place during the weekend too, a special time on Saturday evening is still given over to the blessing dance. It begins by all other activities being stopped and people gathering in the circle around the pinion pine that has been brought down from the mountains. Usually there are two or three concentric circles numbering over 200 dancers at the beginning of the dance. First, an opening prayer and then someone explains why we are gathering together and what we will be doing and then an Elder is asked to begin the dance with three or four Blessing songs. From that point on other singers are invited to share a song until all the singers have had a chance to do at least one song. During this time pine nuts will be put into a yata, or winnowing basket and carried to the circle to be dropped or “planted” at the dancer’s feet. Following this pine nuts will be passed out to each dancer and singer, and if there are enough that year, even to those who are spectators. Most singers have only one of two songs to share, but several offer to sing as long as dancers remain in the circle.
Today, however, most of the dancers soon leave the circle to head back to the other activities, which are resumed after about an hour of dancing. In the past this dancing would have begun in the early evening and continued into the night until early morning. Today, the primary time frame is only about an hour and a half, although some die hard dancers remain as long as singers sing.
While many challenges confront our Paiute friends and community, we look forward to our annual pilgrimage to McDermott to serve as singers of the sacred songs entrusted to me in support of the people in the love, grace, mercy and spirit of Jesus.
Gary and Mary Ann Eastty, Community Development
Gary and Mary Ann made their annual trip to the Walker River Paiute reservation in Nevada for Gary to sing traditional round dance songs taught to him by a Paiute singer who wanted the old songs passed on. Gary has been singing at the Pine Nut Blessing festival for over 25 years. In the past they have had good trips with opportunities to visit with people they already knew. They have been looking for a new door to open and, by God's grace, this year they “slipped in the back door” so to speak. The blessing songs take place on Saturday evening, but during the day on Saturday they were invited to join a friend going over to the Elders’ Center where another friend would be doing some songs for the elders. Once there, Gary was asked to share some songs also. This was a good opportunity to meet a few elders and spend some time with them including several veterans. However, because there are so many activities going on during the weekend, not many elders were present. So they spoke with their Paiute pabe'e (older brother) and he suggested they come back and join them for lunch on Monday. At that time they met several other elders, visited, ate lunch with them and then shared more songs. They hope to continue this next year.
The next trip was made only by Gary and took him back to the Ft. McDermitt reservation in Nevada where the Easttys lived for several years and where Gary learned to sing the old traditional songs. On his way to McDermitt, he passed through the Warm Springs reservation planning to visit with a Paiute friend who works with the Elders Center there. When he arrived, the friend was not there, but Gary was invited to join the elders for lunch. He spent the time visiting with several people over lunch, and then was invited to share with the rest of the elders who he is, why he was there and where he was heading. It was a great opportunity to begin what Gary hopes will be an ongoing process.
After arriving in McDermitt on Thursday, Gary found out that this reservation has a new Elders Center and so he went during the lunch hour, but got there late and so only saw a couple elders. However, it was a good contact with those there and encouraged him to consider that maybe the Lord is showing that long awaited door opening to the reservations in Paiute country. It looks like it would be possible for Gary to make trips to various reservations and have lunch, since he's the right age, and to offer to share the old songs. The songs have been a blessing throughout the years as a door opener for new relationships. He's not sure of all the details because this will be a ministry in progress. A side note: Gary found a photo gallery at the center of those who have passed on. He was amazed that of the two dozen people in the photos, he recognized all but about three or four. So many have gone on since Gary and Mary Ann made their home there in 1983. Their hearts still beat with hope for this people and land that they believe the Creator wants to rebuild for his own.
Gary continued his travels to the Ft. Bidwell, CA reservation along with another pabe’e from the McDermitt reservation. The travel time was a great time of going deeper in a relationship that has grown strong in the past few years. Ft. Bidwell is located in the extreme northeast corner of California where it borders with Nevada and Oregon. This is a very small reservation with about 300-400 people and literally no facilities such as gas, cafe, market or anything else for that matter. The closest gas station is either 26 miles over the mountain one way or 32 miles by better road another way. It's a pretty place with a great view of Lower Akali Lake.
The occasion of this trip was to attend a day of honoring and celebration of those who had survived the boarding school experience. Ft. Bidwell Boarding School was one of many schools where Indian children were educated in the early 20th century. Some were from the reservation and others were brought in from other areas. Some of these native people had terrible boarding school experiences and one man shared about his grandfather's experiences that were heart wrenching. The day included a few different singers, including Gary, who dedicated their songs to those elders, a few storytellers, a native comedian, and the elder who traveled with Gary as the MC. He encouraged people to come together and bless one another by sharing stories, songs, prayers and offering hands-on help in each others lives. He sees this event, his third time attending, as a way to help with that process.