Michael Reibach

with Brian Bull

Arlie Neskahi: The late Kalapuya elder Michael Reibach said he “rediscovered” what it was to be an Indian, years after the government terminated the trust status with his tribe.  Reibach also said that although there’d been success in regaining traditional territory recently, it was still vital to work hard to sustain and promote his culture.  Brian Bull has more, in today’s Elder Wisdom.

Brian Bull: To struggle is to be of one of the many tribes that make up the Grand Ronde community, it seems.  Michael Reibach spoke of his own personal struggles with identity, but he endured by often looking to a historical figure for strength.

Michael Reibach: If you go into our casino you see her statue there.  Martha Sands and her granddaughter are sitting there in a big bronze bust.  And Martha Sands was a Indian woman.  It was a time of unsettlement and great sadness and sorrow amongst our people.  It was a time of our trail of tears.

Bull: Reibach recalled his tribe’s resettlement in the 1800s, when many Kalapuya Indians were rounded up by the U.S. Army, then marched to the Grand Ronde region from a site called Table Rock – a journey made 265 miles north, in the wintertime.

Reibach: They kept the men together and they kept the women together.  And the women were treated a little bit better, although it was abhorrent treatment by any standard.  And the children were left to the women to take care of.  And all that you might have is that prayer, you know, that’s all.  That’s your meat.  Your food, is that prayer.  And some faith in the God, they were tested.

And so enter Martha Sands.  Martha Sands knew that our people would be dying from this trip, from exposure, and from lack of sustenance.  And she would hunt and gather for that whole journey.  And she would come down and disperse the food amongst the women and the children, and then they would give it to the men.  And I’ve heard, that she would hide in beaver dams.

How could she do this to sustain so many people?  And I thought, well, she had to have that prayer.  She had to be shown some… ‘course she’s walking in the earth like that, and knowing that the earth will provide in a good way.

Every year we celebrate that.  We bow our heads by having our children walk from the elementary school to the community center.  It’s just a mile.  But then when they get up there then we tell them why, what that was about. And they have this bust of Martha.  And she’s weaving a basket.  And, her granddaughter is also looking on, attentive and learning how to weave the baskets.  And the bust does portray that she was a teacher.  So Martha Sands has taught me about perseverance.  If she was focusing on hate and something to avenge, and hurt the dominant culture, she wouldn’t have been able to help her people.  So she’s a hero to me because without her we wouldn’t have all the people that we have today.

Bull: Reibach’s reconnection with his Kalapuya culture was also demonstrated in his regard for the land.  Towering above part of the territory of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community is Spirit Mountain, where ancestral spirits are said to reside.  Reibach said he learned to respect the landmark early on:

Reibach: Once I went hunting up there.  And, I didn’t feel quite right, but it was at nighttime and I just meant to get some meat.  I wasn’t up there for fun.

But I want to get some meat and give it to my great auntie.  Well, this deer appears.  I had a thirty-ought-six and I had a double barrel shotgun.  Deer was in my headlights.  And so I slowed the truck down.  And I took the thirty-ought-six out and lined him up, and it jammed.  And then I said, “Well, I got to hurry up.  Deer was still there.”  And go to the back of the truck and I get the shotgun.  And both misfired.  When they misfire they make this sound like that.  Deer looked at me.  And I went, “Oh that’s it.”  And I was angry.  And I started moving towards that deer.  And the deer, it didn’t run.  Just walked into the brush, and disappeared.

And I came down.  My great auntie, she says, “ You didn’t.”  My great auntie, then she didn’t have no teeth.  They had these little dogs didn’t have any teeth either.  But she’s cackling at me, “You didn’t, you didn’t get one.  You went, up on Spirit Mountain.  You didn’t get one and you don’t go up there.  You don’t do that.”

Bull: If there’s no hunting to be had from Spirit Mountain, there are folklore and legends.  Reibach often shared the story of how Raven rescued the moon from a grandmother and granddaughter, by posing as an abandoned baby:

Reibach: The granddaughter was overcome with an affection for this baby.  She brought the baby in, set the baby down, and offered the baby all sorts of remedies for crying—food and trinkets, and, oh, things that made noise.  But baby wouldn’t stop crying and kept sticking his hands out towards the cedar box.  The granddaughter then took the cedar box and proceeded to put it in baby’s arms.  And baby was quiet, stopped crying.  Oh!  And the grandma said, “Now, now.  Now you take that box back.”   She took the box back and the baby started crying again.

And so she gave the box back to the baby and baby was quiet.  Both grandmother and granddaughter were so exhausted that they went to sleep.  It was at that point that Raven, and just, snap!  Like that, he changed back into Raven and black feathers were flying all over the room, and he went for the door.

And grandmother came awake and said, “Aieee!  Granddaughter, it was Raven all the time.  I told you.  Aieee, aieee!”  And she started running towards Raven and pulled quite a few tail feathers out of raven’s rear end.  Raven was determined, and got out the door and started flying with one wing.  He had to switch the box and nearly, nearly, nearly dropped the box.  But he didn’t.  As he got higher he started thinking, “I have the moon.  Maybe, because I have the moon I could have power and have more recognition than I’ll get for just bringing the moon back.”

And as he was thinking this, he lost focus of the box, and the box slipped from his wing.  And it opened up and moon came out.  Phoofff!!!  And the night lit up.  And there were reflections and the stars smiled.  And there was like music all through the creation.  And all of the creation said, “Ohhh, how beautiful moon is.”   And Raven seen the beauty of moon and it made Raven’s heart pure.  And he flew back and the people much, greeted him with much ado.  And it was a good thing.

Bull: Reibach also liked to talk of Spirit Mountain with the youngsters of the Grand Ronde Tribes. He liked explaining how the site allows ancestors and the coming generations of the Tribe to connect:

Reibach: We bring our children up there.  We’ll go up there and smoke a pipe or talk things over, talk over the creation with them kids.  If we can get them up there.   Sometimes they want to go up and sometimes people will want to go up, and they’re seeking a vision or some truth about their life.  And a lot of it is related to that mountain.  And a good portion of my younger years were spent on that mountain.

Bull: Such reverence is found in Reibach’s recorded music, which are mainly traditional songs.  Reibach told of how his music allowed him to honor his family’s elders:

Reibach: I sing about my grandmother and my grandfather, and how I didn’t get the chance to ask them the questions about the medicine.  I was so young, and how we miss that opportunity often.  Not just Indians, everybody misses that opportunity and we all go back sometime.  So that’s what the song speaks to.  Hopefully, ah, my grandma is enjoying that. My grandma said that anytime our people passed on, that their spirits would be sent to spirit mountain to inhabit the creation up there.

And when I say that, I mean inhabit the deer, the elk, the bear, and the fern and the trees, and the water, and the grasses and all of life there…so to walk lightly and to walk respectively when one goes there.

Bull: Reibach has now moved on to the world of his ancestors, where perhaps he’s sharing legends with his grandparents once again. For Wisdom of the Elders, I’m Brian Bull.