Shawn Hostler

with Nico Wind

Arlie Neskahi: My mother used to bounce me on her knee to a courting song from the Navaho ceremony “The Enemy Way.”   Mothers sing to their children.  That’s one thing that’s probably common to all cultures worldwide.  It’s no different for Shawn Hostler, a mother with a diverse tribal ancestry — Chinook, Kalapuya, Northern Paiute, Iroquois and a number of northern California tribes.  From her elders, Shawn learned that every day’s activities call for a song to create an atmosphere of ‘good thoughts” to help make that activity successful.  For today’s Tribal Rhythms, Nico Wind has more.

Nico Wind: Shawn Hostler’s most recognizable feature might be her laugh. At thirty-eight, Shawn still feels the connection to her younger self, to the girl who grew up across the west, traveling from Crescent City, California to Dallas, Oregon.  To the girl who loved to be with her elders, to hear the stories.

Shawn Hostler: But I was one of those kids, quick kids that figured if I was quiet and had big ears that they wouldn’t shoo me out, which is usually the case.  So I heard all kinds of interesting tales and stories and things. What I was taught growing up, is that my mother sang to us and hummed to us, and, and that helped me feel better.  You know, and I’ve done that with my children and that helps them feel better, and I know it still helps me feel better.  And I hopefully plan to do that with my grandkids. I’ve made lots of little songs, English songs, Tolawa songs, Karuk songs, Chinook WaWa songs for my girls when they were growing up.

Wind: Shawn attended college at Chemewa Indian School in Keizer, Oregon.  It was a difficult time for her – she hadn’t really been prepared for boarding school.  Then a man from the Menominee Tribe gifted her with a song.

Hostler: That song, it really helps me feel good.  When I sing it to myself, it makes me feel strong.  And I don’t know if that’s because it’s a warrior song or it’s just because it’s a really beautiful song.

Wind: Now settled near Grand Ronde, Shawn helps raise her husband’s two teenagers and her own three year old daughter.  Music is an important part of their lives.

Hostler: It’s kind of what’s inside you that’s coming out.  And sometimes if I’m feeling kind of down and, or if I’m upset about something, and I start singing a song, you know, that, asking for the spirits to help, or a song that, you know, came from my grandma that helps me feel, you know, more at peace, or a song that I was given. My grandpa Fred was known as a singer amongst other things.  But like my dad was talking about, he said, “My dad had a song for everything.”  You know, if a blue jay came by he had a song for the blue jay.  You know, if the weather was, you know, unusually stormy or, or was different, or if he saw a pretty girl or, you know, he said, he had a song.  He said he never had a shortages of songs.  He always had, you know, he said, “If I was to count them, I’m sure there was thousands of songs that he sang.”

Wind: Her husband’s grandmother used to sing while making baskets by hand.

Hostler: It’s a lifestyle.  It’s not just a project that you pick up and decide to do that day.  The idea of getting sticks and digging roots and all that, it’s, I don’t even know if you could put how many hours it would take.  It, it takes your life, you know.  But then to have good thoughts while you’re doing that.

Wind: Singing not only helps the work go faster, it can help the work go better, as Shawn learned from well-known basket maker Madeline Davis:

Hostler: Madeline, she was down beside me and she goes, “Well, Shawn,” she kind of smiles at me.  She goes, “If when you’re digging you sing this.”  And she goes: (sings) And so I’m singing this as I’m digging and I look at her and she goes, says, “I’m digging roots.”  and I said, “Oh, okay.  Well hey!  That’s fine.”  So, what was funny is, is after I started singing it more, I was in the groove.  It kind of gave me a rhythm to me digging the sand out and moving the rocks away and trying to keep the roots from not getting bruised and, you know, not tearing them and trying to get, as long as I, roots and smooth as I could.  And so I’m singing: (Sings)

Wind: Shawn uses music to help educate her children in the sounds of her language.  I was singing, it’s evening time to my daughter, and she was in the tub.  And she’s just kind of laying in the tub relaxing and I was going tunes’, tunesan (l), which is you know, it’s, ita-tunesan (l).  It’s kind of, it’s “morning”, it’s “morning”.  And just singing that to her and I thought, it sounds a little silly but it helps me feel good.  It, it you know, it’s helping her feel good. She was hearing my voice and, you know and, and that was one of the things that I noticed that as she was growing up hearing laughter and hearing song was really nice.  So even in the lodge when she’s come into the lodge with me and she hears, you know, when it, especially when she was really little.  And it’s dark and it’s new and, and so when she would hear my voice or she would hear song, that would help her feel, you know, she would calm down. I was trying to get her to think about um, like a barred “l” sound or, I tried to say things like a (l), girl, little girl or girl,  (l) being woman and (l) being small.  Because barred-“l” seems to be one of the sounds that is really heavy in Tallowa but it’s also really heavy in Chinook Wa Wa.  And so I thought, “Well how can I get the barred-“l” to be something that she’s used to hearing all the time?”  And so I thought, “Well, I could just say ‘good morning’ to her and sing ‘good morning’ to her in the tub.”  So I just started saying: (sings) …which is “good morning, good morning, good morning, good morning, madeline.” So, it’s simple, you know, and it was an, it was just a way for her to hear that, and have it, you know, carried out.

Wind: For Shawn, songs embrace every part of life.  There are songs for greeting the morning with her children, songs for helping her daughter learn the sounds of her language.  There are songs for playing games, and songs for digging roots.  For Shawn, songs are for living.

Hostler: To have song in your heart is, is to have a good heart, is to have good feelings and that.  If you, if you’re in a bad mood, your songs usually don’t come out so hot.  I mean, they’re off  key or they’re angry.  You know, they’re, they don’t sound good.  you know, so maybe that’s why I sing a lot.

Wind: For Wisdom of the Elders, I’m Nico Wind.