Remember your Weyakin
My name is John Bevis. I’m a member of the Umatilla tribe. I’m Umatilla /Walla Walla ancestry.
My Indian name is Mowitit, which comes from my grandmother’s side the Barnhardt side. Born and raised on the Umatilla Reservation. I was exposed to a lot of cultures. My uncle used to tell me a lot of stories about horses and things like that. My mother used to tell me power stories about my grandmother. My grandmother was one of the last Indian doctors on our reservation. Powerful lady. I remember being a young boy and witnessing her power – naïve young fellow growing up – pretty powerful things to see. She was a devoutly religious lady as she got older.
Young people being young people. When they’re young they think they have all the time in the world. My grandmother was a wild lady, a very wild lady. As she got older she kind of turned her life around and got very religious. So I have a strong line of religion instilled in me and beliefs and magic at a very tender age.
Do a lot of storytelling in schools. We have a program called Culture Neighbors where we tell stories to grade school children in the region. I’ve done numerous tours for the museum. I work at the Tama`stslikt Cultural Institute. It’s the gem of our reservation. We’re a museum as well as an educational center. Our oral history is in our building. We have a lot of beautiful things here so I’m exposed to a lot of that as well. I felt really good.
I’ll give you a brief example of some my storytelling. I’m going to tell you a story about the orphan boy and his sister and how you can go from being a poor man to a very powerful man in our society when you follow the earth’s laws and the teachings of your elders.
A short story: a young boy was an orphan with his sister and they trailed the camps all the time. Hard times back then the orphans were pretty much left on their own. The young man used to go and fast and fast and fast and look for what we call a ‘Weyakin’ which is like a guardian angel type of spirit that helps you through your life. He would constantly pray and pray and pray. And every time he would pray he would be denied.
The animals on the other side would see him praying, but nobody would want to be his power because he was an orphan. Sorry to say in our society orphans are kind of left on their own. We need to be more generous I’m sure, but anyway the moral of the story was that the young boy finally saved a mouse from fire and when he saved the mouse, the mouse said he could be his Weyakin, which in turn gave him the ‘being’ to get you through life. And if you don’t’ have that your life is going to be hard and you’re going to work harder and you’re going to wonder – kind of what we call administrative orbit today. You’re just out there flapping in the wind.
Anyway, the young mouse told the boy he would become his medicine power and so the boy took him. He caught up to the camp one day and when he caught up to the camp he found out the Shobans, Tawelka – our enemies to the south had come and stolen all our horses. The young man wanted to join the war party, but like everything else he had to trail behind. He couldn’t go directly with them.
They came upon the village of the enemy and saw all their horses, but the enemy was strong and there was no way that the menfolk could get in there. So the young boy remembering his Weyakin and realizing the power of the mouse used the power of the mouse to sneak into the village. And like all mice that can get into any nook and cranny and disappear, that is what he did.
To make it short he basically recovered all their horses and on top of that, he stole the enemy’s horses as well. When he stole the horses he, in turn, saved the people because without the horse the people would be vulnerable. So he returned with the prize I guess you would say. There was the stallion of the war chief that was the prized possession so he took that as well and left the enemy destitute and he returned with all the horses to the village here in the valley and dispersed them in the giveaway, which made him a powerful man. His status among the people was elevated.
I guess this is a story to show that even if you’re born poor, if you’re born without, with hard work and faith you can rise above these things, and just like the young boy you can overcome the enemy and prosper. It’s stories like those I tell. In today’s society, I kind of intermingle things with today’s problems. I don’t’ try to use the stoic cigar Indian talk like ‘my heart soars like an eagle’, I kind of talk more modern I guess is the way to say it. That way the kids relate better.
John Bevis is a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, which includes the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla, tribes. John is Umatilla and Walla Walla and lives in Pendleton, Oregon. Since time immemorial, the tribes lived on the Columbia River Plateau. Today their homeland in northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington, consisting of a wide variety of geographical terrain that includes flat and wheatland, mountains, and valleys.
Singing, dancing, history, and storytelling are among John’s abilities. He heard many old stories as a child and changes them to incorporate them into today’s problems. Stories told to depend on the crowd. The following is an example of a creation story John likes to share. The story is about coyotes battling the monster, who is in the form of Beaver Wush Bush. Throughout the battle different types of land were formed. After the battle, the monster was dissected to form people. Certain body parts formed certain tribes. The ribs turned into the Walla Walla – protector of the people, the heart turned into the Umatilla – heart of the people, the brains turned into the Nez Perce –wise in council, the limbs turned into the Cayuse and the blood and guts turned into enemies. A personal family story tells of how his grandmother made medicine to make it quit raining until she got her work done and when she was done, it started raining again. Another story explains why his great-grandfather was ousted from the Presbyterian Church. The preacher told him to choose either the church or his Indian religion. He chose the latter.
John works mostly with children although all ages are included. During his presentations, he speaks of the history of different tribal dances such as the duck and dive dance, social dances, and the eel dance. He also has been a pow-wow person all his life, does featherwork, and is a sculptor. He also discusses artifact history. Portland, Oregon used to have the Wallula Stone, or Fasting Stone, and how negotiations got the stone back. It now resides at the Veteran’s Memorial. There are a lot of artifacts in the museum such as stone pistols, grinding tools, war bonnets, shields, horse trappings, painting artwork, and old baskets that John would gladly tell the history about. He also took part in a documentary about Big Foot.
John works as a museum tour guide and interpreter at the Tama`stslikt Cultural Institute which is the interpretive center for the tribes located at the foothills of the Blue Mountains. He has sat on his tribe’s Tribal Council as Vice Chairman, was a member of the Board of Trustees and Celebration Committee, and worked with the tribe’s Fish and Wildlife Department.
73351 SE 54th St.
Pendleton OR 97801
541 966-9748 (work)