We’re Only In This Life For A Brief Time

Ron Pond

I’m really pleased to participate with this event. I’m a Native American enrolled on the Umatilla tribe, which is located in northeastern Oregon. We adopted a constitution and by-laws in 1949, so as principally three tribesthe Umatilla, the Walla Walla and the Cayuse. After the constitution was adopted it became known as the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.

After I’ve was born, I was born on Umatilla Reservation in 1949. I was brought into life by a midwife on the southern part of the reservation at a place called McKay Creek, Oregon. My father’s family is of Umatilla descent. My mother’s side of the family is of Palouse descent. I was raised on the northern part of the reservation along a river that flows out of the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains run in the southwest to northeast direction and there’s a valley that comes right through the heart of the reservation, flows and intersects with the Columbia River about oh, forty- forty-five miles distance from the Blue Mountains to the Columbia River.

I was on the upper part of the Umatilla River. That’s where my family had moved. It was tradition in our tribe for the husband to move into his wife’s family and so that’s what happened. We lived on land that belonged to my mother’s side of the family on the north side of the Umatilla River. That’s where I was raised after I grew up oh, until about ten years old. My grandfather passed away and then in nineteen sixties my grandmother passed away. That was the part of my upbringing was through my mother’s side of the family. I didn’t have very much knowledge about my father’s side because they were all gone before I grew up. Living along the river, that really shaped my character and the traditions that my family had honored and respected, because their religion is based on the foods of the land. So I was raised to fish and to hunt along this river and to be a provider. That was a teaching.

I received my first name when I was five years old from my grandfather. It was a big encampment when I was a boy. We used to move into this encampment across the river from where I was raised called the Mission Agency, where the current BIA’s, Bureau of Indian Affairs, offices are located now in our tribal headquarters, but there used to be a big circle of tipis in my day. There was a big tent at the center where all the ceremonies took place and that’s where I received my first name. In Plateau culture both gender roles, both male and female get two names and so my first name was Kway’itsam. It’s like K-ah-w-a-y-apostrophe-i-t-s-a-m, Kway’itsam and that means Going through the woods stealthy as a hunter’. That’s the interpretation that I learned from my family.

In my boyhood that was a big part of my life was, being involved with my family. The men fished and hunted together and my grandmother and my mother were all food gatherers. The roots that grew in the mountains and huckleberries that were in the mountains were a big part of our life. So that’s how it came out.

Salmon were recognized as a big law, the deer was the second big law, and then the roots were the third big law and the berries were the fourth big law. That was our life that sustained us based on our religious values. It’s commonly called the Seven Drums Religion.

That was the upbringing I had as a boy. The big celebration about the big encampment disappeared in about 1953, 1954. At that time a lot of the big leaders were beginning to pass away as well and so there was a real change at that point as I grew up. We were making the transition to a new governing system which was a constitution and by-laws and the traditional leaders certain roles were beginning to disappear with their passing. They were never included within that constitution that was developed by the tribe.

I learned that all of the traditional roles were carried on by the various families and who knew their family background. They had different roles like the whip man, the whip woman. There were chieftainship roles. There were people who were in charge of giveaways. The woman leaders were very important for food gathering. That’s the way it was when I grew up.

I went to government school when I was in the first grade and then we were sent to the public schools, which was right near our reservation. There was a city, Pendleton, six miles away from our reservation. We were bussed into town to go to school. In those years the Bureau of Indian Affairs put a lot of emphasis on teaching us the White Man ways and it really impacted our traditions. There was really a learning gap that was created; a cleavage like a wedge between the elders and the young people. There was nothing in the schools that taught us about our culture. It was in the homes. I was fortunate to have knowledge about our family’s traditions through our extended family, but that’s how it was in those days.

I graduated from high school and I was a fire fighter; worked for the U.S. Forest Service. I was smoke jumper in McCall, Idaho from 1966 to 1969. After those years I got hurt real bad in fire fighting or smoke-jumping and so I went school and that’s where I went to college; undergraduate school at LaGrande, Oregon. Eastern Oregon State College as it’s called today. I graduated from there in 1974. I went to a Police Academy in 1975 and I went to a teacher’s training certification at Oregon State University in 1976 and 1977. I went back to the Forest Service in Cultural Resource Management in the early 1980s and I decided to go for my master’s degree at Oregon State University. I attended school in 1987, I was forty-seven years old at the time, and I graduated with my master’s degree from Oregon State University in 1992.

I found my way to a job; a co-curator for a special project on a Plateau woman, emphasis on weaving and that’s how I came to Washington State University. I met some real nice people who are my friends. there was an application available for Native Americans in the music department, so I applied for it. I earned that special scholarship and that’s how I came to Washington State University. I started school in 1995, not knowing how demanding that the doctoral study program was in Interdisciplinary Studies that I was in. I just graduated last winter 2004 with my doctoral degree in Interdisciplinary Studies.

That was pretty much the story of my background; education. I still travel back and forth from Pullman here at Washington State University and I go home and take part with my traditions. I was brought up to respect my elders. I’ve been a long-standing member of our Cultural Committee and cultural activities on the Umatilla Reservation. Not only there, but my mother’s side of the family were closer related to the Priest Rapids longhouse along the Columbia River near the Tri-Cities. My family takes part with that longhouse as well as at home on the Umatilla Reservation.

I’m working as an interim Director for the Plateau Center for Native American Studies here at Washington State University. Once we hire a permanent director this coming spring 2006, I made a commitment to keep me on the faculty and I’ll be teaching a music class on Native American culture, and also I’ll have an option to develop a class designed around contemporary issues.

I am a long-standing advocate for traditions for our young people and I spent most of my young life devoting myself to working with young people. I advocate traditions for them as much as possible. I think that’s something that’s important for the young people. We have no right to deny them, you know, the right to learn about who they are and their culture. This has been the aim of the federal government, which would take our traditions and our culture away from us. Now we’re suffering the consequences of that by having all the social ills that we have today; that we can try and restore what we have with our traditions and how we relate to our Creator and this land as Indian people. That’s so important for our young people and making sure that they’re going to be the traditional bearers for the future, but it’s up to us to teach them as much as we could.

So that’s where I’m at. I’m here at Pullman, Washington. My Indian name is, my second name I received in 1976, and it’s Itxutwin. It’s I-t-x-with a phoneme for hh’ sound. It-whut-u, u-x-u-t-w-i-n. It’s a Palouse name. My grandfather had the name when he received it from his uncle from Nespelam, Washington out of that Palouse band that was with the Joseph band. That’s where I received my second name and so I try my best. The name is ahead of me. I’ll never really earn it, but it’s interpreted to me, One who leads’ and so I will try my best to honor it and work the best I could to serve Indian youth, no matter where they’re at. We’re all Indian people and we’re obligated to ensure that our young people receive an education.

So that I don’t really consider myself a knowledgeable person about traditions, but I try to practice as much as I could what I’ve learned from my family elders. My wife is the traditional whip woman for our tribe and she’s been as long as we’ve been married. She was given that role by an elder who had passed away, but she wanted to ensure that that tradition was passed on and so ultimately it’ll go to our daughter if she assumes the role and takes the responsibility. But that’s how it is. The life, the roles are chosen for lifelong. They’re taken for life and you do your best to share with the needs of your people. So that’s what I was brought up to do is to always seek the welfare of the people and do all that you could because we’re only here in this life for a brief time.


Ron Pond

Ron Pond, Kway’itsam (Going Through the Woods Stealthy as a Hunter) AKA Itx’utwin, is an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation located in Northeastern Oregon. He now lives in Pullman, Washington and works as Interim Director for the Plateau Center for Native American Studies at Washington State University. The Umatilla, Walla Walla and Cayuse are the three principle tribes that comprise the reservation. The tribes once occupied what they call the main corridor from the Blue Mountains down to mouth of the Columbia River. Their traditional homeland in the mountains provided hunting game, fishing, gathering roots and berries.

As a fire fighter he worked for the U.S. Forest Service and was a Smokejumper in McCall, Idaho from 1966 to 1969. After being injured he went to undergraduate school, Eastern Oregon State College, in LaGrande, Oregon and graduated in 1974. He then attended a Police Academy in 1975 and followed up with getting a teacher’s certificate from Oregon State University in 1976-1977. In the 1980s, he returned to the Forest Service in Cultural Resource Management. In early 1987 he decided to go for his Master’s Degree at Oregon State University and graduated with his degree in 1992. In 2004 Ron graduated with a doctoral degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from Washington State University.

Ron has been referred to either as a historian or cultural bearer so he recites what his elders have told him. He recalls a big ceremony in July, riding horseback three times around the ceremonial grounds. There’s one song that’s sung once a year at the drum. It’s sung horseback only during the time of year when the elders and the ones who have gone before us are honored. The story of the song is; a little boy had communicated with an owl. The owl said, I’m going to give you my song.. So he gave the little boy the song. The boy learned it and said, This is my song that I do battle with the sun. In honor of the burrowing owl, Pa-Pu in Nez Perce, the horses are rode the third time into the arbor or the dance floor. All the ones on horseback dance clockwise. That’s the only time that song is sung. Ron calls it the warriors arc’. The song was sung at the start of the Nez Perce War of 1877 and honored as it has a lot of revelation about spirit seeking; guardian spirit. The horse parade was revived in 1992.

Ron J. Pond
600 SE Jamar St. #673
Pullman, WA 99163
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