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'Tribal people are forgiving people'

Warren Seyler


In the panel on "Rivers through our Memory," Warren Seyler, who is Spokane and Coeur d'Alene, served 16 years on the Spokane Tribe of Indians Business Council, was tribal chair, is now tribal historian and curriculum developer, and works with the Natural Resources Department.

Responding to Martin Wells' comments, he said, "Tribal people—often to their detriment—are forgiving people. That is important in helping the tribes work together with state and federal governments.

"We need to know history, not to be angry but to give perspective," he said. "While some have been here seven generations, we have been here for 700 generations. We are storytellers, who have been finding and sharing solutions in stories for more than 12,000 years as we came to the Spokane River annually to fish and hunt."

His Coeur d'Alene ancestors knew Creator created the plants and animals: "the four-legged, those with wings, those in the waters, the two-legged and all the plants," he said, explaining that is why "the two-legged considered all the animals our brothers and sisters of the earth. Then Creator gave them laws to live by. When they could not live up to these, they were stationed lower down on the platforms of the living. This was done until their was one that if he chose could live up to Creators laws, this was the two legged.

"Creator then gave us a special heart and a special mind.  A mind that would always remember the ancestors and the past and to always look and prepare for seven generations into the future," Warren said. "He gave us a special heart and told us to not only take care of our brothers and sisters of our lodge but also to take care of our brothers and sisters of the forests, rivers and sky.

"We lived along the wild and free river until Europeans arrived and wanted to change the river, exploit nature and build dams," Warren said. "Not knowing the impact, we helped build dams to control the river."

Salmon came to Kettle Falls where tribal people gathered to teach the young people stories, ceremonies and sharing until the falls were silenced.

"Fifty to 55 canneries were built on the lower Columbia River. The canneries destroyed fish runs that came each year to the tribes of this region," he said.  "The salmon were caught, canned and sent around the world. Chief Garry wrote to the Indian agent telling him those down river were fishing too much. His people were starving.

"Missionaries taught the 10 Commandments. Our ancestors thought they matched the tribe's way of living, honoring parents and not killing. The Bible's words matched the way we were living," he said. "We thought the people who came would follow them, but under the Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny, they waged wars against us and pushed us out. The salmon population dwindled."

In 1881 they established the Spokane Reservation.

"The boarding schools took away our language, songs and prayers," Warren said. "Today we again teach our children our language, songs, prayers and stories about the river."

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, November 2022