Report Back By: Elona
In June, Mato Woksape approached me at the Resistance Ecology Conference as I was tabling for the Cascadia Education Project and handed me a flyer. His name was familiar as we typed in similar circles on Facebook, but I had never met him in person. The flyer contained a brief paragraph on what he was calling “Prayer Walk for the Wolf” but most of the other space was taken up by a big medicine wheel containing turtle, bear, wolf and condor. I was intrigued and so I kept my September plan-free in order to participate.
All of the walkers gathered at NAYA in Portland on Sept. 6th. There were twelve of us, including a four and six year old from the Modoc people whose history here in Oregon is incredible yet mostly untold. We smudged ourselves, Mato unfolded the lead prayer staff, and we began walking towards highway 26.
Together we walked until we reached Gresham. From there, we began what is known as “Indian Relay”. The intention of the walk was for all walkers to be in prayer as we moved across the state at a human pace. This being said, it would have required many more resources to have a group of people walk together. Instead, we walked individually, with a support vehicle picking us up every mile or two and dropping us off at the front of the walk. Like a giant game of leapfrog, we walked alone and took in the breadth and depth of Oregon’s highway 26 over the next three weeks.
Ultimately, there were six of us humans on the walk for (mostly) the entire distance: a brother and sister from New York City who spoke French and knew their ancestors, an army vet who, after serving, had awakened to the effects of empire, the organizers Corrie and Mato who identified as Cheyenne and Lakota/Blackfeet/Potawatomi respectively, and myself, a recent transplant to Turtle Island who recognized that if we want this land to be healthy we must support Indigenous people’s efforts to re-establish stewardship and teachings here. We were also accompanied by two wolf-hybrids, Cody and Cloud, who kept our spirits high with their wild eyes and sweet nuzzles.
When we reached Warm Springs reservation, Manny, a friend of Mato’s from previous walks took us in and welcomed us to camp on his family’s land. He shared with us his prayer staffs as we entered the reservation, staffs he had created during the Longest Walk. We also participated in a walk that happened at the reservation for suicide prevention. Hearing the stories of struggle, loss and perseverance shook me to the core and the material poverty that Warm Springs people face due to colonization does not compare to the spiritual richness that I witnessed.
The last section of our walk was met with a bright, strong sun as we crossed the dryer reaches of Oregon. Friends from Bend and Portland joined us here and there to run, to feed us, to share in our adventure but the last 300 or so miles was walked mostly by us. One of the more beautiful places we walked through were the John Day Fossil Beds. What would be a 15 minute drive turned into an hour long walk as we meandered alongside the stream and felt the bones of giants restless in their sedimentary graves.
We heard no wolves along our walk but plenty of cattle and sheep. That is who had taken their place. The wolves were killed off to remove threats to livestock. Little consideration was given to the fact that wolves managed to keep herds of elk, deer and antelope healthy who in turn kept the plants and waterways healthy with their migration patterns. The land was allowed to deteriorate as long as burgers could be kept at 99 cents. In my prayers I visualized the land beyond cattle, beyond highways and power lines. I imagined the landscape back into health – skies full of birds, the rolling hills full of herds, and wolf cries in the distance.
We arrived at the Snake River three weeks after our walk began. Day after day of smudging, prayer walking and good meals together led us to this place. We said our final prayers and tossed our sage prayer bundles into the river below. We then turned towards the setting sun and strategized how best to approach the government agencies who allow wolf hunting to continue.
Before the United States officially claimed a portion of the Cascadian bioregion as its own, the settlers who had come here were bickering amongst themselves about what to do about the “wolf problem”. This language was common because concurrently they were also talking about the “Indian problem”. The meetings they held were called Oregon Lyceum and there they decided the fates of both the wolf and the Indian. Today, the scientific community of settler society is beginning to realize the necessary role of the wolf in ecosystems. Culturally, we must also begin to understand the necessary role of Indigenous cultures in the places we inhabit. It’s all interconnected.
This is the message we took to the offices of Fish and Wildlife in Oregon and Fish and Game in Idaho. We crafted a booklet containing five stories of wolf legends from across Turtle Island. We drummed and sang sacred songs in the offices to hopefully stir that which had been quieted down in their souls for a long time. Afterward, we said our farewells and continued our own journeys knowing we had grown much richer in friendship and awareness.
Download a FREE copy of our “Legends of the Wolf from Turtle Island