IN T HE PRESENCE OF ANCESTORS


The Paddle to Seattle in 1989 was coordinated by our good friend Emmett Oliver (1913-2016) a member of the Quinalt Nation, retired Coast Guard commander, and educator, was serving on one of the State of Washington’s centennial committees. Tall ships would be participating in the celebration, and Oliver felt the state’s indigenous population was being ignored.

The high profile return of Coast Salish canoes to ancestral waters was a shot in the arm to Native cultures. A new generation of canoe carvers emerged. Young ones began learning their Native language. Elders who as children were punished for speaking their language, began teaching their dances, songs and stories.

Then, in 1993, in response to an invitation issued during the Paddle to Seattle, canoes traveled to Heiltsuk First Nation in Bella Bella, British Columbia, and the Tribal canoe Journey was born.

Villages long separated were once more connected by Native pride. Once more Arts and Culture were exchanged.

Emmett Oliver is gone, but his legacy burns on in his descendants. Son Marvin Oliver, professor of Art at the University of Washington, and daughter Marilyn Bard, are involved in the Journey, even the youngest grandchildren, too young to be pullers are learning their heritage. In the water, in their canoes, as they are traveling the highways of their ancestors, they cannot help but feel the powerful connection to their people’s lifeways, and for the connection to the other tribal territories they now visit.

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THE GIRL FROM ISLETA


“GEORGIA ABEITA OLIVER” watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen]

“What color would you call my hair?” I asked her once. “Mouse”, she quickly replied, so I made her a giant wire sculpture of a rat. We found that we could laugh at each other until the tears flowed down our cheeks, and not remember why. She was a girl from a village I never heard of and a culture I only guessed at.

I painted pictures of Indians I had never seen, in landscapes I had never traveled, until she became my daughter’s teacher.

On “Back To School” night I met Georgia Oliver, fifth grade teacher, and as my daughter had told me: “A REAL Indian”, as opposed to what I had painted.

Georgia Abeita, by photography class at University of New Mexico

Georgia and her husband, Emmett Oliver, became extended family over a period of time, and together introduced us to Native America. Georgia Abeita came from Isleta, a small pueblo in New Mexico, and Emmett, a Quinalt, from Washington state. Both became teachers and there are untold numbers of former students who are grateful for having had either as their teacher. Their son, Marvin Oliver, has carried on the teaching profession as Art Professor at the University of Washington, and has become famous as a North Coast artist.

A turning point cor me as an artist came when Georgia invited me to spend time with her at her home in New Mexico. From that time on, I no longer had to look for pictures to copy when painting an Indian.

More important, I found a very special friend.

IT ISN’T EASY BEING OLD


Crow Print by Marvin Oliver

It’s a shame that just when you get comfortable being youngish, you suddenly find yourself being classified as “elderly”. You see strangers being referred to as elderly when in their 70’s. I suppose we are lucky that the longest period of our lives is called middle age. But the middle of what?

What makes us “old”? Since Dr. A, at the age of 91, is often seen out and about, either walking Charlie or sweeping leaves, he is often offered help; either to get up if he is pulling a weed, or loading a bag of compost into the car. Shaking his head, he wonders if they think he is old. I always use the line uttered by Hermine Gingold to Maurice Chevalier “Oh no, not you.”

The question is not so much how we look. Obviously the years take their toll in ways we would rather not think about. The story inside a beat-up second hand book is just as good as when the book was new. I a heard young man the age of forty something complain that he was getting “old”.

The First Wednesday group met last week and celebrated two more 90th birthdays. We were joined this time by two daughters, one granddaughter, and a little great-grandson. Generations in action. I began paying more attention to the questions my friends asked. One asked me if any of Dr. A’s old friends were left.The answer has been “no” for many years. Another asked if I were still cooking. The answer is “yes”, she was not. Another asked if my hearing was still good. She had just got hearing aids, and doesn’t like them. I have never heard of anyone who loved wearing them. They fall into the same category as false teeth; an unavoidable necessity.

Do all these things make us old? No, they are the exterior signs of lives well spent. If we are given the gift of age, it behooves us to do the best we can to get on with it. Dwelling on what we have lost is boring and non-productive.

Having said that, I visited the eye doctor again yesterday for a new glasses prescription. Something glamorous and sexy and makes me look 65 again would be nice. Before this can be achieved, you review the same old tests everyone takes to determine how much you can actually see. The result was neither more nor less than I expected, since my eyesight has been failing regrettably faster than I thought.

On the last visit, they showed me a few magnifying devices said to help failing eyesight. Yesterday there were a whole shelf full of lighted ones, a couple to wear on your head, though I couldn’t find the buttons meant to work like binoculars. Strange looking things which would scare the dog into thinking you came down from an unknown planet.

I have found that some things, like youth, cannot be recaptured; sight being one of them. We need to go with the flow as long as the river runs.

Back to my original question, “What makes us old?” It isn’t the loss of our looks, or the loss of our capabilities. It’s the loss of hope. The loss of interest in new things. The loss of someone or something to care about, or who cares for us. All those things are at the core of Life. If we lose them, yes, we are old, and it isn’t easy being old.
As a good friend called over his shoulder the other day while leaving the house, “Old age sucks!”

THE NEWNESS NEVER WORE OUT Kate’s Journal


Episode 34 Kirkland 1969-1974

051 “Inuit Mother and Child” watercolor by kayti sweetlanhd rasmussen

There was some success selling my sculptures in Seattle, and a minor bit of chicanery. If someone doesn’t try to cheat you, you haven’t made an impression.

For our second Christmas in the Northwest, Dr. A with the aid of a large truck and a large friend, brought home an enormous tree which reached to the ceiling of the barn, and became home to a number of enormous papier mache elves, while several more elves, dressed in colorful velvet clothes, straddled the rafters. The California family arrived in full force. and audience participation prevailed while serving up the old Rasmussen Christmas breakfast, with a few aebleskivers thrown in.

We learned that a family isn’t complete without a new generation, and in 1973 our California daughter gave us what we knew to be the world’s smartest and cutest grandson. It was troubling that he lived in California while we presently lived in Washington.

The flu can make a wet dishrag out of you, and in the midst of feeling sick and sorry for myself, alone on Valentine’s Day, our youngest daughter announced that she wanted to get married on St. Patrick’s Day. Better than that, she wanted to get married in our barn. Dr. Advice was traveling two weeks out of every month, so he was slow in getting the news, good or not so good.

marvin Oiver Large print by Marvin Oliver, Professor of Indian Studies, University of Washington

It’s amazing how fast a wedding or a climatic catastrophe (there isn’t much difference between the two) can get you out of bed. The amount of time spent on wedding arrangements today can give you plenty of time to change your mind on the whole thing. We had a month, and our daughter was in the middle of finals.

Handmade invitations, wedding clothes and food appeared in the appropriate time with the help of friends including pickled oysters from the Hood Canal from Georgia and Emmett. When everything else was set, we needed someone to marry them, and believe me, it isn’t easy when you do it at your home cold turkey. After a number of rejections, including all the regular churches, someone had a relative who was an unemployed Mennonite minister who would come.

The day of the wedding gave a display of weather the Northwest is famous for; rain, snow, hail and brilliant sunshine, not necessarily in that order. The bride walked down through our meadow on the arm of her handsome father and into a warm and cozy barn with sunshine pouring down through a large window near the ceiling. The groom was a lapsed Catholic, the bride was unaffiliated, and we were just guests, and we built a chuppah which was covered with daffodils and daisies. The new grandson slept peacefully in my arms throughout the service, undisturbed by the festivities.

North Coast Shaman “North Coast Shaman” sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

We sent the new couple off with the bride carrying a small cage of crickets (don’t ask) and found that the Mennonite minister had not signed the wedding certificate. Ominous? Everything got straightened out eventually.

There are strange sights in the country which you don’t usually see in the suburbs, a lot of them involving animals. A small Shetland pony being led down our road at 5:30 Christmas morning would be one of them, an entire line of cars at morning commute time regularly stopping to let a row of ducks cross the road, a couple of escaped horses stomping through our newly planted lawn., and of course, the belching goat.

One of our friends was a weaver of lovely things, which led me to try my hand with the warp and woof, but without her expertise. It seemed a shame not to be able to even weave a reasonable set of place mats and napkins, but it was a nice feeling to sit and try on a rainy morning.

The barn allowed us to have more parties involving more than four people. On one such occasion, a woman guest left in a huff when her husband told a raunchy joke. She just didn’t fit in or got tired of her husband’s boorish behavior. At another party, planned to entertain guests from California, fell apart when the belly dancer planned for the entertainment, refused to come when she discovered one of the guests was Jewish. Later, when our house was for sale, she wanted to buy it to use the barn to teach belly dancing in. She couldn’t come up with the money.

Seattle is one of those places where float planes fly in and out to Lake Union, taking you to places further north, and if you want to, you can go even further north to see the Iditerod races, fishing and meet new friends.

A 12 pound turkey graced our table on our last Thanksgiving in Kirkland. Complete with all the trimmings; potatoes, gravy, dressing and pumpkin pie, it brought home the fact that we had a 12 pound grandson waiting in California. Not that he was eating all this stuff by then, but you couldn’t ignore the weight or cuteness similarity.

Dr. A had supervised the building of the Alaska pipeline, caught a respectable number of fish, and made a lot of new friends, so we semi-reluctantly pulled up stakes and headed back to California.

chilcat blanket

Addendum: This post was written without using the word “I” even once. In this day and age of people like Donald Trump who seems to have a monopoly on the word, and even nice people who don’t realize they are doing it, it seemed a good lesson.

R.I.P. OUR FRIEND, EMMETT OLIVER


Emmett

Our dear friend, educator and mentor, Emmett Oliver has completed his long journey at the age of 102. He was the oldest member of the Quinault Nation, and a true hero. The following is a reprint from KING NEWS.

“Oliver was born in South Bend, Washington, and served in World War 11 and the Korean War, before going on to make his mark as a teacher and coach.

“Emmett will be dearly missed. He achieved so much in his life and leaves a legacy that will truly last forever.” Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp said in a release. He was a United States Coast Guard Commander, an educator in and out of the classroom, an equal rights activist and a cultural icon. He was known and loved by thousands of people near and far, and will be remembered as a man who gave of himself throughout his life, always with the objective of helping others foremost in his mind.” she said.

After serving as an educator in the classroom, Oliver continued working to improve tribal education by serving as director of Indian student programs at UCLA and the University of Washington before becoming the supervisor of Indian education for the State of Washington.

In 1989 he established the Paddle to Seattle, an event that taught physical and spiritual discipline, and shared his culture with countless people.

“The fact is that Emmett saved hundreds if not thousands of lives. It is hard to underestimate the great positive impact that the resurgence of the canoe culture has had on American Indians in this country. It has helped somany of our children and adults turn away from drugs and alcohol, and displaced depression and despair with hope and culture-based principles. People are learning their culture again. So many more know their language, their songs, their history. They have pride again, and they are staying in school. Emmett Oliver was a true hero among our people, said Sharp.

Born December 2, 1913, Oliver was a stand-out scholar and athlete at Sherman Institute in California, before studying at Baconne Cllege ( a two-year Indian college) and the University of Redlands.

He and his wife, Georgia, have three children, nine grandchildren, eight great grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.”

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Our family was blessed to have Emmett as our good friend and mentor for the past fifty-six years, even being responsible for our move to the Northwest. They unstintingly shared their home on the Hood Canal with our family and friends.

I am reflecting today on the many lessons that Emmett, and his wife Georgia, taught me. To have the opportunity to learn their separate cultures, and to love them and their extended family, has been a true blessing.

Beginning with our first meeting when Emmett was a high school counselor and coach, and continuing through the next years, my horizons widened as I became aware that under the fun that Emmett brought to every gathering, a very serious educator always resided.

His efforts to understand and help his people have been legion. Some years ago the book “Two Paths” was written about Emmett’s life and was self-published by him. It was distributed free to schools on the Washington State reservations as an inspiration to young students as to what can be achieved with education.

Goodbye Emmett, our memories of you will leave a happy glow within our hearts. You and Georgia introduced me to Indian America for which I am forever grateful.

TWO PATHS


IMG_20150112_0001

“You shall walk two paths…yours and that of the White Man. Pick up those things from the White Man’s path that you can use.” Wise words from Sitting Bull.

Stories are the core of Northwest Indian culture and education, and have been for at least 8,00 years. Emmett Oliver’s story is of one Northwest Indian who was poor, dropped out of school, returned, got two college degrees, and revolutionized Indian education in his native state.

Like many American Indians, Emmett Oliver grew up off the reservation. His unique personal experience combines the best of two cultures and has contributed to each. He has truly followed two paths.

“She came more than a thousand miles and a lifetime of years for the event. Her eyes found her youngest son, handsome and proud in his cap and gown.” These are the opening words of the book “Two Paths”, commissioned by Emmett and written by his friend Ben Smith. Emmett paid for the publication of the books and then gave them away to all Indian schools in Washington State, as an example of what successes could be achieved by education.

After a college sports career, someone suggested that Emmett might consider becoming a teacher. What followed was a lifetime of teaching and counseling both high school and college students, and in encouraging children from Northwest Indian communities to pursue their education.

After the second World War, Emmett returned as a Coast Guard Commander. Handsome, dignified and charismatic, he resumed teaching with his wife Georgia. They both came as educators to California, where we became friends more than 55 years ago. They were my introduction to Indian America.

The Danmark
Tall Ship “The Danmark” training ship for Coast Guard during War

In November, 1969, Indian tribes occupied Alcatraz Island and its abandoned Federal prison in San Francisco Bay. One of the leaders of that movement was Emmett Oliver. He was Chair of BANAC (Bay Area Native American Committee.) the organization that spearheaded the takeover which lasted 19 months. The takeover was a reminder to many (including Emmett’s son, Marvin) of their Indian heritage.

photo-richard-oakes

The takeover led to Emmett’s attendance at the National Indian Education Conference in Minneapolis with a large number of prominent Indian educators, where Emmett was encouraged to return to his involvement in Indian education. This led to directing the Indian student programs at UCLA. His mother’s drive for her children to be educated had re-emerged and in that moment his whole life came into focus. He would devote the rest of his life to Indian education.

In the summer of 1970 Emmett joined the Division of Minority Affairs of the University of Washington to head the Indian Student division. His first task was to recruit and counsel Indian students.

At that time, Washington boasted a full-blood Cherokee role model named Sonny Sixkiller, who was their star quarterback. Our daughter was then a student at the University, and a friend of Sonny.

Sonny_Sixkiller
Sonny Sixkiller at the University of Washington

Working with the BIA offices who handled funding, Emmett invited outstanding Indian students from their high schools on weekends when home games were planned. They toured various Departments in which they expressed interest after which they went to the football game. Emmett said “The plan worked in interesting students to go to college. If not to Washington, then to some other college.”

Emmett’s effectiveness brought him to the attention of the Department of Education for the State of Washington and he was hired as the first Supervisor of Indian Education for the State. This gave him a greater opportunity to work more closely with the Indian communities.

“I believed that parent involvement in education at the elementary and secondary level must be increased, and I knew first hand the peril of dropping out, the limitations of purely vocational training, and the need for solid educational grounding if Indians were ever going to be able to attend college and assume positions of leadership in society.”

The first great “Paddle To Seattle” in 1989 that Emmett conceived and coordinated was the Native American contribution to the Washington State Centennial. It was a celebration of Indian culture, and through the annual canoe races, it has culminated in well over 100 canoes from various Northwest tribes participating each year.

Emmett’s daughter, Marylin has been heavily involved in the races, working tirelessly with participants all over the State. She is currently a Seattle Delegate to the City of Perugia, Italy. Emmett’s son, Marvin, is a Professor of Indian Art at the University of Washington and at the University of Alaska and an artist whose massive sculptures can be seen in many places around the world.

Marvin Oliver
“Spirit of the Future” Public sculpture by Marvin Oliver, in Perugia, Italy.

Orca by Marvin Oliver

“Mystical Journey” at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital, 26’Steel and Glass suspended sculpture by Marvin Oliver

Emmett’s is a spirit venture, drawing on the past and enlightening the future. His innermost being believes you cannot teach someone you do not love.

Emmett Oliver
Emmett Oliver at 101, with two of his granddaughters at end of 2014 Paddle to Seattle

THE GLASS PIRATE


chihuly3 We had lunch with Dale Chihuly several years ago in a small crowded Seattle restaurant while on a visit to see his show at the Seattle Museum. Of course he was hunched over his plate at an adjoining table and paid little or no attention to us, but nevertheless, we had lunch with him. He may look like a pirate with his patch over his eye and wild shock of hair, but he has been tapped with the wand of genius when it comes to making glass.

Beginning with the Egyptians and the Greeks who discovered that sand and quartz could be melted into glass it took the Romans to improve upon it by adding a fertilizer called natron as a flux so they could melt the stuff at a much lower temperature. They could make a lot of it in bulk and then ship it all over the Roman Empire to local craftsmen who turned it into cheap functional items.

glass vase

The Roman love of glass led to the invention of transparent glass windows. Before the Romans, windows were open to the wind, and anything else which might fly in. The windows were small and fused together with lead, because they didn’t have the technology to make large panes of glass, but they started our obsession with architectural uses for glass.

Until the development of transparent glass, mirrors were simply metal surfaces polished to a high shine. The Romans realized that the addition of a layer of transparent glass would protect this metal from scratches and corrosion, and allow them to reduce the thickness of the metal.

Scroll ahead a couple millennia, and glass sculptor Dale Chihuly comes along to enchant us with his brilliant and mysterious glass sculptures and installations. He is unique to the field and seems to be able to breathe life into blown glass.

I became aware of Chihuly while living in Seattle when he formed his Pilchuck Glass School. The 1970’s were a particularly vibrant time in the art world, both in Seattle, Portland and the Bay Area. It was exciting to be a miniscule part of it, if only on the fringe. Our friend Marvin Oliver, son of good friends, got his masters in Fine Arts at the University of Washington, and subsequently became a professor of Art there. Marvin was my conduit to what was “happening” in Seattle at that time, and he knew that Dale Chihuly was doing some extraordinary work in a boathouse on Lake Union.

chihuly 4

The glass bug had bitten numerous people, and small glass blowing studios popped up in various places all over town. One such was in the basement of an old building in Pioneer Square just outside the restrooms. It always took awhile to get back upstairs when they were working, it was so fascinating to see the large blobs of molten glass slide up the blow pipe and turn into something wonderful. You always wanted to stay and finish the process. Now there is a large glass museum in Tacoma, featuring glass from artists all over the world. A very large studio is open and invites the public to simply sit and enjoy the magic.

chihuly

The sheer scale of Chihuly pieces can leave you breathless in amazement, and the color may well remain reflected in your retina for days, but the memory of a visit to a Chihuly show will remain with you forever. The mass of color above is from his “Persian Series” and was installed in the ceiling of a doorway at the Seattle Museum. Throwing all manner of indiscretion aside, I lay on the floor beneath this legerdemain and became a devoted admirer of Dale Chihuly.