Under the tutelage of elders who carried us into times which make us proud to be Indian – we must serve those to come by making everyone accepting of Indians.
Resting easy over the Yakama Nation, Pahto has provided for our people since time immemorial. Standing at 12,280’, Pahto’s gentle Southern rising slopes attract hundreds of amateur mountaineers and skiers alike; though, most only know its English name, Mt. Adams. Growing up my grandfather told me stories of her relations with the other snowy peaks of the region. In one story, the Three Sisters that are Pahto, Kittitas and Wy’east all bid and feud for Takhoma’s adornment. However, the plague of colonization has since removed the language, land and people from one another. Seeking to decolonize and reclaim these sacred places, my brother Owen Oliver of the Chinook People and I began with Pahto in October of 2019. Though on a fine sunny and windless day the summit remained out of reach leaving our ceremony incomplete. Transitioning to Spring, stories shifted toward Wy’east – whose pride pours over our ancestral homeland.
August of 2016 was my last visit to Wy’east, when my interest in mountaineering had just began. Not much younger but much more brash and ignorant to consequences of mountaineering, my friend Carter and I were ill-prepped. Foregoing crampons under the impression the Pearly Gates was an easy 3rd class snow chute, we chugged up the resort as one does to find bergschrund in firm conditions. Yet we pressed on. Tip-toeing on the edge of the ‘schrund, cutting steps exacerbated the raining rockfall. Considering the overhead hazards, we opted to stay a bit climber’s left. In full swing with my adze, a whistle shot past my head. Thinking we were safe from any rockfall, Carter’s ghost-white face tells otherwise. Utterly unprepared for this route, numerous red-flags kept rising as we kept ignoring them. But at the time we did not know otherwise and felt committed. Pressing forward, this was the first summit both of us regretted obtaining as the down-climb would be equally as troubling.
Taking a sip of coffee while telling this story to Owen, I hoped to impart some wisdom, or maybe reassurance that I have seen some shit or something to justify my mistakes. As if I were an aged warrior struggling to remain consequential… but I cannot find anything. Instead, this story simply highlighted my mistakes, ignorance and luck. My immaturity especially in the mountains. For our journey to Wy’east, I am not much older, still as brash in some ways, but have developed a head about me. I am more in tune with my actions and their consequences, but most importantly – in tune with who I am separate of my passion for being outside. Before, I walked with all the invincibility a 19-year-old thinks they have. Unnerved by this ignorance on a wild ride into the night. Though, along the way maturity got a firm grip slapping me straight. I am grateful it did not come through a physical punishment. The source of the growth was spurred by a University trip to Southeast Alaska in the small village of Hoonah. Gathered around a table with my peers, my professor and a few elders listened to Bob Starbard, CEO of the Hoonah Indian Association (HIA). “Preserves are for berries, picked and sugar coated. Perpetuation is the answer.” – with respect to my question of how one may preserve Indigenous Culture(s). Unaware of the gravity of his words, I am learning to unpack them with my own discovery of ceremony.
My perspective of how I recreate and move in the backcountry is shaped by everything else in my life. It sounds silly to state, but it is important that I continually remind myself. Upon starting these sports, I was fueled and directed by athletic performance – my roots of distance running in high school are obvious. However, I now feel strong enough to own this energy and redirect it toward contemporary methods of ceremony. Seeking to re-engage in reciprocity with the Three Sisters, Takhoma and others, my gift is not an ability to move quickly and efficiently in such places; rather, to reconnect with all of my relations physically and spiritually. Recalling Owen’s first interest in such sports, I was unaware of the energy he would bring along these journeys. Before, my memory of Wy’east was clouded by a need to conquer and claim victory. Influenced by a settler-colonial mindset to tame land and its wild spaces. Now, through Owen’s pressing of my knowledge and growth, my vision is clearing. Standing proudly with my brother and Wy’east, the spring sky illuminates our respective homelands from the summit – The Columbia Plateau and the Columbia River. Considering my revitalized connections with these relations, I feel if I were to not share, to not confidently and proudly hold my space in these sacred places, I sugarcoat my existence and collective Indigenous culture.