Inez Castor

Ionce thought I had very vivid memories. Now I know I have flashbacks, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Usually caused by trauma, flashbacks transport you back to another time and place, complete with all the scents, sounds and emotions of the original experience.

The good part is that once you understand what's happening and begin addressing the original issues, you can enjoy the flashbacks that aren't traumatic. The only problem is that you can't plan them, can't avoid them and have no clue what will trigger them until the trigger's been pulled.

Last week I was enjoying a sunny afternoon when a cricket transported me to a field surrounded by spruce trees during the opening ceremonies of the Siletz powwow.

Thousands of people stood and sat around the dance field in a moment

of sacred silence before the entry of the first veterans. In that

silence, a single cricket prayed aloud. I smelled fry bread and tacos

and felt the warm breeze on my face.

Powwow. The word originally translated as "wise speaker" and referred

to the men whose wisdom and healing powers served their tribe. Powwows

drove away sickness, strengthened the young men for battle and thanked

the Great Spirit for good harvests.

Within the ceremonies, the powwow used dancing, singing, drums and

prayers. Like all village people, tribes feasted, visited and traded

when they gathered, and eventually the gatherings themselves came to be

called powwows.

Today indigenous tribes are increasingly turning to the healing

potential of powwow. They realize that to save their children they must

honor their ancestors, their elders and their traditions.

The flashback ended and I remembered the following day. Feeling the

pulse of a huge drum from the soles of my feet to the base of my skull, I

watched four little girls in the passageway between surging tides of

people. Bright flowers dressed in the regalia of the jingle dancer, they

twirled and glittered, chattering excitedly. Suddenly one of the girls

noticed me. She stepped back out of the aisle, flinging her hands out

toward her friends in a pushing motion.

"Move!" she said commandingly, "An elder wants through." Her little

face, turned to mine, had a look of respect. I smiled and thanked her,

then walked with an unfamiliar dignity through the passage they cleared

for me.

Tribal life is very different from the youth-oriented culture of the

American mainstream, in which to be old is to be irrelevant. Within the

tribal cultures gray hair and wrinkles are the the hallmarks of wisdom,

of the teachers, the healers and the spiritual leaders. For the old of

other cultures, it is a heady experience to be recognized as an elder, a

tribal treasure.

There are rites of passage in every life, often presided over by

religious leaders or other dignitaries. We have bar mitzvahs and

weddings. My ceremony of transition from adult to elder was conducted by

four little girls in bright regalia at the Siletz powwow.

Reach Inez Castor, a longtime Triplicate columnist, at