The importance of place in culture became clear to me as I attempted to outline the early aboriginal inhabitants and their culture near Beaver Creek marsh from sources of ethnography and archaeology for the area. Few sources of information are available on the Alsea people that lived here before European and Asian settlement. I listened to the stories that the marsh tells every day living here. The living Alsea people and their culture have been lost in the passing of time. Their stories live in nature. Their possible ancestors may live among the Siletz Confederated Tribe.
A new book “The People Are Dancing Again” by Charles Wilkinson (2010) documents the history of the Siletz Confederated Tribe of western Oregon. The Siletz Tribe was originally composed of people from numerous village cultures in western Oregon and northern California that were forced onto the Siletz reservation in 1856. In aboriginal times, each individual village had political authority and was autonomous. The ethnographic concept of tribes was not supported. The villages were exogamous, with men taking brides from other villages and the women becoming citizens of their new places. In the beginning chapter on aboriginal village societies, Wilkinson gives a clear explanation of the importance of place in culture:
“The village as a place carries powerful emotional content. The multidimensional Athapaskan word duh-neh means “the people of the place” and also encompasses “the blood line”. It is “the place where your family has always been buried.” There is no comparable concept in the English language, and I have seen Siletz people strain to articulate the intensity and specificity of the term. The village is at once concrete and dynamic. While it is a fixed place on the land and the people are tied to it, the population changes because of births, deaths, and the law of intermarriage, causing some people (women) to move from one village to another. Yet for both men and women the tie to the village is immutable. Duh-neh: This is the one place where a person is from, where the ancestors are buried. This is the only place, the heart place. There can be no other place.”
This heart place is the singular place where we learn from our elders, teach our children, and return to in our death. It gives us the connection to living that sustains our breath and life, sparks our imagination and gives us the stories that support our narrative to explain existence and give meaning. We all come from the one place, which can be different for each of us. This one in the many and many in the one is an important recognition of how to get along with each other and the world. Place-based learning is an effort to bring the resources of place to education and learning. In this way culture can be made stronger by linking with wildness and the wisdom of nature that is heart place.
Posted by michael