Going Slow on the Hoh

Posted on Jul 02, 2024

Welcome, Teachings, and Songs from the Hoh Reservation, written by Danielle Fodor

Hoh Emblem

We arrive to songs and drumming. Songs of welcome, songs of love, songs of the wolf, songs of dinner, songs for bone games. At the arrival of the bus, we are greeted by songs, first by Hoh artist and drummer Bryan Cole. At each supper, we are regaled with songs, by hereditary Chiefs David Rock Hudson (Howeeshata) and Daki Leo Fischer (Kalip), by elders and culture keepers Vivian Lee, Gene Sampson, Bryan Cole, Penny Cole, Dorothy, Annette, and more. The drums are deep and resonant, the songs come from the land and sea itself.  I don’t catch everyone’s names, but days later I can still hear their songs in my heart, in my mind, in my memory.

Crossing onto the Hoh reservation, we enter a sovereign nation, persevering on ancestral land that remains from what was once a vast homeland. While much of that homeland is now occupied by white people and the US federal government (aka Olympic National Park), the Hoh have retained and stewarded their ancient village site at the mouth of the Hoh River as well as forest upriver where the new village was built.

It is exquisitely beautiful here, and it is an honor to be invited here.  On my first day visiting the Hoh, Paul and I see a gorgeous rainbow forming in the clouds.  It looks to us like a Thunderbird. I feel blessed and awed to be invited here, to witness this place where the land, sky, and water meet. To learn about and share with the Hoh people, who have been working tirelessly to protect their culture and keep it alive for generations.

The View, facing south from the mouth of the Hoh River

We are guests here, honored, grateful, and sometimes awkward. We try, but we are not always respectful. We are learning what respect means on this land, in this culture, and there is a lot to learn.  Some of us Chautauquans have decades of experience working with Native communities, across difference.  Some Chautauquans are proud Native people themselves. But for many Chatauquans, this is our first and/or deepest engagement with Native culture. We are curious, earnest, and fallible.

Mistakes are made. We try to correct each other so that our hosts don’t have to, but it is a delicate dance. No photographs, no recordings, no pointing to indicate direction. Ask permission first. Listen. Don’t ask too many questions.  Yes, I did just put my foot in my mouth (yet again), I am so sorry. I am humbled, again and again, by the generosity and patience of our hosts.

What does it mean to be respectful? What does it mean to be a guest? To be on sovereign land, to be decolonizing our relationships. Chautauquans come from many backgrounds, but most of us are of white/European ancestry. Respect looks different depending on your role. 
One mistake I personally make: I see an elder take a picture of a mixed circle at supper, sharing a dinner song. I think, "Oh, its ok to take a photo now. I would like to remember this moment, this feeling, this beauty."  But later I delete the picture, after photos are discussed at morning meeting.

Chautauqua is a circus; we are vaudevillians. Inherently, as performers, we are here to be seen, to be recorded. But our hosts are not performers, they are sharing sacred songs and traditions. The history (and present) of knowledge theft and cultural appropriation from Indigenous communities is the backdrop of the place where we meet. It is our context. So a beloved Hoh elder can take a photo of the circle and Dinner Song without permission. But for me to take the same action is disrespectful.

We are blessed to have Donna McKay travelling with us (Haida/Thlingit), who has taught me much about honoring the land and asking gently about what is/isn't culturally appropriate. We are privileged to travel with Faeble Kievman, who has spent much time with community in Wanblee, South Dakota and with social circus. Lucky to have Paul and Kristin, who are facilitating this cross cultural exchange. Lucky to those who have travelled with Chautauqua for decades, holding space (Kym, Karl, Artis, Jorjan, Don, and Chris, to name a few).

Chautauquans, in circle with our Hoh hosts

We are still learning as a culture, and unlearning bad habits. I believe that if we are to heal as a culture, as a multifaceted society, we must come together. Mistakes will be made, but stepping forward with integrity and humility, we can begin the process of healing, of helping and honoring each other. My heart is warmed several days later, when drummer and culture keeper Gene Sampson gives us a powerful song about Water, from Standing Rock, and tells us we can record it. He givs us permission to play this song on any instrument, as long as we acknowledge who the song belongs to, where it comes from.  He teaches us the dance, which is about people from all over the world coming together to protect the water. I am not the only one who cries as we sing and dance to this song. I think I can speak for all Chautauquans to say -- are deeply humbled and moved by this gift. 

This brings me back to something I've heard a few Hoh tribal members say, "Go slow on the Hoh".  Inside this phrase is the acknowledgement that things are best when they unfold in their own time, when we don't hurry.  When we wait until the time is right.  A song given freely, with an open heart, with permission, requires time and patience.  It takes time and patience to build right relationships.  It requires being humble, listening with our hearts, making mistakes, and correcting them.  We are deeply honored to be here, to learn from each other, and to work towards supporting each other.

With deep thanks to our hosts and friends at Hoh River,

Danielle Fodor