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Robbie Paul shares stories, insights of Nez Perce

As a way to honor the place where Annual Meeting was held, Robbie Paul, a member of Open Door Congregational UCC in Deer Park and a member of the Nez Perce tribe, told  how Spokane came to be.

robbie paul

Robbie Paul tells story of Coyote and of becoming an elder.

“Coyote, the trickster, sees the Spokane River.  There is smoke on the other side.  A woman is preparing fish and doing laundry.  He thinks she is the most beautiful woman,” Robbie said.  “She goes back to her lodge.  She is the daughter of the chief of the Coeur d’Alenes.  Coyote goes to the chief and asks to marry her.

“She’s human.  You’re coyote,” said her father.  “Go be a warrior and prove yourself.”

Coyote goes to the Spokanes, the Kalispels and the Colvilles.  Each say he can’t marry her, she is human.

Coyote uses his magic paws at the river’s edge, putting big rocks in the river so the water won’t flow and salmon will not pass.  The chief said still said no.  The rocks are still there, creating the Spokane Falls.

“Coyote sees a young warrior come, bringing skins and seeking to prove himself worthy of the chief’s daughter,” Robbie said.  “One day coyote saw him going out to hunt again.  Coyote followed and neither were ever seen again.

“Coyote, who was lazy, arrogant and stubborn, fought authority.  Be careful how stubborn you are,” she said.

“Respect is important in my culture,” said Robbie.  “Youth living in today’s fast-paced society lose the wisdom of elders. 

“My community did not have electricity or apps,” she said.  “Elders taught about tribal culture and traditional ways.   We were to develop listening tools by listening to stories.”

Robbie pointed out that no one declares that he or she has reached eldership, but it’s a term for respect for the wisdom a person has and gives away. 

Now she shares stories of the past and what they teach.

When she was 55, she saw her name listed in the tribal newspaper among tribal elders celebrating birthdays. 

“I was at first indignant.  Now I have to act my age and be the respected elder who has much to give,” she said.  “I’m humbled.  I’ve been a life-long learner.

“My father, 97, shared knowledge with me as an elder in training,” Robbie said.

“I hope the UCC will embrace its elders.  1 Tim. 5:1-2 reminds us: Do not speak harshly to an older man.”

Robbie said her father, Titus James Paul, was born in 1907 in a tipi at Kamiah. 

She said her father helped heal people, learned and lived with integrity.

“I struggled with my identity,” she said.  “In World War II, my father wanted to serve.  He was too old and had children.  So he went to Bremerton to work in the shipyards, wanting to be a first class welder.  The foreman relented and let him learn the skill during his lunchtimes. 

He learned the skill and his first job was welding mine detectors.  He welded a section and rested, welding a section and rested.  The supervisor saw him resting and commented that he was an Indian loafing.

“My father told him to come and inspect his job within 1/5000th of an inch error.  One team welded fast, but my father’s team was not fast.  When they checked, the door on their side opened as it was supposed to, but the door on the other side would not open.

“We do not have to be what others perceive us to be,” Robbie said.  “My father would set one goal, achieve it, set another goal and then go on to achieve it.  He did not quit,” she said.

Eventually, he came home to his farm and did not know how to farm, so he studied how to grow lentils and peas.

At the age of 65, he learned to golf by reading a book.  At 72 he rode a bicycle every day until he died.  He wanted to win a gold medal in golf.  He won bronze and silver, but died before winning the gold, she said.

“You can be what you want to be if you set goals and go to do them,” she said.

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Copyright June-July 2015 © Pacific Northwest Conference News



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