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Kittitas elder Allen Aronica still gets calls from Native Americans around the country saying they had recently seen the PBS documentary “Everything Change” on the Plateau Indians, featuring his mother, Ida Nason Aronica.

Ida (1888-1992) was the great-granddaughter of Kittitas Band leader Chief Owhi. Both were important figures in Ellensburg history

“The documentary turned out well, I thought,” Allen, a 73-year-old tribal elder who served in the Army’s 3rd Battalion, 39th Infantry in the Vietnam Mekong Delta (1966-68). “PBS got a grant to document all Plateau Indians, so it wasn’t just all about her. We took mom to all the trails where she used to gather berries and dig roots growing up.

“They filmed her history, where she was born in Nahahum Canyon outside of Cashmere. She talked about how to make different root stuff in a half-hour documentary. We were going to add to it and make it an hour-long presentation, but a bunch of the raw footage was stolen from me. But I liked what we did.”

STORY FIRE

Two-hundred years ago, among the Kittitas Band, that story would have been told around a story fire in the oratory manner the People would share their culture and history, passing it down from generation to generation. That half-hour documentary was the modern day story fire and is available at the Ellensburg Public Library.

Her story to a national audience in the PBS presentation was dedicated to capturing her memories growing up in the Kittitas Valley. It was not only representative of the People of the Northwest Plateau, but helped share a bit of American West and Native American history.

“Every now and then, I get a call from New Mexico or some place from people wanting to come out and see the trails or dig roots,” Aronica said. “It’s been nearly 30 years since mom passed, but people are still interested in her story.

IDA NASON ARONICA

Ida died in 1992 at the age of 103. She is buried in the family graveyard atop a sagebrush covered hill in the northeast corner of the ranch. Ida Nason Aronica was a prominent tribal woman in the Kittitas Valley and was instrumental in preserving the cultural heritage of the Kittitas Band during her lifetime.

The Nason and Aronica families can trace their ancestry to the legendary leader Owhi, the great warrior Chief of the Kittitas Band of Northwest Plateau Indians. There are literally hundreds of descendants of the Chief Owhi spread across the Pacific Northwest, all with important ties to the history and traditions.

November is Native American Heritage Month and discussions continue with the Ellensburg School District about what to name the new elementary school. It has narrowed the list to three names: Chief Owhi, Ida Nason Aronica and Che-lo-han.

NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH

That name selection group includes Morgan Middle School social studies instructor Nathan Bradshaw, Allen’s daughter Sia Aronica, who teaches Spanish, and local author Andrew Caveness, along with 10 others, have been active in the process to honor local Natives.

Chief Owhi was an important figure when settlers first came to the Yakima area. His father was Chief We-ow-icht, who according to legend, was born from the stars and a human woman. Owhi was born between 1780 and 1800. The Ellensburg Hall of Fame describes Owhi as the great warrior Chief of the Kittitas Band of Northwest Plateau Indians.

Ida Nason Aronica is the great granddaughter of Chief Owhi, and another important figure in Ellensburg history. According to the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame, the Nason family was influential in the land transaction with the Ellensburg Rodeo in 1923, which continues today almost a century later.

Che-lo-han is the Kittitas word for great gathering or meeting ground. Che-lo-han was the largest Native American encampment in Kittitas County and is located in the northeast corner of the valley near Parke Creek.

“Che-lo-han was a peaceful encampment that was beneficial and peaceful to all. It provided food, resources and community,” Sia Aronica said. “As a family member I am so proud my grandmother is being considered.

“I know she would be flabbergasted. As her granddaughter, she is the reason I am learning the language and my heritage and culture. It is all because of her. I want to continue to learn and teach my kids and other Native kids about the history to carry on the work grandmother was doing for our people.”

NATIVE SUPPORT

Sia, 46, graduated from Central Washington University in 1998 where she had the support of a Native American group on campus. Her generation made gallant attempts to reconnect and learn more about various cultures and the language to each nation.

“That’s why I think it is so important what the Ellensburg School District is doing,” Sia said. “Our kids need something positive to being Native. I didn’t know about my ancestor Owhi until we started researching the background for the school naming. So this is important.

“Native kids need to know about their culture and their people and not just list themselves as ‘Something other,’ in the racial content on the ballot when they go to vote.”

TIMES CHANGE

Times have changed, but progress is slow in terms of Native respect on a national scale, Allen Aronica said. The Washington Redskins have been finally been financially pressured into changing the name. Schools are finally recreating their sports mascots brands. But much more needs to be accomplished, Aronica said.

“We walk in two worlds, respecting our dance, our culture and our heritage, while living in the 21st century,” he said. “We’re still fighting the same old fight for water rights or fishing rights or whatever when we could be spending our tribal resources on things that are more beneficial to the people.

“We didn’t nominate our ancestors for the (school) naming process, but it is an honor to be associated with the decision-making process. I think it gives our younger people a sense of pride and knowledge of our culture, now that a lot of the elders who would be teaching them are gone.”

DOWN TIMES

Much of Native culture was lost during the 1950s with government programs like the Indian Relocation Act of 1956, which was intended to encourage Native Americans to leave their traditional lands to assimilate population in urban areas. Boarding schools and other disruptive attempts by the government to simulate the First Nations into European society.

“It definitely wasn’t cool to be Indian in the 50s,” Aronica said. “I know people that still won’t admit to their heritage because of the fear and the disrespect. But I think there have been some good things accomplished. More Natives in Congress, more people voting than ever before.

“My mother used to say, take baby steps. So, I guess we will continue to take baby steps to a better future.”

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