Poetry Corner

Poetry Corner

I Am Indigenous
(Whitman-style free verse poem)


I am indigenous to this land. Yes, I am. Indigenous I am.

I am a member of the Cowlitz Tribe, whose sacred land

is under siege in Washington, the state. Our people have survived.

I am descended from a Cowlitz Chief. Scanewa was his name.

He was a hunter, fisherman, a trader and a guide. He ruled

the western trading route, the Cowlitz River passageway.

The Cowlitz River from Columbia, the mighty river to the south, to Puget Sound

up in the north and more were his domain. Scanewa ruled all tribes along

the Cowlitz River zone in 1828. The Northwest Company was gone. When Hudson Bay had gotten charter rights they came to Chief Scanewa then

to get support to trade along the route.

The Cowlitz Chief Scanewa also helped the US Army find a site

on which to build a fort. From Fort Vancouver to the south

he took some soldiers up the Cowlitz River to a site up north

in Canada. Fort Langley came to be there thanks to guidance from our chief.

An ambush by a Klallam group, a lynch mob to be sure,

then wrongly killed the “chief of chiefs,” Scanewa, courier.

Before Scanewa met his death in 1828 he had three sons. A son

named Richard Sinnaywah is where I got my name.

Scanewa’s murder left this son too young to take the reins.

But as he grew, he did become a chief. The Cowlitz tribe, the Squally tribe,

Puyallup tribes he ruled. Within each tribe, he had a wife.

The title Tyee, meaning “Chief,” was uttered in respect.

Because of that, to honor him they called him Tyee Dick.

Sinnaywah had a brother by the name of Wahawa, who had a well-known son, Iyall.

Iyall became a priest in a religion of the land.

The Indian Shaker Religion is how it is known. But we call it Tshad-dam.

Iyall served like an apostle, some would say.

He stood so tall, at six-foot-three. He served with dignity.

He was a conduit for God so strong, to help his flock along. His children honored him

by making Iyall their last name. So, he is honored to this day by those who came 

from him. He was a psychic who used herbs and prayer. He was a modest man.

A son of Iyall Wahawa named Frank became his only son with sons.

Frank was the Cowlitz delegate. He wrote the wording of a bill to give 

the people of this land our rights. The “Indian Citizenship Act of 1924” was passed 

by Congress, signed by Calvin Coolidge, President of the United States. 

Frank passed along the Iyall name. My father was his son. Indigenous I am.

Scanewa had another son, the Head Chief of the Cowlitz, too;

a Shaker priest and leader of the Cowlitz sect, beloved man, so true.

His name was Atwin Stockum and he set the paradigm. By 1907 he’d circled ’round 

the sun a hundred times plus two. But he was not yet through!

A man was working in his store one day in Toledo, Washington. His name 

was Harold Otho Stone. A Shaker priest from Idaho came in and shared some news. He said that “Atwin died last night.” It saddened Stone to hear about 

the passing of the chief. “Oh, that’s all right,” the preacher said. They planned 

to bring him back to life that very afternoon! The Shaker priest, indigenous, 

invited Stone to see. No other white man was invited there. But Stone had always been a friend to those called “Indians.” “You never laugh at us,” the Shaker preacher said. Stone would be welcomed there at Atwin’s home, but with this strict refrain:

“Don’t bring anyone with you.”

A resurrection ritual was held for Atwin’s soul. It was performed for him 

in privacy by people of the land. A hundred people came to Atwin’s home 

in Washington to bring him back to life. His nephew Iyall Wahawa was there, for sure, 

to see him live again when he had died the night before! They loved their chief, 

their friend, so very much. They didn’t want to see him go, just yet.

A Nez Perce man named Paddy White came up to resurrect! He moved 

with royal dignity though wearing clothing that the white men had cast off. 

The people prayed for Atwin to return to live on Earth again. They rang large bells 

and offered chants. They let their bodies move through dance.

The room was packed with souls, those visible and not. The sounds got loud 

and louder with the tempo going fast and faster in a ceremony form. Emotions grew from people’s hearts and got increasingly intense. The house was charged with strong and rhythmic energy. High voltage energy from Spirit grew until it reached its peak. Then Paddy raised his arms in supplication, praying from his heart for Atwin to return.

The rigor mortis which had come to Atwin’s body slowly went away. His skin

regained its color to its normal wrinkled bronze and Atwin’s breath returned.

His heart began to beat again. His body moved upon its own as Atwin made it clear

that he would live again by sitting up. The people’s wishes were fulfilled

for Atwin to return to life, incarnate on this sacred Earth again.

In just two days he had the strength to walk from home to town!

It was a two mile walk for him, and yet he did it on his own! He lived again 

for five more years until the year of 1912! Indigenous I am.

The folks who are indigenous are not through with our lives on planet Earth.

We are not through with this land here.

The culture of the area is rooted in the land. Though conquered by the immigrants,

our sacred culture has not disappeared. It lives and grows each day.

Please listen now to me, my siblings in this life. Anxiety of sacred Mother Earth is high. The sun is sending stronger energy our way. So, take it in and let it go, as best you can. Is your heart now and your mind now awakening to the truth? Indigenous I am.


  • Richard D. Iyall

    Richard D. Iyall is a member of the of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe of Longview, WA and a citizen of the United States. He has lived in Fresno, CA since 1957. He has written and done photography for the Community Alliance Newspaper. riyall1@my.scccd.edu.

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