The Chenwalk were peaceful people. Life in Washenka, the name of the village they lived in, held roughly 500 people. It was a small community and one which kept to itself. There were other Indian tribes in the vicinity, but they kept their distance. The Chenwalk weren’t aggressors but yet fiercely protective of their people, earning them respect from the other tribes. In turn, the other natives gave the Chenwalk the space they wanted for their community. They were left alone. And they thrived.
Chenwalk traditions ensured that they co-existed harmoniously with nature and the land, and it enriched their understanding of the give and take of living out in the wild. It was a harsh existence, but they treated the land with respect, and it rewarded them for being good stewards. They always had enough food, so nothing was wasted being diligent not to extract too much from their resources. Their success came from years of knowing how to replenish what they had taken, giving back as necessary. They planned for harsh winters by smoking their killed bison, other game, and fish, supplementing their protein storage when hunting would be impossible. To give them variety, drying fruits, berries, corn, roots, onions, and wild potatoes rounded out their meals. The Chenwalk had mastered surviving.
Throughout the year, the elders were chiefly responsible for guiding the tribe, instilling knowledge of the tribe’s history to the children. The parents raised the children, but the whole community participated in their education and protection of the young ones. They had created an atmosphere of living in an extended family, one that genuinely watched out for one another.
All tribes in the region lived out their days with different customs and traditions. Like people today, many of the tribes practiced elaborate rituals regarding the spiritual beings they believed in through song and dance, and each had certain rites of passage for their families. The Chenwalk were no different. Today we might find some of their practices brutal or even unnecessary, but being isolated as they were and not being challenged in that regard, didn’t necessitate changes to their rituals. Their way of life helped them survive, even if it wasn’t actually doing anything by today’s standards.
One such ritual called for all the young males 13 moons old to engage in a blood rite. Each boy would have an elder cut their left palm open with a knife and clasp it together with a young girl of the same age. Her left palm was also cut. The elders had long held that this practice ensured the tribe would be fruitful. The tribespeople thought this ritual also bound the future generations together forever, protective of each other always. It was instilling loyalty to each other but also the tribe. It meant the spirits would surround and strengthen them.
The Chenwalk didn’t know that when a white man came into their lives, their Indian magic had no power. Or so they thought.
TO BE CONTINUED ON WEDNESDAY…