PULLMAN, Wash. — Fifteen students in Ron Pond’s class sawed into PVC pipe. From out of the blue tool kit Pond had brought with him, their hands pulled out files, a hand drill, knives and other implements.
Back at their seats, the students continued to craft their 14-inch gray tubes, murmuring in the small music classroom with its two pianos, sundry music stands and noteless staffs on white markerboard. Against these musical signposts signaling symphonic traffic dead ahead, gouging out shavings of plastic and cutting jagged diagonals, the participants in Pond’s “Native Music of North America” course were assembling rough-hewn flutes for solitary, unhurried, low-toned travel on wind, in water and on good earth.
His students come from varied disciplines to learn of music and dance from a Native American perspective–business, engineering, education, biology. For some, they appreciate the stories Pond tells of another culture that relates to the very fibers of their musical craft–their instruments, their moccasins–because they came from the land.
For one, the class is a first-time connection with his own native roots. Jordan Malone, a junior majoring in general business, was raised in Anglo culture, but his mother is full Wampanoag Indian. This is his chance to learn about his heritage.
“The things my grandparents didn’t teach me, Ron is teaching me,” Malone said. “The arts and crafts of centuries and centuries. I have a sense of deep personal satisfaction and respect.”
Pond is a Native American interdisciplinary doctoral student of Umatilla/Palouse descent pursuing a degree at WSU that combines interests in American studies, history and anthropology. This is one tiny fiber in his cloth.
He the son of river people–his father was raised at the mouth of the Umatilla River; his great-grandmother lived at the mouth of the Snake River.
Pond sings sacred songs, some for religious celebration and some for honoring warriors of the past.
He witnessed the daily craft-making of his mother and grandmother, their sewing of moccasins, their tanning of hides, and poured his seeing into helping organize last year’s monumental exhibit celebrating arts of the Plateau, “A Song to the Creator,” which drew 10,000 people to the WSU Museum of Art.
He smoke-jumped from Forest Service planes 44 times into rugged, mountainous terrain in Oregon, Idaho and Arizona to fight forest fires. It’s these fibers that students get the opportunity to touch and explore, because for Pond, his life is about sharing.
“I feel obligated to share my knowledge about the past,” he said. “If I can be a role model for my tribe…You’re motivated by your people to step out a little further on behalf of the tribe. That makes you try because you don’t want to fail.”
It’s no surprise Pond recently was chosen to represent WSU as a fellow for the 1997 Seminar in American Indian History, “Tribal Landscapes and Identities,” offered at the prestigious Newberry Library in Chicago. Also selected from WSU was history professor Orlan Svingen. In June, Pond, Svingen and 13 other Newberry fellows from around the country studied various readings and presented team discourses on issues of concern to four primary tribal groups, the Kwiakiutl, the Choctaw, the Hidatsa and the Zuni.
The Newberry Library is one of only 15 major independent research libraries that exist in the United States. Of the 15, the Newberry has the fourth largest number of readers each day and the second largest number of volumes. Because of the scope of the collections, as well as the efforts of the Research and Education Division, researchers travel to Chicago from all over the world to use the Newberry.
While in Chicago, Pond acquired two publications that will support his own research, including a Lemhi-Shoshone Reservation restoration project he is working on with nine other graduate students and his dissertation on Indian peace medals. During his four-week stay, he found at least 180 reference materials relative to his graduate study.
Pond said his experience at the Newberry Library is valuable in his classroom, too, because students can learn about an Indian world view perspective from him. In another craft project for his course, students try weaving techniques using tule stalks to make sacred mats to put traditional foods on. The mats are also used for burial ceremonies. More than weaving, Pond’s students come to understand that the very materials used to make mats, to make their own crafts, are sacred.
One student, Henry Shumake, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, shows Pond a peace pipe his group is making. Shumake drilled and sanded the bowl from a soapstone slab given to him by his brother. The instrument shows the time, care and respect Shumake has for the gift–both from blood and from the land.
“When you take something from the land,” Pond says of the beautiful craft, “you give something back.”