Why did my Chinook Ancestors flatten their heads?

George Catlin. 1850

George Catlin. 1850

The picture is from about 1850 and is a pencil drawing of a scene at The Dalles, on the Columbia River by George Catlin. It clearly depicts the flat heads my tribe gave their children at birth by use of a set cradle board over the forehead during the first few months of life. Learn more here.

I am very interested in why we did this? Were there any old stories that were told that explained why we started flattening our foreheads? How did we come to accept and implement such a custom, that seems so foreign to our modern standards of beauty?

Penny Postcard, ca.1910, "Wind Mountain, Columbia River."

Penny Postcard, ca.1910, “Wind Mountain, Columbia River.”

What role did the landscape we live in play in this custom? I have always noticed a similarity between the contours of Wind Mountain and the profile of the flattened head, is this just coincidence? So many questions… so go’s the seeking.

The Journey has just Begun.

For the last several months I have been deeply steeped in book and print research, but this is not where my passion lies. I wish to be out and about with my recording gear, searching and digging for more knowledge and just sitting with the sound of the rivers and winds. It really is gathering many stories to piece together one story. The very question that started this whole journey was: “Who were my Ancestors?’ and from that one question, come many tributaries. And still my thirst grows.

Auntie Virginia Miller's Canoe. Edward S. Curtis photo

Auntie Virginia Miller’s Canoe. Edward S. Curtis photo

I am about to fully step into the initial aims of this project of documenting what is left of our Stories, meaning, more living persons oral histories. Some of my Watala/Cascade cousins are looking at dis-enrollment from the Grand Ronde tribe (read more here) and fighting for what it means to be ‘Indigenous’. The honest truth is, we are becoming ghosts and I wish to honor a memory, fully and honestly. I want to know what our traditions were. I want to know why Wind Mountain was so Sacred to us and I want it to become sacred again, before we are all gone. I want to know how the landscape shaped our myth and our traditions. Why did we flatten our foreheads? I don’t want to be co-opted into the generalization of the ‘plains noble Indian’, for we were our own People and we are our own People.

BUT….yet, I am the Immigrant carrying goods upriver and I am the hands that would build the dam that would silence it forever. I am of many stories. And giving the way the modern world is swallowing our sense of belonging to place, we too, and our stories, are becoming ghosts.

The journey has just begun.