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Tribal members build on tradition of cedar working.

Byline: Jim Feehan The Register-Guard

Don Day listens to a Western cedar log to know if it split cleanly.

During a cedar-working demonstration Saturday outside the University of Oregon's Natural History Museum, Day could hear a person miss the mark after swinging a cedar mallet into a handmade wedge of yew.

"You hear the wood, listen to the tree, and it tells you if it's splitting," Day said.

The sound of wood cracking, much like the crack of a baseball bat, is desired, said Day, a UO anthropology student and a member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.

Day led a team of six Grand Ronde tribal members in a demonstration of traditional plank-splitting techniques in the museum's courtyard. The planks created during the demonstration will be used to construct a coastal plank house for the museum's "Oregon - Where Past is Present" exhibit, which opens in October.

"The exhibit is a restoration of our culture that was taken away from Indians. For 100 years we were not allowed to participate in tribal practices. This is a return of our cultural values," said David Lewis, a UO anthropology graduate student and a Grand Ronde tribal member.

Tribal teachings also teach that cedar be regarded and gathered with reverence, respect and gratitude, Day said.

Cedar is more than a tree to the Indian people. It is a general store, a place of worship and an integral part of sacred ceremonies, Day said. Each piece of cedar tree, from root to crown, is used with nothing going to waste, he said. The tree's bark is used for clothing, its root structure for baskets and the bows are burnt as incense, Day said.

"It's known as the tree of life," he said.

Western red cedar intersperses itself between Douglas fir, alder and big leaf maple along the Pacific coast from Northern California to southeastern Alaska. It stands out in the forest, with its drooping, spreading branches that turn upward at the tips. And unlike the fir's sharp needles, the cedar's leaves are flat and smooth, with plaited scales. Up close the tree is fragrant, especially after a rain storm, Day said.

Day said it is important to re-establish traditional cedar-working methods - which involve no metal saws or chain saws - and pass it on to a broader audience. He estimates only three people at the UO campus know about Native American cedar splitting.

About two dozen visitors had a hands-on opportunity to learn about traditional cedar-splitting practices.

BrideyConnolly, 16, of Eugene, took a mighty swing of a cedar mallet and cleanly split an 8-foot section of the tree.

"It's pretty informative to learn how to split cedar and wood, and you can have fun, too," she said.


Odell Jones, 6, gets help from Deitrich Peters, a Grand Ronde tribal member, lining up a yew wedge to split a long plank from a cedar log at a demonstration at the UO Museum of Natural History on Saturday afternoon.
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Title Annotation:General News; A demonstration at the UO aims to pass on the importance of the technique
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 30, 2004
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