February 23rd, 2018
We haven’t been on the road for even a week, and we are already settled into our fourth temporary home. We have a space in the Emergency Response Management building on the Nisqually reservation, near Olympia, WA. We drove for three hours from Sauk-Suiattle. The plan was for us to stop few miles away from the reservation, and then walk the rest of the way. That didn’t happen. A contingent from the Nisqually tribe met us at a gas station and escorted us to our lodgings on the rez. That was just as well. I am not sure we would have found the place on our own.
The people of the tribe greeted us when we arrived. They set us up with cots for the night. They fed us well. There was a delicious fish soup with garlic bread. After I had eaten two bowls of the soup, somebody brought in a huge order of Chinese food. We ate that too.
The tribal members gave each visitor a goodie bag. Everybody got a t-shirt, a sweatshirt, and a water bottle. Every item is emblazoned with the name of the tribe’s casino. Advertising is important, but it was more important to the people that they could honored us with gifts.
Hospitality is paramount. At each reservation so far, the Indians have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome. This has been done with food, lodging, and gifts. They have also welcomed us with songs, speeches, ritual, and prayer. I find it a bit overwhelming. I am a stranger to all of these people. I am not a member of their tribe or of their culture. They follow the biblical injunction to welcome the alien in their midst.
I wonder why they do all of this for us. I imagine that partly it is simply part of their heritage. Many traditional cultures place great emphasis on hospitality. Modern society has somehow lost that.
I think their enthusiasm is also a result of our mission as walkers. Our journey across America to send a message to the U.S. government regarding the suffering of the indigenous peoples resonates with the folks living on the reservations. We speak to their concerns: the drugs, the booze, the violence. They find hope in what we are do. Somehow we inspire them, and they respond to that by caring for us.
The people here believe that the walkers are making a sacrifice by making this long trek. There might be some truth to that. We are nomadic. We are traveling light. Even so, our vehicles resembled a gypsy caravan going down I-5. We are away from our families and friends, and we miss them. None of us is currently earning a paycheck, so there are economic costs involved in this enterprise. Our families also endure some pain while we are gone. They have to make up for us, and for some families that is a real struggle. We are on an adventure, and adventures come at a price.
I am meeting many new people. I like that. Most of them I will never see again, and that makes me sad. The nature of our journey makes it impossible to develop relationships with more than a few people. There just isn’t enough time to really get to know anybody. Conversations tend to be brief, although I have had some discussions that moved my spirit In just these few days, I have already forgotten some people, and no doubt they have forgotten me. That is still okay. We have affected each other’s lives in small ways. That is all we can do.