Marc Dadigan
Kayla Godowa-Tufti smokes tobacco June 22 on the shores of Waldo Lake, the ancestral homeland of her great-great grandfather and his people, the Chakgeenki-Tufti Band of the Mollalish. Located in the western slopes of the Cascades, Waldo Lake is believed to be one of the purest lakes in the world. Tufti was among several Oregon advocates who successfully lobbied the state to ban motorboats and floatplanes at the lake to protect its world-renowned water quality.

Protect the Drinkable Water of Waldo Lake

Marc Dadigan

When Kayla Godowa-Tufti, of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, recently testified before the Oregon State Marine Board, she brought with her a bottle of water from Waldo Lake and took a sip.

“I told them I still drink it, straight out of the lake,” said Godowa-Tufti, 24. “I gather it and gift the water to people. It’s part of our tradition to pray for water and honor it. Reconnecting to the lake has been a big part of personal healing for me.”

The hearing was focused on a proposed ban on the use of motorboats and floatplanes at the lake, which is located in the western slopes of Oregon’s Cascades and is considered one of the most pristine freshwater bodies in the world. The lake is so pure the U.S. Forest Service compares its water chemistry to distilled water, and almost 120-foot deep vertiginous views to the lake’s bottom can be seen from a canoe.

“With fracking and tar sands, there are so few lakes that are drinkable any more, and the water is so clear that when you’re on the dock you feel like you’re flying,” Godowa-Tufti said. “People who go there have an emotional connection to it. To me, all these are reasons why the lake is sacred.”

This May, the Oregon state legislature passed the ban against the use of motorboats and floatplanes at Waldo Lake, a significant victory in protecting the waters from oil leaks and other pollutants. Godowa-Tufti’s advocacy for the ban also represented the first steps in her journey to reconnect to an ancestral site and repair a cultural fabric that had been ripped apart by removal and assimilation polices.

Waldo Lake is the homeland of the Chagneenkni-Tufti Band of the Mollalish Indians, migratory people who gathered and held ceremonies honoring the huckleberries that grow on the lake’s shores. Godowa-Tufti’s great-great grandfather Charlie Tufti is credited by western historians with “discovering” Waldo Lake, and historical records of his life have given Godowa-Tufti a window into her family’s connection to the lake.

Many of the Molallish people were rounded up during the 19th century and sent far from their homeland to the Umpqua reservation and later to the Grand Ronde reservation, Godowa-Tufti said.

Though the Chagneenkni-Tufti people, due to their location high in the Cascades, avoided this fate longer than most, records indicate Charlie Tufti was eventually sold by his aunts to white settlers as they were being relocated, Godowa-Tufti said. Because of this he was able to make a donation land claim—probably because the government thought he was white when looking at his paperwork, she said. He later met a Wasco leader, Lucy Smith, and moved to Warm Springs to marry her.

The dislocation continued into the 20th century when 61 tribes were terminated by the Western Oregon Indian Termination Act of 1954, leading to the breakup of many Indian families. Godowa-Tufti’s mother was adopted by a white family near Eugene, and this also led to Godowa-Tufti being raised off the reservation.

“Part of de-colonizing my own life is to spend more time at the lake and being a descendent, I have an obligation to protect those places,” she said. “I like to go up there and prayer, and collect water to gift to people. That’s a tradition that’s dormant, the bringing of water from the highlands to the lowlands and pouring it into the waterways that need healing.”

Godowa-Tufti believes the cultural knowledge about Waldo Lake isn’t “lost” but simply waiting to be rediscovered. Since she began asking him questions about Waldo Lake, her 81-year-old grandfather has shared some of the history and other stories with her. She also believes that studying the language of her ancestors—her family started speaking Wasco when they were moved to Warm Springs—may unearth more of the mysteries of the lake.

"We have something called 'Tmanwit', our unwritten law, that says the creator placed us in this land and gave us the voice of the land," she said. “We are the caretakers of this land, and regardless of the [U.S.] laws in this place, we are obliged to uphold the unwritten laws of our people.”

Now, during National Sacred Places Prayer Days, is a good time to think about ways you can protect Waldo Lake and the many other sacred places across Turtle Island.

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Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
Native people have lost so much through being hauled off of our original lands & raised by those who knew nothing of our ways. To be raised as one group when our bloodlines are something else is wrong. It leaves an empty space in our spirit that can only be healed when we return to the ways of the ancestors, learning all we can for as long as we walk in this realm. So many like myself, discovered that the emptiness we had inside was because our true identities were kept from us by our old ones for one reason or another. As I discovered in finding out who my people were, it wasn't kept from us because these old ones were ashamed of who we really were, but because of the harm many times our people were subjected to in those long ago times if it became found out. They did it for protection & to keep from being killed in those times. Once someone finds out the truth of who their people really are, I found peace was returned to my spirit. No more shall the truth be kept from future generations of my relations. My family is proud of those ancestors & we do not live in fear of what others think or may say. We hold our heads up high & wear anything we like that says we are PROUD to be First Nations people! It brings me pride in a good way when my child who wears their hair long & wears certain regalia, tell others who they are & that they are PROUD of being from the tribes of our ancestors. Now to get the rest of our people to let their children's hair grow long instead of telling them they look like girls. This is wrong & should not be. Stop incorporating the washichu way of dressing & wearing your hair people! Stop looking like washichu rednecks! Wear that hair long & wear it proud just as the ancestors did! Those of you out here who DO allow those kids to wear that hair long & proud; I am proud of you for not caving to the ways of those who embrace the white peoples culture & their christian nonsense. Don't deny who you are & who your children are. Wear it with pride & honor in a good way that pleases the Great Spirit. I have never been happier than since the day I started living the truth. I could care less what those who have embrased the white christian culture think about me & mine. We answer to no one by the Creator. Be First Nations people 24/7/365 my friends. Be proud of who you are in a good way that pleases Man Above. Blessings, peace & protection to each of you & those you love my friends...............