Treyvin John’s special day started early, with a breakfast for family and friends. Then it was time to arrange the gifts inside the White Swan Indian Shaker Church on the Yakama Reservation.
With guidance from great-grandmother Ne’Sha Jackson, whose Indian name is Yowshta, the 8-year-old watched as his three older siblings placed household items and toys on four blue tarps placed on the plain wooden floor.
He would get many gifts on this day, April 24, when he received his Indian name in a nearly three-hour-long ceremony his family had planned for about two years.
His name — Hawlaak Kussi — is Ichiskíin for Spirit Horse. Also known as Sahaptin, Ichiskíin is the language spoken by the Yakama people in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
“A good name is better to receive than anything else,” said Stan Andy. It’s important to have that Indian name, others said, because that’s how you get into heaven and reunite with your family. The Creator will ask for that name.
Treyvin’s family wanted to hold the ceremony in the spring of 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed it. Traditional gatherings like this haven’t happened in the usual way for many months as tribal citizens have done what they can to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
COVID-19 has severely limited such important tribal gatherings and ceremonies as many families have struggled with the loss of beloved relatives, illness and the long-term effects of the coronavirus. As of Friday, 51 tribal citizens had died due to the coronavirus, among them numerous elders.
“We’re losing our culture. We’re losing our language,” Jackson said. She worked as a traditional court myuux’ (judge) for many years and speaks Ichiskíin fluently. “I’m very happy to see all the children here today.”
Attendance at the name-giving ceremony wasn’t as large as it might have been, and guests took precautions. Most of the women in the pews on one side of the church wore masks, as did most of the men on the other side. Many sitting on benches against the two long outer walls did the same.
“My heart is really glad to get this finally done,” said Jackson, who had already given Treyvin’s three older siblings their Indian names, with Treyvin’s the last she planned to give.
“A couple of years ago, my daughter came and asked if it would be OK if we brought back my older son’s name,” Jackson said. His name was Morris Steven Stahi, but relatives and friends called him Kussi — Horse or Horsey. Stahi died in 2011.
“The most important thing about him was that he loved and cherished everything he got. Use it, keep it close. He would like you to do that,” Jackson told Treyvin early in the ceremony, which began with prayers and songs. She sat next to Treyvin as he sat on the chair covered with blankets. Treyvin wore moccasins, chaps, a breech cloth and a ribbon shirt, a beaded medallion and other regalia and a scarf on his head. Kussi often wore a scarf like that.
His grandmother, Leona John, has raised Treyvin since he was 18 months old. Her Indian name is Tun’pum.
It’s very hard to lose a child, Jackson said. But it was good to see her son’s name come back and for others to share that joy.
“You that are here today, I am very thankful,” Jackson said. She encouraged everyone to stay for lunch after the ceremony.
Jackson called some elders to speak, including Ted Strong, a cousin who is more like a brother.
“We do the best we can to support each other, especially on a day like this. It’s once in a lifetime,” Strong said. “From this day on, he will grow in dignity. He will become stronger.
“This young man’s got a long road to walk. We want to help encourage him to walk that right road.”
Strong mentioned the scourges of drugs and alcohol. “All around us there is violence. There are gangs,” Strong said. But he is proud of what Jackson does to continue traditions and was happy to attend the ceremony and join others in showing his support for Treyvin.
“On this day, Treyvin has a brand new time in life. ... Perhaps someday he’ll have that horse that is talked about in his name,” he said.
It takes time to prepare adequately for a name-giving ceremony by gathering gifts, saving money and arranging for meals. It’s a lot of work and must be done with the right mindset. “When we’re getting this ready, we can’t have bad words,” Jackson said.
His great-grandmother called every guest to where she and Treyvin sat. Early in the exchange of gifts, Treyvin presented each of three elder women with a large wa’paas, which is a traditional cylindrical basket, and a kupen — a long root-digging tool.
Guests introduced themselves, many sharing their own traditional names, and showed what they brought for Treyvin. Each shook his hand. Many gave him cash and said a few words about him. The four cooks were introduced and also received gifts.
“This young man here is going to do a good job,” Regina Jerry said.
After distributing all the items around him, Treyvin watched as guests surrounded the household items and toys on the tarps, then quickly took what they could, including the tarps. Once the floor was clear, children gathered in a circle around a scattering of dollar bills, rushing in to grab what bills they could.
At the end of the ceremony, Treyvin presented another boy with his leggings, ribbon shirt, beaded medallion and other regalia. He and his family thanked everybody for coming.
He sat solemnly through most of the ceremony, saying little. That briefly changed when Treyvin received a gift from his great-grandma, who had gotten it after a raffle. Treyvin and his siblings all wanted it. They argued so much about it that she put it away with a challenge that all the kids needed to be good and she would choose who had done the most to earn it.
Treyvin had perfect attendance in school. That decided it for his great-grandma, and he held up the gift for all to see.
“I got the drone!” he shouted.
This story has been updated.