Tribal elder moderator Bobette Haskett and panelists from left, Louise Dixey, Darrell Shay, Irving Pokibro and Lionel Boyer.
By JOSEPH WADSWORTH
VIRGINIA CITY, Mont. — A panel discussion on cultural use area and gathering were conducted at the Virginia City community center Saturday, July 14, where Shoshone-Bannock tribal elders Lionel Boyer, Irving Pokibro, Louise Dixey and Darrell Shay spoke on their experiences about language and teachings they were taught.
Irving Pokibro spoke about language. He is a Bannock speaker from Fort Hall. He said there are not many Bannock speakers around anymore but back in his younger years, he lived in Lincoln Creek, “There was a lot of Bannocks that lived up there and made me feel good to talk to them, but they are all gone now.”
He said he is also forgetting his words and that it is hard to talk his language since many natives speak the Shoshone language. He has been teaching his granddaughters and the young ones the Bannock language and what he remembers.
It was Pokibro’s first time up in Virginia City, Montana but said he wanted to go up and experience what the gathering is like. He said he also attended for the first time the Fort Bridger treaty reenactment this year in Wyoming, and after attending the reenactment he started to think about the past “it is pretty sad what happened because we lost a lot of lands.”
On the way up to Virginia City he talked with his granddaughter and telling them that this all used to be native country and it was sad to look around and see many houses way up in the mountains and all over, but he was glad he came to the gathering just to see what it was like and speak about his thoughts.
Darrell Shay said the Shoshone language was his first language he learned. He was raised by his “hootsie” (paternal grandmother) who knew how to speak Shoshone, Bannock, Nez Perce and English languages — she’s seen as the matriarch in the Shay family.
He grew up on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in the Buffalo Lodge district area. He spoke about the geology of the language, “when we go out our people used to call certain areas by descriptions, take for instance Ferry Butte is known as Bohogoi (Sage Hill) and this is Shoshone language” Shay said.
He understands how Shoshone people named places because they have geological features what the mountain looks like or resembles “we never used peoples names we describe the location different these are how our people located themselves where they were at.”
He also said you can forget the language if you don’t speak it all the time. During the time of the boarding school era, native people were forced to not speak their language in school. Shay said, “Boarding school days the old people grew away from the language because they did not want their children to go through the same torment that they went through so little by little we are losing our language.”
Shay hopes whatever he has learned, he will teach and pass it on the best he can.
Lionel Boyer was raised in a Bannock household. He knew Bannock fluently as a young person then his mother and aunt plus grandfather were all killed in a train accident. So growing up, he was passed around from one house to another “Bannock language household, Shoshone language household and English household” Boyer said.
When Boyer went to public school he was always in the principal’s office for speaking his language and would get his hands slapped with a ruler because he wouldn’t speak the English language. When he was about second grade going into third grade he happened to be the most fluent English speaking student in class, he didn’t speak his language he only spoke English so that’s the way he went through public school.
Eventually Boyer went to boarding school his sophomore year. He wanted to go into the boxing program but during that time the state of Nevada stopped boxing in schools so he was stuck down in Nevada at the Stewart Indian boarding school. Boyer became vice-president of his class, as well as the chairman of the student body and was on the church choir.
After graduation from high school Lionel Boyer attended Haskell in Kansas but during the same time also volunteered to serve in the Air Force leaving school. When he returned from the service, he worked for the state and tried finding work in the federal government (telecommunications and the phone companies and electric) but nobody hired him because his qualifications as a radar technician from his years in the Air Force overqualified him for any position that he applied.
Boyer also worked for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, for farmers and ranchers. He even worked at Simplot where he learned welding, machine making and learning about chemicals.
“Simplot was a good education through my many years,” Boyer said. When he ran for tribal government he found out that he was only one of seven and when he became chairman “we got our recovery center funded taken care of, we got a new building for the Tribal Business Center, we got an Indian Health Clinic.” When Boyer then left the council he became a policy representative of the council when he traveled and represented at all federal and state meetings.
Louise Dixey spoke about the cultural use areas. She grew up in the Ross Fork district and she’s been a student of the Bannock language for 14 years. She spoke about her family history on both her mother’s side and father’s side in her Bannock language.
Dixey talked about where her family all came from — her cagoo Nettie Diggie Racehorse’s father Charlie Diggie was from the Boise Valley area and was marched out of the area when he was nine years old. Same with her husband Duke Dixey, his grandpa was six years old when he was marched out of the valley. Louise’s Togo (grandpa) John Racehorse Jr. was a full blood Bannock and his people came from the Yellowstone country in Wyoming. He talked often about the Bannock‘s that used to travel to Virginia City area and traveled over the mountains. John’s mother was a Bannock from salmon country and her maiden name was Cooperant.
Moving on to her husband and herself when they both were younger, they had common interests that were rodeos. They would travel all over together and raised their daughter’s rodeoing. Their daughters also learned how to dance and do beadwork and now that they have grandkids — they have also taught them their family ways of doing things, history and where they came from.
Dixey spoke about the Bannock‘s being 10,000 strong in the Blue Mountains. John Racehorse Sr. and his father fought in the Bannock War.
She’s done a lot of historical research. Her father‘s grandma Lizzie Randall Edmo was raised in the Blue Mountains — she was Paiute and Bannock. She taught a Swedish linguist Sven Llijeblad how to speak Bannock and he in return recorded her. It sparked an interest in Louise in high school and she did a lot of public speaking and was competitive in speech. She has written a lot of oratories about her people.
She also spoke about the Bannock‘s and Shoshone people as they traveled together for protection in order to keep them safe from their enemies, even today there has been major confrontations at various levels for the use of the land in southwest Montana.
One of Dixey's lifelong efforts is to create an atlas of Bannock and Shoshone names. She plans to continue building partnerships in Montana, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington states to tell our story and that it’s well preserved.