Welcome to the Warm Springs Indian Reservation
1000 square miles of echoing canyons
Mountains, rivers, swift and deep....
As an enrolled tribal member of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, Charles Littleleaf is also an Honorary Member of the Piikani Nation in Brocket, Alberta, Canada, and son of the late Chief Jack Littleleaf. It is Warm Springs, Oregon where this where traditional artist was born. Surrounded by nature so enchanting, and land untouched, that wild horses ran free through the desert. And they still do....
Water has always been an integral part of life on the Warm Springs Reservation. There are springs bubbling up out of the earth, and rivers; the Deschutes, Shitike, and the Warm Springs River all flowing through. It seems right that Charles owes his beginning to water.
During salmon season, Charles' father, Jack Littleleaf of the Piikani Nation, left Brocket Alberta and traveled south to the ancient fishing grounds at Celilo Falls, Oregon. It was here when this champion traditional dancer and expert horseman met and wooed Charles's mother, Lolita Greeley; enrolled tribal member and resident of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation where three tribes reside: Warm Springs, Paiute, and the Wasco-Wishram. Their marriage resulted in two children. Prior to Charles' 2nd birthday, Jack Littleleaf moved back to his Canadian homeland to prepare for becoming chief to his people. Charles, his mother, and his brother stayed behind in Warm Springs. Charles never knew his father until many years later when he would visit Canada.
Reservation life was always rich in family. Everyone had many grandmothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Charles grew up surrounded by family, elders and traditional people with an abundance of knowledge, wisdom, and culture. He listened, watched and learned from them all. But there was one relative in particular who influenced Charles; one who loved and guided him, and who he developed a deep and lasting bond with.
It was Charles' great-grandmother, Sally Ike, who was a medicine woman of the Warm Springs tribe. She was a powerful force, fondly remembered as one of the founders of the Seven Drum religion. Sally plied her healing across the three tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, and further north into Canada. Up until her old age, she spent weeks at a time in the mountains gathering berries, roots and herbs. At the time of Charles' birth, she lived in a tipi along the banks of Shitike Creek in Warm Springs, with a community of other tipi people.
The poles in Sally's tipi is what formed Charles' first visual memory.
Sally taught Charles and his siblings the intricacies of traditional Warm Springs and Wasco culture. They learned reverence for all living things. Many times, wild black bears would come to their camp where Sally treated them as friends. She spoke to them in her native language, never with fear. The bears ate the mountain huckleberries around her camp and trusted in her completely. She allowed them to eat what was theirs, then shooed them away when she was ready to retire for the evenings.
Great-grandmother Sally loved Charles with all her heart. He spent more time with her than with any other family member. Charles spent hours of his young life sitting with Sally under her favorite apple tree while she sang spiritual Indian songs. These were the greatest times of Charles' childhood. He remembers many of her songs which have significantly influenced his musical style today.
Sally passed away when Charles was still very young. Indians know, often better than others, that death is not the end of life but rather a new beginning. Still, to his young mind, existence was only the here and now. Charles had difficulties with comprehending his great-great-grandmothers' passing, feeling that she had simply vanished.
Later in Years
As Charles grew older, he would always look upon Sally's apple tree and feel a sense of peace and love. During his transition growing up into a young adult, he began to understand the meaning of her absence, which led to his awareness of her spiritual presence guiding him throughout the rest of his life. As he grew to adulthood, Charles sought the peace and solitude of nature and traditional lore. Increasingly, he was drawn to the mountains where he spent time traveling on horseback hunting for deer and elk to help feed his relatives.
Eventually, Charles moved to Portland, Oregon because, like many young adults, he became curious about life off the reservation, wondering what it would be like to live in the city. Once relocated, he eventually found work as a designing engineer at a prestigious transportation corporation in Portland, while indulging himself in the makings of traditional crafts off hours.
Though he prospered in his place of employment over many years, he found that his emotional and spiritual life was suffering. He was a man caught between two cultures. Life off the reservation bore little resemblance to the traditional ways he had always known back in Warm Springs. In an effort to form a meaningful link to his culture, in his spare time, he began to visit schools; telling stories of being raised on a reservation, and teaching traditional lore. Today, Charles is also recognized as an advisor in native spirituality.
"We are gifted from our Creator only a small number of heartbeats in this lifetime. If they can beat in happiness, then we are truly living."
Charles Littleleaf quote, included in his featured article
in the Cowboys and Indians Magazine