What’s in a name?
William Shakespeare famously questioned whether names mean anything, whether a rose by another name would smell as sweet. For Quinault elder Phil Martin, the answer is clear: names are important, they carry weight.
For Martin, the name Hunishu is a reminder and a symbol of the past — as well as a symbol of hope for the future. Martin was given the name Hunishu, traditionally spelled “Haynisisoos,” in 1937 as a young boy living in Queets. He doesn’t remember much about the ceremony, but a tribal elder told him about it later.
“We were in a long house with fires burning in the middle, and three or four other children were getting their Indian names, too,” Martin said. “Our parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts stood up and announced our names and witnessed them. Then they threw us back and forth across the fire.”
“This elder woman told me that I was not happy,” Martin said. “I was screaming the whole time. But she said that was OK — the other kids were screaming, too. Of course we were, we were scared out of our minds!”
A loss of culture
A lot has changed on the Quinault Indian Reservation since Martin was a child, since long houses were simply called “houses” and extended families lived under one roof, since the days when Quinault men would paddle into the ocean and hunt seals.
He was born in 1930, six years after the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, in which Congress granted U.S. citizenship to Native Americans living on reservations across the country.
“We always said that we should have given Congress citizenship because we were here first,” Martin said.
Martin remembers children being taken from where he grew up in Queets and Taholah boarding schools. During that same era, longhouses were burned to the ground and deemed “evil,” Martin said.
“But they weren’t evil — they were where we lived, where we ate,” Martin said. “We were punished for speaking our language, so my dad never taught me how to do it.”
But Martin was able to retain some culture that younger generations of the Quinault Indian Nation never got to experience. He learned a great deal from his uncle Henry, for whom Martin was given the name Hunishu. And as a child, he ate both seal and whale — something tribes will likely never do again.
One of Martin’s favorite childhood stories is about a seal hunting trip. He was too young to accompany the men who left from Taholah and paddled 30 miles out to sea, but he remembers seeing the men pull into shore with huge seals tied to the sides of their boats.
That evening, members of the tribes carved the seals and divided the meat, carrying pieces of seal home in buckets and sacks.
“Everyone loved it, or at least I think they did,” Martin said. “I can’t remember what it tasted like. But those seals were picked clean.”
“That’s the way we lived for hundreds of years, living off the ocean and the river,” he continued. “If one family had something, like smelts or seal meat, they would share it. Or we’d have a big gathering and you would leave, and there would be no food left on the table.”
A revival of tradition
It’s not that Martin doesn’t embrace some of the conveniences of modern American culture. He and his wife, Lynnell Watt-Martin, live in a comfortable house in Pacific Beach that’s decorated with artwork by the late Randy Capoeman. He spoils his dog Regina, and he drives a shiny, red pickup truck.
“We’ve had a lot of improvements, that’s for sure,” Martin said. “But with improvements come some faults.”
And the biggest fault, Martin said, is losing the Quinault culture. But he’s spent much of his adult life working to make sure certain aspects of the culture are revived — such as canoe carving, language and songs.
He said one of the Quinault Indian Nation’s biggest cultural accomplishments in recent years was re-learning the art of carving ocean canoes like the ones used in the Paddle to Quinault earlier this month. The tribe started the process of learning how to carve again in 1994 when Guy Capoeman carved the Maylee from a huge cedar log.
Martin said the decision to carve the canoe was controversial. Some members of the Quinault Tribal Council, on which Martin served for about 30 years, were against it, arguing that the carvers, “didn’t know what they were doing.”
But the project was successful and the tribe carved about 10 canoes over the course of eight months to give to other tribes visiting for the Paddle to Quinault.
“We’re slowly increasing the size of the canoe fleet,” Martin said. “It’s brought back a part of our culture that we didn’t have for a while. But like any progress, it was controversial and political.”
He also captained a boat of women pullers during the 1989 Paddle to Seattle, the event created by Quinault elder Emmett Oliver that revitalized canoe journeys and potlatches for tribes in the western United States.
To honor his commitment to tribal culture, the Quinault Indian Nation recently re-named Point Grenville, located south of Taholah, Hunishu Point. Martin said he’d been encouraging the tribal council to give the point an Indian name for several years, and they decided to name it after him.
Martin said Hunishu Point holds a great deal of cultural and spiritual significance for the tribe. The sun lines up with the end of the point at sunset on both the spring and autumn equinox, and Quinault ancestors defended their land from Spanish invaders on the beach south of the point.
“The Spanish came ashore, put up a cross and tried to claim the beach,” Martin said. “So the Quinaults fought them off and killed a few. I think it was called a massacre in the history books, but they were just defending their people.”
The Paddle to Quinault was hosted at the point, and Martin was honored during the totem pole dedication ceremony and at the potlatch.
“It was a pretty proud day for me,” Martin said.
Surrounded by love
The 82-year-old certainly doesn’t have a shortage of love and respect. He and his late wife, Rose Martin, raised eight children together, and Martin has several grandchildren and a few great-grandchildren.
And although his current wife likes to call him stubborn, she said no one in their community has anything bad to say about him.
“He was in the hospital after having brain surgery and woke up to 35 family members standing over him,” Watts-Martin said. “That’s how loved he is.”
Amelia Dickson, a Daily World writer, can be reached at 537-3936, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.