Starting the new year with peace

Blessings and prayers for peace were offered at the ceremonial fire at the Yachats Commons on New Year’s Day. (Photos by Cheri Brubaker)

Yachats peace event builds on experience of profound remorse

Though predicted bad weather canceled the official hike along the Amanda Trail, the 10th Annual New Year’s Day Peace event at the commons was well-attended. All of the seats were filled as Yachats residents and visitors gathered in a circle around Yellow Bear, the Yachats community drum.

“It’s an honor to be here with the people of Yachats,” said Doc Slyter of the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua & Siuslaw Indians, noting their positive energy.

Slyter then solemnly recalled the horror native people experienced in the area.

“This was a prison,” he said. “Fifty percent of our people died.”

It’s a history of America, of Yachats, that isn’t often discussed or always acknowledged.

“It is through the tribes’ and the community’s endeavors with the Amanda Trail that many have become more aware of the great need to acknowledge the wrongs of the past and to be more conscious of the need to treat people of all cultures throughout the world with honor, dignity and respect,” said Lauralee Svendsgaard as she recounted the history of the Amanda Trail.

John Sparks of Trailkeepers of Oregon recounted the mission of Fourth California Infantry Lt. Louis Herzer’s 1864 expedition out of Fort Yamhill to round up native people who had left the Coast Indian Reservation.

Sparks cited Corporal Royal Agustus Bensell’s account of an old, blind woman named Amanda De Cuys, “who had been living with a white farmer and had by him a daughter, then perhaps eight years old. Despite this association, Amanda was seized, and the march northwards to the Alsea River, at present-day Yachats, commenced."

“And a trying journey it was,” recounted Sparks in Amanda’s Trail and the Forced Relocation of Oregon Peoples. "Many of the women and children in the party dropped of exhaustion at times."

“The Amanda’s Trail thus commemorates not just the blind Coos woman who is mentioned in a corporal’s diary, but the systematic annihilation of cultures and ways of life,” Sparks wrote. “In a small way, it is these lost heritages that this path through the coastal woods invites us to reflect upon.”

A drum ceremony set the mood, with the community members joining together taking turns sitting before Yellow Bear, dancing, singing, praying and moving in a clockwise circle.

There was a silent procession through the trees to the fire circle. Cedar was burned and blessings were made. There was music, remembrance, understanding and hope.

Svengaard spoke of the dedication of the Amanda Trail in July, 2009: “It was at that moment, in the peace of the grotto … that we realized what we were all experiencing was. A profound awareness of remorse for the wrongs that had been perpetrated in the past, as well as recognition that no matter who was to blame, it fell to all of us to take responsibility to do better. That, in fact, atrocities like those faced by Amanda and her people have occurred longer than we’d like to admit, and continue to occur through the world.”

“It was from that experience that the idea of the Peace Hike was sparked,” Svengaard explained. “It would serve as a way of beginning the new year by commemorating (recalling and showing respect for) the tragic experience Amanda has come to symbolize, while making a solemn commitment by each of us to find that place of peace within us and to vow to let that power direct our actions in the new year.”

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