October 21, 2006
By Jane Gargas
Every image, word and stanza reflects gifts from her ancestors.
The gift of revering nature. The gift of upholding sacred beliefs. The gift of life itself.
Elizabeth Woody, an American Indian poet from Portland, will be in Yakima on Sunday. She'll discuss her book, "Seven Hands, Seven Hearts: Prose and Poetry," beginning at 1:30 p.m. in the Yakima Library Auditorium, 102 N. Third St.
Writer, poet, artist, photographer and teacher, Woody won the American Book Award for her collection, "Hand into Stone," in 1990.
A member of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs, Woody's ancestry includes Navajo, Warm Springs, Wasco and Yakama.
"I'm a proud descendant of a people who were the most prolific, artistic intellects in the Columbia River region," she says.
Woody, 46, is director of the indigenous leadership program at Ecotrust, a nonprofit economic and environmental organization in Portland.
In "Hands in Stone," which has been republished with new prose and poetry as "Seven Hands, Seven Hearts," she explores the impact of hydroelectric dams built on the Columbia River, particularly the loss of Celilo Falls, the historic tribal fishing grounds covered when The Dalles Dam was erected in 1957.
Celilo is significant to Woody partly because her grandfather Lewis Pitt, a Yakama, fished at Celilo.
Raised in Central Oregon, Woody received the Oregon High School Writers Award for poetry. That spurred her on to study writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., and The Evergreen State College in Olympia, where she earned an English degree.
Woody says that her outlook has been keenly affected by her upbringing.
"The Plateau peoples (in the Columbia River region) had a profound way of managing forests and water and looking at time and people," she says.
In addition to her poetry, Woody writes fiction and essays. She also paints and does basketry, photography and beadwork.
Woody next intends to write on the spiritual aspects of water, continuing to contemplate her role as an Indian woman and writer.
But, she says, "I don't represent my people.
"I represent the intellect and information I was given. What I try to do is make order of it and inspire people."