Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 16, 2013

Terry Wooten: Native heirlooms spark imagination

Local columnist

— When I was 6 years old Grandpa Helmboldt gave me an old Indian pipe made out of wild cherry wood. That same summer he gave me a flint spearhead he’d found in the woods on a mound north of a ghost town. He always said an inner voice told him to look down while rabbit hunting.

The pipe was older than great-grandma who could remember when Woodland Indians migrated through every spring and fall. The spearhead was from a time so long ago even Indians couldn’t remember. I could hold the sharp stone in my hand and imagine.

Grandpa’s gifts touched something he must’ve seen inside me. I’m not a pipe carrier like in the following poems, but the heirlooms affected my life and my art. Grandpa had a way of sparking my imagination that set me on a creative path. Today, the pipe and the spearhead are two of my most prized possessions.

Another Summer Solstice is close. Stone Circle begins its 30th year of poetry and song on June 22. Now is a good time to acknowledge a nature-based, holistic lifestyle.

After receiving tribal consent, J Sam II participated in my Brethren Elders Project, along with seven other community elders. The eight elders were interviewed by Brethren High School students, and the project was

sponsored by SEEDS.

All the students wrote poems from their interviews, but the three below are mine.

A big hug goes to Chelsea Hummon Nester and Ben Parsons, the Brethren SEEDS coordinators, for gathering the elders and students, and making this event happen.

Poet Bard Terry Wooten has been performing and conducting writing workshops in schools for 29 years. He is also the creator of Stone Circle, a triple ring of boulders featuring poetry, storytelling and music on his property north of Elk Rapids. Learn more at



When thunderstorms came

father put tobacco in the wood stove,

so smoke would go up

and talk to the thunder.

We are the Thunder Clan

and call thunder, “Cousin”.

We have to be nice

and make thunder feel welcome,

or it might not come back.

Father never said

he was going to do a ceremony.

He just did it.

You don’t have to preach.

Lead by example.

It’s part of how I was raised.

Jonnie got up in the morning,

walked outside

and put tobacco on the ground

thanking the world

for letting us have a day.

If something good happened,

he’d put tobacco on the ground.

Father didn’t smoke.

He just carried tobacco around.

It’s funny

how some people make a big thing

out of doing a ceremony.

Jonnie would come over

and do a ceremony for somebody.

They’d say, “When do we start?”

He’d say, “We just finished.”


Vision Quest

I grew up an Ottawa

in the Anishnabe tradition.

When a boy starts to become a man,

they go out in the woods

and fast four days.

The men take you

to a special spot,

and set you in that place.

Of course men are hidden around

to keep problems away,

and other people from sneaking

up on you.

You’re alone

during this time

listening to anything making noise;

trees, water, wind, birds and animals.

After a while you have a dream

or see a vision.

You come back

and tell some elders

what your dream was.

They help you interpret this

to pick a life path.

My dream was a giant eagle like bird

silhouetted against the sun.

Its light feathers were bright red.

The elders told me

the dream was a glorified pipe,

a sign to get me started down a

spiritual path

to learn traditional ways

so I can teach others.


Pipe Carrier

A pipe carrier provides services

to help people.

A pipe carrier is an important role.

You can’t say,

“I’m going to be a pipe carrier.”

Somebody has to give you the pipe

and ask you to carry it.

That’s a responsibility.

A pipe carrier helps others

with ceremonies and jobs.

I shared my pipe with the whole


as a tribal judge.

Some carriers today

would be called spiritual


but they’re not the only ones.

You can be anything.

There are medicine healers

and singers and drummers

that do healing songs

who don’t carry a pipe.

Some carriers do all that.

I’m the only pipe carrier of my family,

but my younger sister

was the health director

of our tribe a long time.

— Terry Wooten, inspired by interviews with J Sam II, tribal Elder from Manistee.