The Salt Song Trail Project
These songs are very powerful. They are the songs that are going to unite our people again. It's going to be a spiritual awakening of the Native American people, especially other Paiute people. It has to happen. It has been prophesized. How do you stop prophecy? You can't stop prophecy.
- Vivienne Jake (Kaibab Paiute), co-founder, The Salt Song Trail Project.
We have had the honor and privilege of working with the Salt Song Trail Project’s co-founders and co-directors Vivienne Jake (Kaibab Paiute) and Matthew Leivas, Sr. (Chemehuevi), whose vision has been to preserve and revitalize the Salt Songs (Asi Huviav Puruakain) of the Southern Paiute (Nuwuvi) people. The Salt Songs are the sacred songs of the Nuwuvi and are used at memorial and other ceremonies, for cultural revitalization and as a spiritual bond for the Southern Paiute people living in the Southwest. The songs describe a physical and spiritual landscape of the Colorado Plateau, painted deserts and river valleys, and the Salt Song Trail traces the journeys of ancestral peoples to historic, spiritual and sacred sites.
The Salt Song Trail project includes original recordings of the Salt Songs for exclusive use by the Nuwuvi, two documentary films and a cultural map of the Nuwuvi’s sacred landscapes described by the Salt Songs.
In 2001, we traveled to Las Vegas, Nevada for an historic recording of the 142 song cycle with thirteen singers from thirteen Nuwuvi bands and tribes. The lead singer for the recording was 89 year old Willis Mayo (Kaibab Paiute). The recordings were provided exclusively to the singers in what we refer to as “catch and release” ethnography and all intellectual and cultural property rights are retained by the Salt Song Trail Project.
Our next collaboration with the Salt Song Trail Project was production of the 20 minute film entitled, “The Salt Song Trail – bringing creation back together,” documenting a healing ceremony at the Sherman Institute – a former Indian boarding school where Indian children where forcibly taken from their homes and forbidden to practice their traditional cultures. The singers return to the school years later to sing for the children who never came home. Singers and elders describe the meaning and importance of the songs and efforts at cultural revitalization. The original idea and content of the film was provided by the Salt Song Trail film co-directors, executive producers are Melissa Nelson (Anishinaabe/Metis) and Philip M. Klasky, directed and edited by Esther Figueroa (Juniroa Productions), with sound and music by Colin Farish (Stillwater Sound) and John-Carlos Perea (Mescalero Apache).
TRAINING THE NEXT GENERATION
Our next project included the training of Nuwuvi filmmakers Cara McCoy and Bridget Sandate in the production and post-production of the 20 minute documentary entitled “The Salt Song Trail: living documentary.” The film continues the documentation of sacred ceremonies at the site of the Stewart Indian Boarding School in Carson City Nevada where we were hosted by Linda Melero (Northern Paiute) and the Stewart Alumni Committee, and at the Old Woman Mountains, a natural and cultural reserve purchased by the Native American Land Conservancy. At the gathering at the Old Woman Mountains, the Salt Song singers invited Cahuilla Bird Song Singers to perform in recognition of their shared relationship with the cultural landscape. Additionally, we helped train and equip Kenny Anderson of the Las Vegas Paiute tribe and Gilbert Parra of the Chemehuevi tribe.
MAPPING THROUGH SONG
Our next collaboration with the Salt Song Trail Project was the creation of a map of the sacred landscape of the Nuwuvi people as described by the Salt Songs.
Storycape Project director Phil Klasky (1998 - 2008) spent three years conducting field research with over fifty Nuwuvi cultural scholars and Salt Song singers. Additional research was conducted by Melissa Nelson and layers of cartographic information was provided by the Center for Applied Studies in Anthropology at the University of Arizona, and graphic design by Phil Klasky and Dana Smith.
The Salt Songs begin their journey at Avi Nava/Ting-ai-ay (Rock House), a sacred cave at the confluence of the Bill Williams and Colorado Rivers. The songs travel north along the Colorado River to the Kaibab and Colorado Plateau, into Southern Utah, and then west to the great mountain Nuva Kaiv (Mt. Charleston) -- the place of origination of the Nuwuvi people -- and then further west to rise above the Pacific Ocean before arcing back east through the Mojave desert to their origin at Avi Nava. The ghosted arrows on the map show the direction of the songs as they travel through a physical.
Photo credits: Mateo Hinojosa, Philip M. Klasky, Melissa K. Nelson