We first met John Talley at an Eastside Portland coffee shop. He was sitting one table away and couldn’t help overhearing ‘Iokepa speaking with an old friend. John was intrigued by what he heard, introduced himself, and apologized for eavesdropping. ‘Iokepa, for his part, was drawn immediately to the seventy-six-year-old Iroquois with the powerful face – etched deeply along strong native features – and the gentle voice. They agreed to meet again.
‘Iokepa arrived at that meeting with a packet of sea salt, harvested from Kaheka – the Salt Pans on Kaua’i. The Salt Pans are a rare geological phenomenon, but they are more. Sea salt has been harvested there under the strictest of ancient ritual and tradition, by the same native families for thousands of years. Salt was, and is, a vital part of Hawaiian life.
“I bring you an offering,” ‘Iokepa said to John. “We’re walking now on your land and the land of your ancestors. For thousands of years my ancestors voyaged here to integrate with your people – never to teach them, never to change them.”
John said, “The Indian and the Hawaiian message is much the same. The details vary. The needs of our people are the same.”
The common ground was fertile.
John Talley’s native name is Talks on the Wind. “I see changing winds. I see growth in our native peoples – finding their way back.”
'Iokepa answered, “In the Hawaiian language, we have 160 words for the wind; each one speaks to a subtle difference. The wind blows through you, like a ticker-tape full of knowledge. Our work is about change.”
John added, “And the simpler your lifestyle, the less likely you’ll be crushed by the winds of change.”
For thirty-two years, John Talley produced an Oregon radio show called Indian World. (“We were trailblazers.”) He invited ‘Iokepa to be the featured guest on his show. John introduced ‘Iokepa to his listeners like this. “Hear this man, my brothers and sisters, because his people have been through the same oppression we have. The fortunes of war have brought a lot of people under the flag who never asked to be brought there. It’s something American Indians know well.”
‘Iokepa spoke. “In my culture we have answers to questions that plague the world today. It’s about remembering how to ask – and how to listen for the answer. In the Hawaiian language, there are 138 words for the rain. Knowing the differences between each wind and each rain was about survival. Three thousand miles out in the Pacific, you had to know.
“At the end of each day that you were given breath, you offered gratitude. That gratitude became ritual and ceremony.”
John answered. “I’m so glad that you spoke that way. There is something very disturbing about some in the American Indian community selling ceremony. It’s very wrong! Performing ceremony is fine – but selling it . . . never.”
‘Iokepa said, “All people have birth knowledge – ‘ike hānau. Our work is to bring us back to the things we already know but may have abandoned.”
John responded, “My grandmother said the same thing: ‘We’re born with all the knowledge in the universe, and then the world tramples us down.’”
‘Iokepa: “And yet we all have an immense genealogy to draw upon. It’s time to speak out. We have to be heard. We must come together to heal ourselves and to heal this Earth.”
John spoke of the pain and the confusion. “There are times I don’t see that mountain out there for months. It’s hidden behind the clouds. But it’s there whether I see it or not. The solutions are sometimes not visible for the clouds. But the solutions are there.”
‘Iokepa spoke of the healing. “The indigenous peoples knew that they were not separate from all living things. But we no longer live with the elements – we live against them. Our ancestors named their children after the elements; the names spoke of his or her destiny. Each of us has unique gifts. We must honor one another for those gifts.
‘Iokepa: “And we need to use our gifts. We look up at the sky and we think we’re so small – too small to make a difference. But we’re all part of the universe, and we must accept our part. Too often, we listen only to other people’s words – written or spoken. We must listen to our own.”