KLPZ’s Bill Risen honored by family of code talker

On Saturday November 12, 2011, I had the opportunity to M/C the Veterans Day parade with Keith Moses from BlueWater Cinemas. I then went to the BlueWater Casino where I was the featured speaker for the event. After my presentation, the family of Thomas Claw, Navajo Code Talker made a presentation to me of a Pendleton Code Talker Blanket. It was presented to me for my dedication to the American soldier and my show on KLPZ 1380am The Ultimate Sacrifice. One of my shows on The Ultimate Sacrifice was dedicated to the Thomas Claw and the Navajo Code Talkers. I was able to have part of the story told in Navajo.

I have to say that if it were not for Keith and Juanita owners of KLPZ the Ultimate Sacrifice would not be possible. In a day of political correctness I have never been questioned or had one of my shows censored. Keith and Juanita were willing to take a chance with me.

After hundreds of shows of which many came from my brother Bob, Peter Cummings and Jackie Yarbrough and many others as well as Barbara my proof reader, I must say thank you to all that have contributed to The Ultimate Sacrifice. The gift of the blanket reflects your contributions and support of our Military. Thank you all for your assistance over the years.

Read on for some more details on these special blankets.

Piled nearly head-high, these blankets, so thick, so soft, so brilliantly colored, ignite a rummaging instinct.

Hands rooting, heads down, conversation muted, shoppers — middle-aged white folks, New Agers, Indian people, snowy-haired retirees, the gamut — search the stacks with intensity.

On any given day, license plates on cars and tour buses from seven states can be seen in the parking lot of this store at Pendleton Woolen Mills in Pendleton, Ore. With customers from the longhouse to the clubhouse, few companies have earned such broad and deep loyalty. And one of the icons they seek is the Pendleton Indian trade blanket.

Still made entirely in the Northwest, as it has been for 95 years, the blanket has cult status among collectors, especially Indian people, the company’s first customers. When the early white traders came calling, their woolen blankets were among the few items that were actually high quality; their patterns were even created to appeal to Indian tastes.

Pendleton started its trade in Indian blankets in 1909 with the tribes of Eastern Oregon, and the blankets’ popularity quickly spread. While other manufacturers of woolen trade blankets have come and gone in the Northwest, only one, Pendleton, remains.

And Native people buy more than half of the Indian blankets Pendleton sells. If it matters in Indian Country, it is celebrated with the gift of a blanket. And a Pendleton is the one everyone wants — despite its three-figure retail price.

But why blankets? And why Pendletons? These are questions that, among Indian people, always seem to astound.

“It is part of our cultural tradition,” says Laverne Wyaco, a Navajo from Window Rock, Ariz., pulling a purple Pendleton from the stack. In town for a conference, “I had to come to the Pendleton store.

“We save up, pawn our jewelry, they are that important,” Wyaco says. “When we have a ceremony, we have to wrap ourselves in a Pendleton, not a jacket. And it has to be a Pendleton. It’s better quality.”

The tradition is rooted just as deeply among Northwest tribes, where “a Pendleton” is synonymous with a blanket.

Each year when the Muckleshoot tribe holds a ceremony to celebrate the graduation of its kids from high school, every graduate is given a Pendleton. When the Skokomish people wanted to honor Indian elders for preserving Native languages, every elder was folded in the soft embrace of a Pendleton. And at a Tulalip ceremony in his honor, Democratic State Rep. John McCoy of Marysville, the first Washington tribal member in decades to serve in the Legislature, was wrapped in a chief’s robe, a premium Pendleton bright as a longhouse fire.

Among Indian people, the importance of blankets dates back to when “a blanket could mean life or death,” says Bruce Miller, a cultural and spiritual leader of the Skokomish tribe.

Robes from sea-otter pelts and buffalo skin, and blankets woven from mountain goat or dog hair were used before traders began arriving with wool blankets.

Warm even when wet, the woolen blankets were prized not only for their beauty but for cutting the damp, Northwest chill that leaked into uninsulated longhouses.

The blankets became a form of wealth, given in potlatch ceremonies, and used in trade and pawn.

The tribes? Some now operate casinos big as international airports. But the simple gift of an Indian trade blanket still has special meaning.

“When you cover someone with a blanket,” Miller says, “you cover them symbolically with love.”

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