Tanna Engdahl: “We Absolutely Fell in Love” with the Horse

Tanna Engdahl discusses the Cowlitz connection to horses.

Bio: Tanna Engdahl is a Cowlitz Elder and spiritual leader. She is also an associate supervisor of the Clark Conservation District and a board member with the Friends of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Her past career has included work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, working as Public Affairs Chief for both NPS and Bureau of Land Management. She is the founder of the Cowlitz Medicine Women.

When the horse came into our lives around the 1700s, we absolutely fell in love with the kind of spirit that this animal brought into our world. It became part of our family. Our families and because of our prairies we were able to have herds and we developed herds. The horse, to us, is like part of our family but just two more legs than us. The kind that we could ride. And we became not only excellent horsemen, we were fantastic breeders of horses to the point where other tribes, and then non-Indians (?23:04) came to us to try and get a Cowlitz fine horse. Our horses were so well trained we could put them in canoes and take them across rivers. You know, let’s define a little bit canoes. We had every kind of canoe we could want. We had the Ferraris, we could travel fast. We had the family van where we could pack a lot of family and belongings into it. But don’t think we couldn’t build what we might call a barge and put horses on it and take them anywhere we needed to take them. We had powerful–well our bodies were–in those days we were kind of canoe-shaped. We had a good center of balance in the middle and we had powerful shoulders so we could go anywhere. We had people that understood rivers, navigation, we had people who understood stars and tides and elements of the sky people. We were in such contact and such harmony with not just the earth people but the sky people. We understood how to live on this land. And when the horse came to us we knew how to transport horses. We know how to go downstream, to go upstream. For the Columbia was not a challenge it was a joy. We would cross it at will and at need.

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