Recently some of the NACF staff gathered to take a little road trip to Grand Ronde, Oregon to visit the exhibit “My Father’s Father’s Sister: Our Ancestor Shimkhin” at Chachalu Museum & Cultural Center.
We were welcomed by Cultural Resources Department Manager David Harrelson and Exhibit Coordinator Lyle Cairdeas of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, who set some context about the Shimkhin exhibit and also took us through the entire cultural center.
According to curators and queer Grand Ronde community members Anthony Hudson (A.K.A. Carla Rossi) and Felix Furby, this is a first preview of a new, larger project they are launching in 2024, celebrating the respected Atfalati Kalapuya healer and trans ancestor Shimkhin who lived in the 1800s and was correctly gendered and loved by her community (and called in to dispel major bad medicine when someone needed real help).
Anthony and Felix found each other while searching for what being queer and Grand Ronde means culturally. Through their research they found Shimkhin (1821-1904), pronounced “Shim-hun” or Shum-hin”.
Anthony’s great great uncle John “Mose” Hudson (1868 – 1954) provided a first-hand account of Shimkhin from childhood. Santiam Kalapuyan language does not have gendered pronouns, nor does it use pronouns in the same way as in English.
Shimkhin had to dance on Spirit Mountain for five nights for five consecutive years to attain skiyup power. Skiyup is a witch-like spirit who wore a cedar bark dress and traveled in the air, inflicting violence on anyone who encountered it. For those who dared to attain skiyup spirit power, it offered the power to become a woman and a shaman.
For Shimkhin obtaining skiyup power was a rite of passage to become who she was meant to be – woman and a doctor.
Shimkhin had at least 4 spirit powers: skiyup power, coyote power, water power, and dead person power. The combination of these powers made her a powerful shaman and respected healer across the region.
Together Anthony and Felix have been researching and collecting historic documents and accounts and designing a space made to honor Two-Spirit history in Grand Ronde as well as LGTBQ Tribal members today. The exhibit features art work by Grand Ronde citizen Steph Littlebird and showcases several other queer or two-spirit Grand Ronde leaders and artists.
The exhibit about Shimkhin is on display now at Chachalu Museum and Cultural Center in Grand Ronde through Sept. 30, 2023.