Yakama Nation elders honored for their contributions

Four Yakama nation elders were honored at Heritage University Friday for their lifetime contributions to the Yakama people and community.

This year’s recipients are Corky Ambrose, Jerry Meninick, Phyllis Strom and Patsy Whitefoot. Meninick was recognized for his work to preserve the language and traditions of the Yakama people.

“My real job is what Jerry was describing is taking care of our people,” said Meninick.

His passion for teaching his language and culture to younger generations stemmed from one experience years ago.

“I was sitting up in the mountains for four days, no food, no water,” said Meninick.

When he was getting ready to quit, one of his elders came up to him.

“What the elder told me was, you have come face to face with the greatest challenge you have on this earth. Yourself,” said Meninick.

That elder told him how he decided to treat that challenge would stay with him for the rest of his life. After that, he noticed the pain went away, and he stayed for that final day in the mountains.

“For those few words of guidance because it has done many, many things because of those words,” said Meninick.

That drove him to the work he does today.

“And I’m thankful to elders who didn’t give up on me,” said Meninick.

He started collecting elders’ stories about the Columbia river for a preservation project with the U.S. Forest Service.

“And that land is promised to us, and it’s our job to make sure that our people get on the other side and that is a very very critical, sacred job,” said Meninick.

Governor Inslee recently appointed him as a Columbia gorge commissioner to speak on behalf of the lands of the Yakama Nation on both sides of the river.