Honoring Our Tribal Elders: Shoalwater Bay Tribal Elder Patsy Sanchez, 1932-2014.
by Misty Ellingburg
Birth place: Tahola, Washington
Interesting Fact: Belongs to the 1911 Shaker Church
Favorite Color: Blue
Wisdom for Tribal Children: “Find rejuvenation in the wisdom of the Elders.
There’s such a thing as chance or choice. You have a choice to do what’s right, or the chance to not do it.”
When Keven Shipman and I entered Patricia Sanchez’s home to interview her, we were amazed by the beautiful gifts which lined her walls. Many people have given Patsy gifts of beadwork, necklaces, and Tribal art to show honor and respect for her. It’s easy to see why she’s so well-loved by people both on and off the reservation: there is warmth that emanates from her heart. Patsy is always open to meet with her family members and pray for them. In fact, Patsy spends much of her time praying for the reservation and the children.
Patsy remembered being a child on the reservation. “It was very protective,” she says. “You never had to worry about anything. One thing about them days: the older ones always helped take care of the younger ones. Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes, you are.” Patsy was also at home in Bay Center, where her parents lived off and on for many years, traversing between Bay Center and Tahola.
Patsy had two sisters and two brothers, and they lived in a home that was very much connected with its Indian roots. Her mother Nina spoke many Native languages fluently, and switched easily between English and several Coastal languages. “My mother told me, she said, ‘If you want to speak Indian, speak it good. If you want to speak white man language, you speak that good, too.” Patsy remembers that it was difficult to live in the two worlds of Native American and colonizer. “We’d get our hands spanked with rulers and anything else if we spoke any Indian at all.”
She attended school in Tahola, and spent second grade in Quinault. Following that, her family moved to Seattle, though they didn’t stay long. “You just can’t adapt,” she explained. “You can’t adapt.”
When Patsy was fifteen years old, she married Walter Bailey, an eighteen-year-old school mate and member of the Air Force. She was married on March 1st, 1948, and on March 3rd, 1949, they had their first child. Eventually, Patsy and Walter parted ways, and Patsy married Louie Sanchez, a New Yorker who worked both for the Post Office and as a Chiropractor. They had three children and moved to Yuma, Arizona in 1968, and then to Olympia, Washington.
Even while Patsy sojourned away from the reservation, she always came back to Shoalwater Bay to visit her family members. Now she lives on the reservation in a beautiful home near the gym and Tribal center. How does she feel about living on the reservation?” Keven asked her. “I’m home,” Patsy said definitively.
Patsy belongs to the Shaker faith, and has had an altar in her home for her entire life. When I asked her to explain what it means to be a Shaker, she replied, “We always had an altar, and we always had it lit. The mother church is in Mud Bay. John Slocum was the one that brought it to the Indians. He was dead for three days and then he came back and said, ‘When I was in heaven I was sent back to Earth because we’ve got to have a Shaker faith. And that was when it started, and that was 1911.”
Patsy explained that she is a 1911 Shaker, and her children are modern Shakers. The difference? “I’ve got my Bibles on the altar, but I don’t read them. The children read them though, so they’re modern Shakers.” The idea is that the Shakers have an experience with Jesus, and he works with them directly, eliminating the need for a Bible. “He’s my Master,” Patsy said of Jesus, smiling as she always does when she speaks.
Patsy remains a great leader at Shoalwater Bay. She believes that our people must maintain their connection with their Elders, because the Elders are the heartstrings of the Tribe. “I do a lot of praying for the next generation. We need leadership,” she said, and then she told us a story.
“When we had a Tsunami warning here, they said, ‘Come on, Auntie, you’ve gotta get out of here.’ and I said, ‘I’m not leaving. I’m going to stay right here. The Master wants to take me home, well here I am.’ And David Anderson said, ‘Well, you’re going to stay here, I’ll stay right here with you.” She smiled at me as she spoke, elucidating the real heart of the reservation in her simple, but beautiful story. “It was the only place that was really safe,” she explained. “Five or six kids ended up coming over. There was David, and then there was John’s two boys, and there was Tasha. They knew they were going to be safe.”
“They still had that connection,” Keven said, “And it’s something to build on.”
Patsy nodded. “We said a prayer, then we had lunch, then we just sat around and played games. Then the whistle went off, and the Tsunami warning was all done.”
Keven understood exactly what Patsy meant. “Every time I come, it seems like I’m feeling a little bit down. But it always strengthens…”
“This has been a center, and it’s a powerful center for the reservation.”
“That’s good,” Patsy said, a glowingly beautiful smile on her face.
“Well,” Keven said, “It helps me anyway.”
It helped me, too. I had been feeling sick when I went to Patsy’s home, and by the time I left, my sickness had been healed, and I greeted the afternoon with new strength.