Chemiwai Singers

Chemewa Indian School, Oregon

Canyon Records
The Chemiwai Singers: Fred Hill - Lead Singer, Yakima-Umatilla, Kevin Albert - Yakima, Mike Gomez - Hopi-Warm Springs, Roy Heath - Wasco-Warm Springs, Lyle James - Nespeiem, Reggie Johnson - Yakima, Karen Osborne - Shoshone-Bannock, Raymond Paul - Yakima, Leroy B. Selam - Yakima (Advisor to the club)

Our singers attend the Chemawa Indian School, the oldest Indian boarding school in the United States. Students come to this institution from Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Oregon.

The school is located near the city of Sale, capital of the state of Oregon. Chemawa was once a place where a large number of Indians lived and gathered together for meetings and ceremonials.

The name Chemawa is derived from Chem-ah-wah, or Chem-i-wai, meaning "the gathering place for peace and happiness". The people who once lived in this area were called Chemiwai-pum, the "peaceful people". Ultimately, these people were to be totally eliminated by early conquerors and by being given blankets which carried smallpox.

Chemawa Indian School's location has always been a place of education in the memories of our elder tribal members. The leaders and orators of the tribes who came to Chemiwai would speak, and all would listen and learn.

Classes were first held at the present Chemawa Indian School in February, 1880, and were originally taught by military personnel. The old school was built by the local Indians supervised by armed soldiers. Barracks, dining hall, officers' quarters, and a barn for horses and livestock were constructed.

The students who now come to this school are leaving behind their families, relatives and friends; they also leave their way of life, including their songs, dances and language. This in itself is a sacrifice. Although the young men and women of Chemawa are being educated in the white man's way they are also striving as best they can to retain their culture. One such way is thorough formation of an Indian club called "The Northwest Indian Cultural Explorers". From this group the Chemiwai Singers have emerged and become known throughout the Northwest. These singers frequently attend pow wows and conferences in the states of Oregon and Washington.

There is a lot of discipline in traditional Indian singing. One must learn to control the voice while beating the drum. In addition, there are may different kinds of songs to be sung. In this recording we have concentrated on the ceremonial slow war dance songs where voice quality is the primary concern along the deep sounding drum. The voice and drum complement each other. All of these songs were composed by Chemiwai Singers.

Play song


Performed by


Native Words



Chemiwai Honor Song To Honor our graduating seniors
Naxsh-ko-Paxaat-ko-Chow-tun 1-5-0, an old all night song
Chemiwai-pum Dedicated to a lost people destroyed by White man
Celilo Falls Echo of the water upon rocks, a fishing place
Chemawa Indian School War dance for education
Wal-lumte' Valley of blue green water, Willamette Valley
Sweet, Sweet Grass From which our brothers the deer eat.
Ayi-yat Ti-chum Beautiful Mother Earth
Stampede Thunder Of Hoofs In memory of Buffalo