Honoring tradition

Story by Amanda Ray and Miles J. Oliver

The long tradition of bestowing a family name upon members took place years ago for George Lee Jr., but he received another honor New Year’s Day in 2019 when his father gave him a second name — one for a warrior.

 

“Powatathla,” his father — George Lee — pronounced, explaining the spelling was phonetic, and not technically correct. His name — Powatathla — is Ichiskíin for warrior. Also known as Sahaptin, Ichiskíin is the language spoken by the Yakama people in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

 

Conferring a second name on someone who has already received a family name is not necessarily rare for the Yakama, but it’s also not necessarily common, George Lee said.

 

As a member of the Air Force, George Lee Jr. has been on seven deployments. Though he has received medals and awards, he speaks little about his service. But he wanted the naming ceremony to happen.

 

“When my son was deployed he felt like he was being protected by something or someone and he said at that time that he needed to honor those — whoever was protecting him,” the elder Lee explained. “It is kind of unusual, but in this situation it’s not.”

 

It was a day shared with another member of the Lee family. Eight-year-old Jacoby Lee received his family name. Like his uncle, the name is not spelled correctly here, but it’s the way his grandfather said it would sound when spoken.Elders of the family pick a person’s family name, Lee explained. It’s the name the Creator calls out when they die, leading them to a greater place.

 

Elders of the family pick a person’s family name, Lee explained. It’s the name the Creator calls out when they die, leading them to a greater place.

 

Lee said elders also go to the family tree of those who have passed, deciding on a good name to share.

There’s no definitive way to gauge when family names are bestowed, but the tradition is one for all involved to remember.

Jacoby Lee, 8, stands next to his uncle, George Lee Jr., before their Wa'ashat naming-ceremony at the Toppenish Longhouse on Robbins Road in Toppenish, Wash. on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019.

Family and friends gather for George Lee Jr. and 8-year-old Jacoby Lee’s Wa'ashat naming-ceremony at the Toppenish Longhouse on Robbins Road.

George Lee Jr., left, speaks to his father, George Lee, before his Wa'ashat naming-ceremony. Junior’s naming-ceremony symbolized his combat warrior name after seven deployments with the U.S. Military.

George Lee, right, helps his grandson, Jacoby Lee, 8, change into his customary regalia.

George Lee Jr. slides his moccasins on to prepare for his Wa'ashat naming-ceremony.

Makinley Lee, left, places a hat on his son, Jacoby Lee, 8, before the Wa'ashat naming-ceremony.

Jacoby Lee, 8, places a hat on his brother, Makinley Lee Jr., 4, before his Wa'ashat naming-ceremony.

George Lee begins the naming ceremony by placing a blanket on his 8-year-old grandson, Jacoby Lee.

Jacoby Lee, 8, shakes an elder’s hand during his Wa'ashat naming-ceremony.

Family and friends celebrate Jacoby Lee’s, 8, Wa'ashat naming-ceremony.

A blanket is placed on George Lee Jr. during his Wa'ashat naming-ceremony.

Friends watch George Lee Jr. during his Wa'ashat naming-ceremony.

George Lee Jr., right, shares a laugh with a friend during his Wa'ashat naming-ceremony.