Kaya and the Grandmothers

Short story collection published in 2006; author Janet Shaw; illustrators Bill Farnsworth and Susan McAliley


While exploring the woods near the camas harvest field, Kaya comes across an elderly woman who says she's looking for her cousin. Kaya knows that she shouldn't leave the woman alone, and invites her to come stay with Kaya and her family, to rest a bit before she continues searching for her cousin. The woman is closed-off at first, but relents. Kaya's father happens to have seen her cousin's family, and knows they will be arriving to the camas harvest in a day or two. Kaya enjoys listening to "Old Grandmother" tell stories, and together the two find a coyote den that Speaking Rain was sure was around; she'd heard the puppies.

Meanwhile, Kaya and Speaking Rain are walking on eggshells around each other. Speaking Rain will soon leave to spend time with White Braids, and they're both upset at themselves for being upset. Speaking Rain says that with Old Grandmother around, Kaya won't have to miss Speaking Rain, and Kaya counters that Speaking Rain doesn't care about her family anymore now that she has White Braids. Old Grandmother talks with Kaya about the coyotes, and Kaya soon catches on that Old Grandmother is using them as an analogy about the bond sisters share. Kaya and Speaking Rain make up, realizing what they knew all along: they each love many important people, but that doesn't mean they love each other any less. They enjoy the time they have before Speaking Rain leaves with some Salish traders to see White Braids.

Then it's time for the First Roots festival. Kaya watches her mother prepare for the ceremony, excited to join her when she's older. Before it starts, Old Grandmother gives Kaya her own digging stick. Kaya is moved by the gesture, and promises to use it well just as Old Grandmother had. Kaya looks at her elders around her, and thinks of Swan Circling, and promises that she'll make them all proud.

Looking Back

As a hunter-gatherer society, the Nimíipuu of Kaya's time ascribed to traditional gender roles: men were the hunters and fishermen and laborers, women were the gatherers and preparers and nurturers. But both men and women were respected, for both were necessary for a functioning society. and both men and women could be leaders. Camas bulbs were especially important, as the nutritious roots were a winter staple. The first time a girl gathered camas bulbs, she would be celebrated with a feast, during which she served the people in her camp, but she herself wouldn't eat: she was now a provider (boys had a similar ceremony when they started fishing). Today camas bulbs aren't an everyday food for most people, but many Nez Perce enjoy them on special occasions.


The camas plant was important enough to give its name to a city in southern Washington near Vancouver. One of my dad's friends works for the city of Camas in an elected position.

I guess it took a little for the camas bulbs to be ready; clearly Kaya made it back from the last story in time for the festival.

We never find out if Old Grandmother reunited with her cousin.

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