Kaya's Escape

Published in 2002; author Janet Shaw; illustrators Bill Farnsworth and Susan McAliley


It's late summer, and time to start stockpiling for winter. Kaya and her mother and older sister are picking berries (Speaking Rain is with other women at the camp weaving baskets) while the men are hunting for elk and deer, which together with the fish and vegetation will provide food for the winter. Though the work is hard under the hot sun, Kaya is happy to help provide for her family. Until she eats a few of the berries and another girl calls her Magpie again. 

But that night Kaya's troubles get much bigger than a taunting nickname. An enemy tribes raids the camp and makes off with several horses, as well as Kaya and Speaking Rain. Kaya blames herself: if she hadn't followed Swan Circling, a warrior woman, to the horses, she and Speaking Rain could have stayed hidden. The horses ride too far and too fast for Kaya to safely jump off, much less Speaking Rain.

When they reach the enemy camp, Kaya is worried. There's another captive boy there, who looks tired and beat-down. Kaya wonders if Speaking Rain will be considered too much work and that she might be abandoned to die, and makes a promise to herself to work twice as hard to make up for what her blind sister can't do. But Speaking Rain isn't useless; the women of the enemy camp soon realize that she can help with their babies and do many chores by touch. While she toils, Kaya sees some magpies and bitterly reflects that if she hadn't been so impulsive she and Speaking Rain wouldn't be in this mess. She ties a magpie feather to her belt to remind her to make better decisions.

Not long after, Kaya and Speaking Rain realize that their captors have almost as much food as their horses can carry. Soon they'll go to their winter campgrounds, even farther away. They work out a plan to escape--but Speaking Rain points out that it would be more sensible if Kaya left without her. Although Kaya is horrified at the thought, she knows Speaking Rain is right. Kaya can go faster on her own, and then bring her family back to get Speaking Rain. Using a sign language, Kaya is able to communicate with the captive boy, who is a member of the Salish tribe friendly with Kaya's, and they plan to escape together. A storm one night gives them perfect cover. Kaya cuts her bonds with a knife that Speaking Rain gets her (being blind, Speaking Rain wasn't tied up) and meets the boy, Two Hawks, in the woods. With pangs of grief at leaving behind Two Steps and her beloved sister, Kaya and Two Hawks escape. They run through the forest, but soon have difficulty. Two Hawks doesn't want to do what Kaya says, even though she has sensible ideas like being guided by the North Star and fishing for food, because he's done with being told what to do. The next day Kaya is exhausted and weak from hunger, but he insists they go on without eating. Kaya refuses and Two Hawks continues anyway. Kaya is about to just let him go when she finds the fresh body of a fawn--that means a predator is nearby. She follows after Two Hawks to warn him, just in time to see a mountain lion pouncing at him.

They're able to scare it off together, and Kaya uses some medicinal plants on the fortunately-superficial wounds Two Hawks has. They agree to work together; they're not enemies. They make good progress back toward Kaya's people (Two Hawks isn't sure if his family is even still alive and winter is too harsh to travel far). One night Kaya feels a strong spiritual presence along a trail, and holding true to her name's meaning of "She who arranges rocks" Kaya builds a cairn (a stone monument) to mark the place. She places the magpie feather in it.

Then as they're traveling, Two Hawks slips and breaks his ankle. He's not able to go very far at one time before needing to rest, and Kaya isn't strong enough to carry him. It starts to snow, and Two Hawks seems to get delirious from the pain. Kaya builds a shelter to keep them warm while they wait out the storm, so frustratingly close to her home. 

In the snow, Kaya sees the image of a woman, which turns into a wolf and trots off as if beckoning Kaya to follow. Is it a wyakin (spirit guide)? She goes after it, and it leads her to her father! He'd seen the cairn she built with the magpie feather as he was searching for her and Speaking Rain. They get Two Hawks and head back to their camp. They won't be able to look for the Salish until spring, and probably not for Speaking Rain for a while yet either, but her father is still impressed with Kaya that she escaped and made it back. Kaya keeps the vision of the wyakin to herself for now.

Looking Back

Because this is the second of the central series, the historical section talks about the education Kaya would have received growing up. She wouldn't have attended a formal school, but throughout her childhood the adults around her were teaching her. She would have been mostly taught by example and by being allowed to follow along with people older than her. Starting at about age three, she would have accompanied her mother and other women to gather roots, berries, and other plants. She would learn to identify animal tracks and signs, and to prepare food and make clothing. Exercise and cleanliness were important lessons too; Kaya would have made being active a priority, and started every day washing in a river or stream and every evening cleansing in a sweat lodge.

About fifty years after Kaya's childhood, the US government began forcing Native American children to attend boarding schools where their culture was suppressed and sometimes literally beaten out them. The children weren't allowed to have any part in their traditional way of life: everything from food to clothing to even language. This was all done in attempt to assimilate the Native Americans into the rest of the US population. But the traditional ways weren't stamped out entirely, and today Nez Perce children are encouraged to learn about their history. Still, not many people alive today can speak Nez Perce fluently.


This book is dedicated to "my daughter Laura Beeler, for Don Read, and for my granddaughter Maya Rain Beeler Balassa, with love."

Because a Nimíipuu girl in the eighteenth century would have had vastly different experiences than the other historical characters released before Kaya, most of her main six books having a different titling theme.

Roosevelt Elk live in the Pacific Northwest. They're the second largest extant member of the deer family, after moose. I've seen a few, once by the side of I-90 once as I was driving to Spokane. I was very happy that it didn't run out to greet my sedan; that thing was huge (I've also seen moose in Idaho, and about a million deer). Another time I saw what I thought was a large dog sitting in a field...when it turned to look over its shoulder I saw that it was actually a very large cat: a mountain lion. Again I was very happy to be in a car!

The website that I linked to in the review of Meet Kaya mentions that a horse-raiding party wouldn't have been interested in taking people; those were different raids. Although it does seem like taking Kaya and Speaking Rain were abducted just because they happened to be in the path of the raiders.

No comments: