Tipi ceremony honors Fish War veteran Charles ‘Doghides’ Conway

On June 22, Puyallup tribal member Patricia Conway honored her late father, Puyallup activist and Fish Wars veteran Charles “Doghides” Conway, at a Native American Church tipi ceremony and memorial held at the Little Wild Wolves Youth/Community Center.

She prepared for nearly a year, researching her family’s history, speaking with elders and consulting genealogical records to find suitable Indian names to give to her five children at the memorial, which is a church tradition. But most of all, she remembered her dad and how she almost lost him when she was a little girl.

“I think I was about 8, maybe 9,” Patricia told Puyallup Tribal News, “because I was in third grade and I was going to school uptown in Marysville with all the white kids at Liberty Elementary. And I remember driving down the highway and my mom telling me, ‘We got to go to court for your dad. They’re trying to send him back to prison. You might not ever see him again.’ I remember we almost got hit by a semi truck.”

A little over 20 years before, her father was an inmate at a prison in Oregon where he was serving an eight-year sentence for larceny. Patricia never knew that man, who got sent to reform school at age 13, who took drugs and stole a car, who went to Monroe penitentiary, and who carried around the wounds of an abusive upbringing. She only knew the loving father who fought for his people and became a tribal leader.

So when she and her mother arrived at the courthouse that day, Patricia wasn’t prepared for the shock of seeing her father being treated like a criminal.

“I just remember seeing him and walking with him down this hall. I think it was at the federal courthouse down there at the Union Station. And I remember walking and seeing flashes of the cameras flashing at us as we were walking by and then just like crying because when you’re 8 or 9 you don’t know what’s going on and I was just confused.”

Her father, known to his friends as Chuckie Doghides, passed away in 2008. He was a veteran of the Fish Wars of the ’60s and ’70s. He was also a frontline warrior during many famous fights of the Native rights movement such as the occupation of Alcatraz, Fort Lawton, Wounded Knee, and the BIA Building in Washington, D.C. According to a News Tribune story at the time, he also “played a key part in negotiating a $162 million tribal land claims settlement with the federal, state and local governments and had served ably as head of the tribe’s energy conservation program.”

But that man was much different than the man who escaped from an Oregon prison over two decades before. Chuckie escaped in 1969, although the date in different news stories varies from 1968 to 1972. Patricia herself wasn’t sure. She thinks it was 1970.

Chuckie’s “escape” was somewhat less than dramatic. As part of a program that took him out into the community, he saw an opportunity to walk off without being seen. He took it. His own Puyallup River and people were calling him. They needed his help.

“He said he felt his people needed him more, that he could do more for his people and he couldn’t stay there in prison,” Patricia explained.

The termination period after the Second World War decimated Native communities, displacing thousands and taking away Native land and rights. Native men in poverty-stricken communities, without a strong culture to guide them, felt lost and empty and often vented their anger through crime.

Chuckie had that anger. It nearly destroyed his life. But now he saw a way to flip the script. Instead of using his anger to fight against himself, he could use it to fight for his people. He could use it to fuel his passion. The rising ride of Native Activism at places like Frank’s Landing was all he needed.

“He was the one who was down there on the river with the rifles, armed and ready to protect by any means necessary,” Patricia said.

As Patricia sat at the tipi prayer ceremony, officiated by Roadman Powhatton Mills, son of fellow Fish War veteran Sid Mills, she thought about her father’s warrior spirit and how that spirit could be traced in her family all the way back to the Medicine Creek Treaty Wars of the mid-1800s.

“A good majority of the people, such as the Bridges and the McClouds, who were in the Fishing Wars movement, they call it the second treaty wars, their ancestors were warriors in the Medicine Creek Treaty Wars, which they call the Puget Sound Wars. I was thinking about that as I sat up all night thinking about my dad, about those prayers our ancestors made 150 years ago and how that spirit, that warrior spirit continues to live on in our people.”

At the end of the memorial the next morning, Sid Mills spoke about Chuckie and related some memories of him. He then officiated at the naming ceremony of Patricia’s five children. The names are listed here.

Karar Conway – ʔəswələxʷ
Thiy Conway – dxʷt́ilib
DaishaRae – nče ʔʔ spʔu’s
Ché Ortiz-Conway – hikʷ st́əljixʷ
Gwen Conway – dxʷx̌al

After each of her children received their name, they went around the circle and shook everyone’s hand. They repeated their new name and the guest repeated it back. Powhatton said when we die our ancestors will call us by our Indian names, making the naming ceremony especially meaningful.

A child plays near the tipi at the Little Wild Wolves Youth/Community Center, where a memorial service was held for Puyallup Fish War Veteran Charles ‘Doghides’ Conway on Friday, June 22. Photo by Frank Hopper

Patricia related one of her father’s final wishes was that the original people he fought with at the fish camp would be remembered and honored.

“One of the last things my dad wanted the Puyallup tribe to do was honor the people in the Fishing Wars that were at the encampments. He said they had never done that and that was very important for them to recognize the struggle they had been going through, how much they had sacrificed to assert our treaty rights and that the tribe needed to honor them,” she said.

In addition to Sid and Suzette Mills, Fish War veterans Ramona Bennett and Robert Free came to the memorial and about four other families present had members who fought in the Fish Wars.

None of them ever forgot what Chuckie did for them. In 1993 when Chuckie was finally rearrested and threatened with extradition back to Oregon, the tribe supported him at his court appearances and testified on his behalf. The tribal council passed a resolution requesting then Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts to commute the sentence.

On Aug. 18, 1993 Gov. Roberts did just that. The warrant and prison sentence that hung over his head for over 20 years was finally gone. Chuckie Doghides was free.

As the meeting ended and the participants shook hands and said good morning, the wave of love extended beyond the tipi and out into the world. New little warriors laughed and played in the sun, secure in the knowledge their ancestor’s warrior spirit will never die. It lives on in them.