Warm Springs, OR Warm Springs, OR
Warm Springs, OR Warm Springs, OR

Lyle and Arlita, Warm Springs, OR - married 1956

Lyle and Arlita Rhoan have shared a life full of challenges, difficulties and rewards.  They are full-blooded American Indian, with ancestral ties to the Warm Springs, Miwok, and Paiute tribes.   They spoke openly with me about their early marriage struggles, their drinking and subsequent conversion to Christianity, and their current youth counseling work.    I was only given a glimpse into the constant tension they experience as tribal elders living in close proximity to the white world, but it was clearly a source of mixed emotions; appreciation and resentment in equal measure.

Lyle and Arlita live on the Warm Springs reservation, in a spectacular Oregon landscape north of the Cove Palisades and Lake Billy Chinook.  Arlita was not yet home from work when I arrived, and Lyle and I sat and spoke informally for a short time while we awaited her arrival.  A burly man with a winning smile, Lyle was generous enough to speak with me while still visibly grieving from the recent death of his mother.  Arlita has a powerful face which often melted into a delightful grin during her reminiscences.

The Rhoans had three daughters and raised two of their grandchildren.  One of their daughters had been an alcoholic, and Lyle took her son away from her to raise him.  She was later killed in an alcohol-related driving accident.  The house was alive with the sounds of children and grandchildren racing about, playing video games, and peering in on us as we sat talking around the kitchen table.


Lyle:
My mother taught me…  she threatened…  not to marry…  outside.  And she would stand up and shake her little finger in our face and tell us that she don’t want us to marry a white girl, black girl, Mexicans or Chinese.  One day—I was in the fifth grade—she was in the fourth grade and they were lined up on the wall.  I remember her leaning up against the wall there.  I’m walking out, you know, and watching them.  This girl, she sticks her tongue out at me.  (Arlita starts laughing.)  And I looked at her, you know, and I knew already.  The Holy Spirit already told me.  That this girl was gonna be my girlfriend.  You know, how your marriage is made, made in heaven?  It was already documented already.

Arlita:
Another family asked for my hand, you know, they wanted me to be a wife to
their son.  The parents were interested in me.  And the grandmother.  So they came and asked my mother, "we’d like to have your daughter for our son."  And there was the three women.  The grandmother, the mother, and then an aunt; they came and my mother says, "no, I’m not gonna allow my daughter to get married the old way.  Because that’s how I got married, and my marriage wasn’t very good. I had a hard time."  And of course, we got ridiculed for it, really bad.  Then when they found out who I was choosing to marry, then that made it even worse.  He was called a Mexican, and a non-Indian, and everything else by that family.



Arlita
:
We started going to bed together.
  And this cop found out about it.  See, we have a law on our reservation, illicit cohabitation is a felony...  He gave us thirty days to get married, legally married.  And if we didn’t, we were gonna have to go to jail.  So we set a date.  His mom called us up, and came down and had a meeting about it.  My mom and her said, "you two are going to have to get married."

Lyle:
One of my aunts...
  her complaint was that she figured [Arlita’s] family were poor.  So I says, "well, okay… so what if they’re poor?"  I says, "are you gonna fulfill my needs now, you gonna come over and cook me breakfast tomorrow morning?  You gonna come cook me supper, or make lunch for me, and like that?"  And I says, "Are you gonna come over and sleep with me when I wanna have sex?"  She says, "no."  I says, "okay.  If you’re not gonna cook or have sex with me, fulfill my needs, then, you know, that’s the reason I’m asking this girl.  That’s why I’m gonna marry her.  ‘Cause she’s gonna take care of me, and be the mother of my children.  And if you can’t live with that, I’m sorry.  I’m not changing."

Arlita:
We had our times.
  We had a very hard adjustment.  First four years of our marriage.  Very hard.  The next five years, we probably kinda met each other halfway.  Still loving each other, through all of his  things that he did.  And after you think about it, long after I matured, I look back at it as very beautiful, you know.  I didn’t even think about the domestic side of what we went through.  He was a ball player, baseball, basketball, what they call community playing.  And there was alcohol involved.  Women involved.  So I was very hard on my husband for years after that.

Lyle:
I think my mom had a lot to do with keeping our marriage together, many times during our rocky road.
  She’d bring my family down to basketball tournaments.  And my children would be sittin’ there.  I mean, they’d be in the gym, you know?  She’d take what money she had, she’d bring ‘em down to Klamath Falls, or Yakima, to watch a tournament.  Then we’d leave and go together Saturday nights, you know, go to a dance, or go down to a party, or go to a tavern someplace, and then we’d come home Sunday, but she’d bring the children home.

It was kind of her little way of givin’ us that time together, and at the same time, kind of a reminder?  That, you know, this is your wife?  You need to be with her, you don’t need to be running around, or out doing something else you shouldn’t be doing.  So it wasn’t really a verbal whippin’, or ear-beating that come from my mother; she just set that in front of me:  "now, here’s your family."  And I couldn’t miss ‘em, you know; because they were across from me.

Arlita:
It’s just recently that I finally am forgiving my husband for those things.
  Just recently.  He still questions it.  He still wonders if he’s loved.  But he is  I love him.  We’re a couple that never told each other.  Only time I did was when I felt like I really hurt his feelings, then I’d let him know that I did love him.  But I always did, I always did love my husband.

Divorce never was a part of my people’s ways.  Never.  You were just married for ever.  The rest of your life.  And all the old couples that existed at that time supported our marriage.

RF:
The Indian traditional view of marriage—how does it differ from contemporary American society, and how has
  it  changed in the last couple of generations as well?

Arlita:
Well, it wasn’t that much different, except for probably the rituals that went along with the marriage…
  things, like it is in the white man’s society, or non-American Indian society.  The church wedding, in your ancestors’ time, it also was strict, you know, there was dating, courting, proposal, a date set for marriage...

And that’s the way it was in our side of the family, too.  As we were being taught in our stages of life; since we were babies we were told.  When you got married, that’s when everybody talked to you, with wisdom, telling you about how long:  you’re married now for ever.

Maybe a father or mother would want this boy, or either a father or mother would want this girl over here for their son.  The parents would come and ask and then they’d say, "I’ll give you this much, this-this-this, for your daughter.  She’s valuable. We want her for our son."  So when they’d make them come together and start living like husband and wife, then they’d set a dinner in a big Indian trade.  The family would trade.  And then when they had their first  child,  they would do a trade.  That would make that couple permanent then.

RF:
How has it changed in the last generation?

Arlita:
Now, it’s a lot of common marriage, I guess is what they call it, just coming together—

RF:
Common law?

Arlita:
Common law, yeah.



Lyle
:
Sometimes it’s a love, sometimes it’s a hate, too.
  A hate situation.  Sometimes she hates me, because I disagree with her.  If love and hate can’t express our marriage, it must be like we’re Hekyll and Jive…  Hyde and Heck…  Jekyll?

RF:
Jekyll and Hyde?

Lyle:
Yeah.

Arlita:
Oh, no no!
  I never did, really.  Feel hateful.  I know I felt a lotta anger, but not…  the times that I probably really hated him was in the early part of our marriage.  ‘Cause I literally almost ran over him once.  And I took a .22 after him, but I shot it up in the air.  (Laughs at the memory.)  So that’s when  I  could have probably called…  hateful feelings.  But most of my feelings have been more just anger.  Just frustrated at him.  "Why does he have to keep [acting] this way?"  So I had a  lot  of prayer for my husband.

RF:
You said that women’s liberation has caused more destruction in the family than alcohol and drugs.

Lyle:
Yeah, to me—this is my own personal opinion—women’s lib has really deteriorated our teaching here in our community.
  My wife, she’s a traditional woman.  Inside.  I know that.  It’s inside.  But then, on the outside of it, she wants me to treat her like a white woman.  That she’s got feelin’s.  But then, different times, as an Indian woman, she can be just hard-ass as hell.  You know, her heart can be very hard at times.

So she can accept part of it, over here, but she can’t accept it here.  She’s adopted the white woman’s mentality as being, you know…  I’m the one that has to say "I’m sorry."  I’m gonna have to tell you that I love you.  It causes the dysfunction in the family, creates a…  I don’t know…  frustration.  I can’t make up my mind, whether I want to retain my Indian ways, or just totally give ‘em up and just adopt the white man’s teachin’.  And treat her like a white woman.  I can’t do both.

Arlita:
My liberation comes from God, I think.
  I don’t know if my husband feels that I’m liberated, or I’m wanting a white woman’s style; no, I don’t.  I just want to be treated as the weaker vessel.  Lotta men folks don’t understand that sometimes.  The men are the stronger vessel, and the women is a lesser vessel, and we’re to be  protected.  A lot of my Indian ways were taught that way.  All our social dances, that’s what it taught.  How to be cared for as a lower vessel.  And so, that’s the battle I always had in  my  feelings; that I wanted to be respected as a weaker vessel, and protected that way.

Lyle and I, we were fortunate to be taught our Indian, native ways.  But we were able to implement into the outside society.  We have learned both well, where we have a balance.  That’s what we teach our future children that’s coming.  That there’s nothing wrong with still speaking your language and living your ways, and blending it in with outside society.  Our Indian ways.  And white man’s ways.  I have ‘em both.  How they balance out is, as long as they equal with God’s teaching, what his word is saying to us all -- in our Indian ways of believing, and in the non-Indian way of believing -- it’s the same God and the same words.  It isn’t a coincidence or anything like that, it’s God’s plan.  And he guides and directs our lives here on this earth.

Lyle:
Going to church, that’s how we stopped drinkin’.
  It was a spiritual happenin’.  We didn’t have to go to treatment, we didn’t have to go to any counseling, we didn’t have to take Antibuse; it was because this was what God wanted us to do.  That’s what was given to us, was a plan of salvation; and that’s how we understood what God wanted us to do.  It was through accepting our lord Jesus Christ as being our personal savior.

And that’s how we got our foundation; and so that’s how we put our home, and our life and our children in God’s hands.  Today, our children, they’re not 100% perfect, but I hope that through  our  times, what  we’ve  gone through, will help give ‘em better directions and—kids are trying to raise kids today.  In families.  It’s scary.  My worst enemy down here, I wouldn’t tell ‘em to go out and get married, at fourteen years old.

RF:
What would you tell ‘em?

Lyle:
Wait upon the lord.
  Let it be a spiritual happening.  Like I said, that’s how it happened to me.  And I would never take that away.