People who met Eddie “Tupishna” Sartuche often took to calling him “Uncle Ed.”
Warmhearted, generous, happy-go-lucky and funny, family and friends recall, the Native American man from Squaw Valley had a passion for sharing his native Wuksachi language and culture with others. Mr. Sartuche was one of his tribe’s last fluent speakers who grew up speaking Wuksachi.
Mr. Sartuche died in a three-vehicle accident north of Visalia on Nov. 22. Mr. Sartuche was a passenger in a car driven by his daughter, Sandra Sartuche, who was injured. She was recovering in the hospital on Wednesday. Mr. Sartuche was 89.
“He was coming in to see my sister,” says son Eddie Sartuche Jr. “They were going to have Thanksgiving the next day.”
He had this awesome smile. He loved smiling.
Kenneth Woodrow, chairman of the Wuksachi tribe, says Mr. Sartuche was its spiritual leader. Mr. Sartuche worked with professors to record some Wuksachi words, although family says there is no comprehensive book or recording of the language. Mr. Sartuche’s Native American name, Tupishna, is the Wuksachi word for the red-shafted flicker, a bird within the woodpecker family.
“He told me, ‘Johnny, I only had a sixth-grade education but I’m teaching the professors.’ He thought that was so neat,” says son Johnny Sartuche, vice-chairman of the Wuksachi tribe. “He got the biggest kick out of that.”
His biggest desire was getting to share the language and getting the language to be spoken again.
Son Johnny Sartuche
Mr. Sartuche organized annual gatherings of tribal members and administered traditional blessings at events. It was his idea to start the annual “blessing of the rock” at the Buck Rock Lookout in Giant Sequoia National Monument – an area where the Wuksachi people once lived in the summer before descending to the foothills in the winter.
Buck Rock Foundation president Kathy Allison recalls long lines of people waiting for blessings at the fire lookout, where Mr. Sartuche waved eagle feathers and bundles of smoking sage while praying in Wuksachi. His traditional blessings were also a central and special part of an annual multicultural fair at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia.
Allison says Mr. Sartuche had a special talent for bringing people together. His blessings brought “love” to every gathering.
“It sounds corny,” Allison says, “but he really reminded us about what was important.”
Mr. Sartuche had a favorite saying, Woodrow says: “Together, togetherness.”
“He got me back to the reality of how we need to work together as a tribe,” Woodrow says. “If we start walking away from each other, we’ve lost everything.”
He wanted to bless everyone and share his tradition and educate.
Brett Kennedy, adviser for Extended Opportunity Programs and Services at College of the Sequoias
Mr. Sartuche helped name the Wuksachi Lodge within Sequoia National Park, and helped secure permits through the U.S. Forest Service to gather plant materials for traditional tribal activities like basket weaving.
He also led sweat lodge ceremonies in some prisons and became an unofficial counselor to many. He worked as a truck driver before he retired.
“He was like a drug and alcohol counselor without any certification,” Johnny Sartuche says, “because he helped so many people who had issues that today don’t have those issues because of him.”
Johnny Sartuche recently found a prayer that his father had written down.
“He asked the creator to help him so he could help the people. That touched my heart, reading that,” Johnny Sartuche says tearfully. “That made me see a side of my dad that I knew existed but didn’t know was that powerful.”
Eddie ‘Tupishna’ Sartuche
Born: Jan. 21, 1928
Died: Nov. 22, 2017
Residence: Squaw Valley
Occupation: Native American spiritual leader; retired truck driver
Survivors: Children Eddie Sartuche Jr., Yolanda Chambers, Richard Sartuche, Valerie Martinez, Mark Sartuche, Johnny Sartuche, Sandra Sartuche and Gary Sartuche; 21 grandchildren; and numerous great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.