Charles Littleleaf, a Native American flutist and traditional flute maker. is a tribal member of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, Oregon. Charles is also an Honorary Member of the Piikani Nation, Alberta, Canada, and is the son of the late Chief Jack Littleleaf of Brocket, Alberta.
Charles Littleleaf at Smith Rock State Park, Oregon
|Born||August 4, 1948|
Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Oregon, United States
|Occupation(s)||Musician, flute maker|
|Instruments||Native American flute|
Throughout his life, Mother Earth has always been Charles' guide. His art is a living testament to this, dedicating himself to the spiritual enlightenment of others through his wisdom, his music, and his artistry in the crafting of traditional Native American flutes.
Water has always been an integral part of life on the Warm Springs Reservation. There are springs bubbling up out of the earth, and rivers; the Deschutes, Shitike, and the Warm Springs River all flowing through. It seems right that Charles owes his beginning to water.
During salmon season, Charles' father, Jack Littleleaf of the Piikani Nation, left Brocket Alberta and traveled south to the ancient fishing grounds at Celilo Falls, Oregon. It was here when this champion traditional dancer and expert horseman met and wooed Charles's mother, Lolita Greeley; enrolled tribal member and resident of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation where three tribes reside: Warm Springs, Paiutes, and the Wasco-Wishram. Their marriage resulted in two children. Prior to Charles' 2nd birthday, Jack Littleleaf moved back to his Canadian homeland to prepare for becoming chief to his people. Charles, his mother, and his brother stayed behind in Warm Springs. Charles never knew his father until many years later when he would visit Canada.
Reservation life was always rich in family. Everyone had many grandmothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Charles grew up surrounded by family, elders and traditional people with an abundance of knowledge, wisdom, and culture. He listened, watched and learned from them all. But there was one relative in particular who influenced Charles; one who loved and guided him, and who he developed a deep and lasting bond with.
It was Charles' great-grandmother, Sally Ike, who was a medicine woman of the Warm Springs tribe. She was a powerful force, fondly remembered as one of the founders of the Seven Drum religion. Sally plied her healing across the three tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, and further north into Canada. Up until her old age, she spent weeks at a time in the mountains gathering berries, roots and herbs. At the time of Charles' birth, she lived in a tipi along the banks of Shitike Creek in Warm Springs, with a community of other tipi people.
The poles in Sally's tipi is what formed Charles' first visual memory.
Sally taught Charles and his siblings the intricacies of traditional Warm Springs and Wasco culture. They learned reverence for all living things. Many times, wild black bears would come to their camp where Sally treated them as friends. She spoke to them in her native language, never with fear. The bears ate the mountain huckleberries around her camp and trusted in her completely. She allowed them to eat what was theirs, then shooed them away when she was ready to retire for the evenings.
Great-grandmother Sally loved Charles with all her heart. He spent more time with her than with any other family member. Charles spent hours of his young life sitting with Sally under her favorite apple tree while she sang spiritual Indian songs. These were the greatest times of Charles' childhood. He remembers many of her songs which have significantly influenced his musical style today.
Sally passed away when Charles was still very young. Indians know, often better than others, that death is not the end of life but rather a new beginning. Still, to his young mind, existence was only the here and now. Charles had difficulties with comprehending his great-great-grandmothers' passing, feeling that she had simply vanished.
As Charles grew older, he would always look upon Sally's apple tree and feel a sense of peace and love. During his transition growing up into a young adult, he began to understand the meaning of her absence, which led to his awareness of her spiritual presence guiding him throughout the rest of his life. As he grew to adulthood, Charles sought the peace and solitude of nature and traditional lore. Increasingly, he was drawn to the mountains where he spent time traveling on horseback hunting for deer and elk to help feed his relatives.
Eventually, Charles moved to Portland, Oregon because, like many young adults, he became curious about life off the reservation, wondering what it would be like to live in the city. Once relocated, he eventually found work as a designing engineer at a prestigious transportation corporation in Portland, while indulging himself in the makings of traditional crafts off hours.
Though he prospered in his place of employment over many years, he found that his emotional and spiritual life was suffering. He was a man caught between two cultures. Life off the reservation bore little resemblance to the traditional ways he had always known back in Warm Springs. In an effort to form a meaningful link to his culture, in his spare time, he began to visit schools; telling stories of being raised on a reservation, and teaching traditional lore. Today, Charles is also recognized as an advisor in native spirituality.
Native American FlutesEdit
In 1992, Charles received a flute from well-known Native American flutist, R. Carlos Nakai. Nakai's gift was intended to encourage Charles to learn the instrument. The following year, Nakai held one of the first Native American flute workshops at the Feathered Pipe Ranch in Helena, Montana and invited Charles to attend.
The Feather Pipe workshop lasted two weeks and it was here, amidst players much more technically versed in music, where Charles learned one of the best lessons regarding the traditional flute: that playing from the heart and spirit is where some of the most beautiful Native American flute music will come from.
In search of ways to further express his heart, Charles continued to play the flute without instruction. Through these instruments, he found an emotional way to release healing qualities that would not only benefit himself but, more importantly, benefit mankind and all living things. At the beginning of this musical journey, Charles played the flute at the home of his ancestors, primarily to family and friends. This is where the first samples of Charles' music developed.
Charles has grounded his flute playing within the essence of Mother Earth and from memories growing up on his reservation. Today, he is a solo recording artist and an award-winning traditional flute maker.
Littleleaf has released the following solo albums:
- Whispers of Earth Medicine 1997, Littleleaf Music (formerly Redwood Productions)
- Ancient Reflections 2002, Littleleaf Music
- Heart of the Wolf (flute/vocals with Karen Therese) 2001, Red Feather Music
- Just Plain Folks Award for 'Song of the Year', Eagle Spirit from artist's Ancient Reflections CD, Los Angeles, CA (2008)
- Featured article in Celebrity Magazine, Cowboys and Indians (Sept. 2007)
- Artist documentary on flute making and biography, Oregon Art Beat, Oregon Public Broadcasting (2004)
- Music soundtrack for the documentary The Oregon Story, Tribal Economies, Oregon Public Broadcasting (2001)
- Native American Music Award (NAMA) Nominee (2001)