Spirit Rider

Part I: A Sacred Day Part II: Thoughts

A Collection of Contemporary Poetry
in the Shoshoni Language

Ronald Snake Edmo 

PO Box 624
Fort Hall, Idaho 83203
E-mail: snakedmo@aol.com

All Rights Reserved by Author © March 4, 1997 Fort Hall Indian Reservation, Idaho

     This book began as part of the Shoshoni Language program at Idaho State University.  The Shoshoni language is an unwritten language spoken by Native Americans living in Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.   Today, most Shoshoni people speak English as a first language with the corresponding loss of its usage among the younger generations.   Why must we be concerned about the loss of a language spoken by a small number of people when English, at first glance, appears to be the common language of the future?   The answer to this question is complex.

     The creature that we call human is defenseless in the natural world.   We do not have sharp teeth and claws to defend ourselves.   We do not have fur to protect us from the sun, wind and cold.   We are not strong enough or fleet of foot to escape from other predators.   As a species, we should have perished long ago. We did not.   Instead, we live everywhere today. The natural environment is no longer a barrier.   Humans live in the frozen Antarctic, in the vast deserts of the Middle East and North Africa, in dense jungles, on the ocean floor and in space.   Our species has the potential to populate the universe.   We are like Gods because we can create life and end all life on earth.   How did this occur? Our Creator gave us a complex mind and a tool. This tool is language.   Language is what we use to share ideas and knowledge.   We not only speak language, we also preserve it for unborn generations by writing it ---- no other creature can do this.

     A People define themselves through their stories.   These stories tell us about their beliefs, moral values, and history.   Their language is what makes their stories unique.   When the language is lost, so is a part of their culture.   Some of their culture can be passed on in a new language but the subtlety can only expressed in their language.   This is why we must help preserve a dying language.

     I want to acknowledge Christopher Loether, Ph.D. and Drusilla Gould who developed the Shoshoni Language maintenance program at Idaho State University.   Both Chris and Drusilla encouraged me in writing this book.   Drusilla’s knowledge of different Shoshoni dialects is the most important resource in writing this book.   Without her, this book would not exist.

     This book is dedicated to all the Shoshone and Bannock people of Newe Sogobia.   My dream is to see other Native American authors write contemporary literature and poetry in their respective native tongues.

Ronald Snake Edmo


     Language is an intricate part of a people’s culture.   So much of the worldview and ideology of a culture is encoded in language, that when a people lose their language, they lose a very important part of themselves.   Language not only encapsulates a culture’s "take" on reality, but it also contains clues to a people’s past in the form of loanwords.   Language is also organic: it has a life of its own apart from its speakers, and is continually changing, just as culture is continually changing, and language mirrors those changes.
     Linguists now predict that within the next 100 years, we will lose about 90% of the worlds languages currently spoken. Most of these languages will be those of small, stateless peoples such as the Shoshoni.   Such a tremendous loss of languages is also a tremendous loss of knowledge about ourselves as humans, and that is why it is so important for speakers of minority and small languages to take action now to protect a very precious part of their (and all humanity’s) heritage.
     This book represents an important step in this process.   What Ronald Snake Edmo has done with his collection of new writings in Shoshoni is to begin reversing the alarming trend that the Shoshoni language has begun to show recently as fewer and fewer Shoshoni children are learning their language with each passing generation.   I hope this monumental work will not only encourage people to learn their language, but that it will also stimulate those who already speak the language to begin writing in it!   Shoshoni is not a language of the past -- it’s as modern as English.   It’s time Shoshoni people reassert themselves and their language, to insist on speaking Shoshoni at public gatherings, to insist on Shoshoni language signs throughout Shoshoni country, to insist on Shoshoni language instruction at all levels from kindergarten through graduate school.   The Shoshoni language deserves to take its proper place among the great languages of the world.

Christopher Loether, Ph.D.
Department of Anthropology



1. Dabai Nanisundehai’hubia (Morning Prayer Song)
2. Dammen Do’i (The Pipe)
3. Nemme Newe-Bozheena Dammen Sogobia Ba’ai Yengadee’
(Our People’s Bison Walking About Upon Mother Earth)
4. Nabasokogahni (The Sweatlodge)
5. Duga’ni Nanisundehai’hubia (Midnight Prayer Song)


1. Andebichi-woho’nee Bide’pe (Stranger Arrives)
2. Nabushi’aipe (Dreams)
3. Ape’! Buninnu! Debizhi neewe! (Look, Daddy, A Real Indian)
4. Daa Witua’ (Our Drum)
5. Tso’apehnee (Ghosts)


     I chose "Spirit Rider" as the title of this book because I live on a motorcycle during the warm months and sometimes during the cold ones.   I am never alone while I’m riding because I feel the presence of my ancestors wherever the road leads.   Some of these roads are quiet dirt roads while others are busy Interstates.   As I ride, I see our homeland, Newe Sogobia, through their eyes.   This land is teeming with life. The air and water are still clean and pure.   Andebichi-woho, Stranger, is not here yet.   Then I return home to the Reservation....

     Life on the Reservation during these waning days of the Twentieth Century is tough.   Our traditional ways are being assaulted by "modern civilization".   Our youth yearn to be like their non-Indian neighbors.   Third World poverty saps the strength of the people. Greed and jealously runs rampant.   Our Elders are walking on to the next world.   Yet ---- we are not disappearing.

     Throughout Indian Country, our Native cultures are being revived in anticipation of the new millennium.   Our languages are being written to teach the new generations our tongues.   Our religions are gaining in strength. Tsaan dai neesungaaka ---- All is well.

     Shoshoni and related languages are classified by linguists as belonging to the Numic branch of the Uto-Aztecan Language Family.   A major problem in recording any oral language is to develop a common writing system or orthography.   The orthography not only must be understandable to the linguist and scholar, it must also be usable by the native speaker to read and write in his own tongue.   Teachers of the language and their students, no matter how young, must also be able to use the writing system.   If any of these groups are unable to use the orthography, then the language will die with the last of its speakers.

     Linguists and others have developed six orthographies for writing Shoshoni.   A seventh orthography that I term "Treaty Orthography" follows the system used by an unknown translator during the 1850-1878 period of Treaty negotiations.   Some of these orthographies are difficult to use or are understood by only a few people.   Others are not, but none are considered to be a standard orthography.   This book is written using the ISU Orthography developed by Christopher Loether, PhD and Drusilla Gould for the Elementary Shoshoni classes at Idaho State University (see Appendix A).   I am indebted to Chris for allowing me to include his unpublished orthography in this book.