Highway 20 Closed for the Season -- Click Here for other Travel Alerts
Jake Nelson
Free Travel Guide
Sign Up for
Our Newsletter
See All Our Blogs

Meet the Locals: Jake & Family

With a scenic byway that’s as large in scale as the Cascade Loop, naturally the landscape, views and activities vary wildly from region to region. Each area delivers its own distinct vibe, character, rich history and of course, diverse locals. The combination of these elements yield a vacation experience like none other, and significantly, the people who live and work here are the living embodiment of what makes our destination so special. 

Recently we realized that despite our best efforts, our visual communications really didn’t reflect the diversity of the folks living, working and growing up near and around the Cascade Loop. We put a call out on our personal social media account to see if there were folks that we knew around the byway that wouldn’t mind being featured on our website and social media to help introduce our traveling guests to a fuller representation of the kind of folks that they may well encounter during their stay. The first of these folks is Jake. 

Jake’s mom Shelly responded to our request and was excited to introduce our audience to the culture of their family as Nooksack and Shuswap Nation tribal members living in Wenatchee. Keeping their heritage alive is really important to their family. She, her husband Kevin and parents work together to ensure that their nine-year-old son Jake is an active participant in the process. 

According the Shelly, “We have great respect for the knowledge and wisdom of our elders. Whenever there are family gatherings, there are always speakers who share knowledge that has been passed on to them from previous generations.”

Part of that sharing of knowledge involves joining the Grass Dance Circle. Jake joined the dance circle when he was 2 years old at the annual Nooksack pow-wow surrounded by his parents, his maternal grandparents, multiple aunts, uncles, cousins, and special family friends. Jake has since danced at the Omak Stampede. His grandparents and uncle have traveled extensively around the Pacific Northwest, Oregon, California, and as far as Connecticut for the Schemitzun pow-wow in the U.S. and Misawa, Japan.

It is believed that the Grass Dance originated in the plains region of the United States--when tribal warriors came back from battle, the men left behind danced over the grass to flatten it for ceremony. At that time, the men tied and attached the long grass around their waist. 

Jake Nelson

According to Shelly, “Today, we use yarn, ribbon, and other modern materials to replicate the long grass of years past. Grass dance is about whole body balance. When a dancer makes one movement, they will always repeat the movement with the other side of their body. When watching modern grass dancers, you can envision how their fluid movement would flatten long prairie grass. My family’s interest in dancing began in 1995. My brother wanted to learn, but would only do it if our Dad did it as well. Through a Title IX program in our school district, they were able to bring in a mentor/teacher, Rocco Clark, from the Yakama Nation. Rocco traveled to Wenatchee once a month and taught students from the Wenatchee, Eastmont, and Cascade school districts all styles of dance. In a community with a small Native population, it provided an opportunity to meet and socialize with other Native Americans from different tribes. Within a short period of time, my parents and brother would travel to pow-wows every weekend beginning in late spring throughout the summer. When you’re at a pow-wow, there is a tremendous sense of belonging and community. Everyone is welcome and whether you are Native American or not, you are invited to dance during intertribal songs. If you are eager to learn, someone will be there to teach you.”

Jake’s mom Shelly worked with family members to create the regalia for his Grass Dancing. It can often take years to complete a new dancer’s regalia. Along the way, other families and dancers may gift you with additional pieces. 

“As a newborn, my parents’ close friend gave him his first pair of moccasins. Jake is lucky because his “Meemo” (grandma) is a talented seamstress, and his “Dude” (this is what he has called his uncle since he could talk) is a skilled beader. I was the “helper” on his first sets of regalia. This was the first time I made it on my own, but not without a hefty amount of in-person guidance, text messages and phone calls with my mom. His dancing stick is a loaner from his Papa, who was gifted with it by my brother. The piece on his head is called a roach and is also on loan from Papa. It is comprised of white tail deer hair and porcupine guard hairs. Although barely visible, his ankles are wrapped in mountain goat fur. Since mountain goats are steady on their feet, some grass dancers wear the fur around their ankles to keep them steady on the dance floor. Other grass dancers wear large bells around their ankles to keep their beat with the thundering sound of the drum. His beadwork and moccasins were gifted to him by our family’s close friends, the Marson’s, from Leavenworth. The eagle feathers on the dancing stick and roach also belong to Papa and Meemo. The Colville tribe gave them to a friend of my parents, Lenny Friedlander, in 1966 or ’67 when he returned from Vietnam. When the friend learned that my Dad’s brother, Garry, passed as a result of agent orange cancer, he gave two of his eagle feathers to my Dad and two more to my Mom.”

Nelson Family

“We also enjoy trying new foods when we’re in different cities. Jake has loved seafood from the time he could eat, so he enjoys the fresh seafood offerings in Seattle. Since 2020 has been a unique year, we have spent more time taking short road trips (Kevin has been working from home since March – so he doesn’t object to extra time on the road) and exploring the many hiking trails in our backyard! Thus far, the Icicle Gorge Trailhead (near Leavenworth) has been our favorite, but we also enjoy fishing at the many local fishing holes like Jameson Lake, Blue Lake, Beehive Reservoir, Clear Lake, and Lake Chelan. We are currently planning our annual trip up the Icicle or Tumwater canyon for the stunning autumnal display of colors.”

“Some of our favorite things to do are skiing at Mission Ridge in the winter, boating on the Columbia in the summer, fishing, hiking, attending events at the Icicle Creek Center for the Arts, and events at the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center. Through the WVMCC, we have met many local elders from the Wenatchi and Colville Tribes and made new friends who have shared their knowledge about their traditions and tribal land. As a part time homeschooler (pre-Covid), we have also attended several musical performances at the WVC Music and Arts Center.”

We feel honored to get to spend time with this incredible family—big thanks Jake, Shelly and Kevin! See more photos of Jake in the gallery below.