It was early in the 1970s when I met and spent several days with Isabel Friedlander Arcasa at a hospital in Wenatchee, Washington. We spent days and nights together for almost one week: she, with her little grandson, who was confined to bed with an injured (casted) foot and I with my young son who had just undergone an emergency appendectomy. There were three beds in the room. Isabel’s grandson was placed near the window so he could see out, while my son’s bed was located near the far inside wall of the room with his high fever and IV connections. The nurse introduced us, referring to Isabel as “Granny” Arcasa. Isabel was immediately warm and thoughtful and when the nurse left the room told me her actual name and that I could call her Isabel. We were immediately at ease. Isabel spent many hours telling native stories to her grandchild, some, like “How the Dove got its Coo,” were favorites of the boy which he asked to hear over and over, but there were also many other wonderful
Children’s stories that Isabel wanted to teach so the children would absorb the meaning. She had extreme patience and seemed never to tire of repeating. Isabel also spent awake time with the boy explaining historical and traditional background that one could see was her dedicated effort to pour these things into her grandchild’s memory. I learned a great deal as well and when the boys slept Isabel and I visited. She had told me that she was 81 years old. It was clear that she was brilliant, articulate and active, but one day I asked her, “Isabel, How can you be sure that you will be able to see your grandson to adulthood? To that. she chuckled and said it was because she already knew she would live to be more than 100 years. I marveled at her certainty and wondered how she could possibly be so definite, but I ceased with my nosey questions and for years afterward regretted not having asked her many more questions because she was so generous with her teaching. The next morning, two or three men dressed in suits and carrying large boxes filled with documents and pictures swooped into the hospital room, I believe they said they were from a University.
At once they began spreading the old photographs and old documents across the third bed (unoccupied) in the room and they wanted Isabel to identify the persons in the old photographs and explain the old documents if she could and would. Isabel Arcasa identified every person and every document, and did so patiently and steadily. It was no small task: There were hundreds of photographs. Isabe knew everyone and every document. The men were ecstatic. I was thinking it might have been a difficult imposition for her at that particular time, but observing her it was evident that she was determined and dedicated to seeing that the native history was accurately recorded and taught to future generations. Isabel Arcasa, who lived beyond 100 years, sought to perpetuate the memory and understanding of the heritage of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation to which end she never wavered. She has been followed in life by many descendants: wonderful children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. It was a privilege to know Isabel Arcasa, this dedicated, cherished elder of the Colville Tribes.