Thursday, October 13, 2016

What about Indians?

In this election year, African Americans and Latinos are getting a lot of attention. Immigrants too. We are a “nation of them.”  Oops—Indians were here when the first European immigrants arrived, and are still. (But their voting numbers are small, and they are spread out over 500 reservations and scores of cities across the country.)

Indians don’t even speak the same language—or didn’t. Most of them speak English now, except for French speaking Metis who are mostly in Canada, and Spanish speaking Indians across South and Central America and Mexico. And the Mayan language speakers and others which are still strong enough to hold their own with Spanish and Portuguese south of our border. Linguists say there were some 2500 mutually unintelligible languages when the first Europeans arrived.

Or, you might want to count the Norse in Newfoundland as first new arrivals, or maybe some stray kon tiki boat from the Pacific that brought Islanders or Africans to the New World. But that is all pretty much academic in seeing what actually happened to the New World when the Old World got here. It was Columbus who started the rush from Spain—and Portugal and England, who misnamed the inhabitants “Indians,” shipped them back to Europe as slaves, worked them to death in gold mines on Hispanola as part of grants of land and labor known as encomiendas, and killed them off with diseases. Columbus brought horses and pigs and cows too, and sent back more than gold. Now you can study the “Columbian Exchange” to follow all that followed his New World adventure.

Eventually, Africans were brought to the Caribbean to work sugar cane and other crops, and as the English started settling further north, African slavery proper began. But what Columbus started with Indians had a good 100-year run before African American Slavery began its 250-year run up to the Civil War. 

Indians—indigenous people—were here everywhere when Spanish and Portuguese, English and Dutch, indentured servants from everywhere and African slaves put in to American ports. There were—or had been—large concentrations of them, cities in fact, in Mexico and Peru, Central America and the Mississippi Valley, but there were also hundreds, no thousands of small groups spread from the tip of South America to the Arctic. Their 1492 numbers were reduced drastically and rapidly by overworking, disease, and murder, but they have survived, and it has been years of exploration, colonization, wars, treaties, settlements, missionizing, boarding school education, and who knows what else to bring us to the present as re Indians.

Indians are complicated! First, they were, as one historian said, “here to meet the boats.” This—the Americas, all of it—was their land! Secondly, they were and probably still are as diverse in backgrounds, languages, and cultures as Europe or Asia or Africa was in 1492. Third, their subjugation to European culture, laws, and people, has been conducted in so many ways: the aforementioned diseases, wars, work, treaties, laws, etc. And finally, they are still spread out across the entire region just as they were when first found. There were no slave markets like Richmond or New Orleans, and the country was never divided north-south by their presence as it was to and through the Civil War into Civil Rights.

Alvin Josephy once said that white liberals who had fought for black Civil Rights in the ‘60s thought they had done that job and would move on to the Indians; the Indians told them they didn’t want Civil Rights, but their Treaty Rights!

See how complicated Indians are. Which might be the reason that our Presidential candidates are not courting the Indian Vote.

And here we have to leave the colonial and mestizo cultures south of the US border; and acknowledge that the people called Latinos on both sides of the border have their own complications, but they share language, and for most political purposes we Norte Americanos can thus lump them all together! The Latino vote. “Illegals.” “Immigrants” (well, maybe not “New Mexicans” or old California families, or….).

Good news: According to a recent piece in the New York Times re American Indians, “President Obama campaigned hard in 2008 for the votes of American Indians. He vowed that his administration would pay special attention to their grievances about federal mismanagement and the government’s recurring neglect of treaty obligations. ‘Few have been ignored by Washington for as long as Native Americans — the first Americans,’” Obama said.

“Mr. Obama was given credit by tribal leaders for creating a White House council to maintain lines of communication with them; establishing a buyback program to help tribes regain scattered lands; expanding the jurisdiction of tribal courts; and including tribal women under the protection of the Violence Against Women law in 2013. Reaching out to Indian nations has been ‘one of the hallmarks of this administration,’” according to Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation.

By all accounts, Obama has been the best President for Indians since Richard M. Nixon. Talk about complicated!

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016


Standing Rock Protest
The Standing Rock Sioux and representatives from 280 North American Indian tribes, joined by Natives from Ecuador and Hawaii, have taken a stand in the Dakotas against oil companies and for water. Water, I imagine, will be increasingly in the news, and Indians will be the ones bringing it to our attention.

In the New York Times this week we learn that a small tribe in northern California, the Winnemem Wintu, are telling the residents of Weed, California, the officials of Roseburg Forest Products, and Ronan Papillaud, the president of CG Roxane, which owns Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring together with a Japanese pharmaceutical company, that the waters of Mt. Shasta are not limitless, that it is time to listen to the Mountain. According to tribal members, the spring on Mt. Shasta from which animals and humankind first emerged, and which oral tradition says has never failed, dried up six years ago.

For over 100 years, the city of Weed, which sits in the foothills of the Mountain, has got its water from Beaughan Spring. For the past 50 years, it has been charged $1 a year by Roseburg Forest Products and its predecessor, International Paper. Roseburg, an Oregon-based company that owns the pine forest where the spring sits, is charging the city $97,500 this year! And, according to Ellen Porter, the director of environmental affairs for Roseburg: “The city needs to actively look for another source of water.”
Weed water protest

The people of Weed, who have been dependent on the timber company for jobs and sustenance for all
that time, and who are still rebuilding after a major wildfire two years ago, say they have a document showing that previous owner International Paper handed over water rights to the city in 1982. Roseburg, having upped the ante to $97,000 and not flinching, has offered Weed another well-site on company ground. The catch: the site is a few hundred yards from a former wood treatment plant that is now a Superfund site.

The good neighbor policy is apparently at an end, overtaken by the short-term profit motive. Roseburg has recently been selling some of the water from Weed’s spring to Crystal Geyser, and Japan apparently wants more of its bottled water. Papillaud came to town to tell them that he needs more water, and in the course of his visit erupted in a tirade that caused his son to come back later with apologies. But he still wants the water.

“We do not belong in this story,” Mr. Papillaud said. “We are not depriving anyone of anything.” Mr. Papillaud described his deal with Roseburg as a simple relationship between a buyer and seller. “Is this blood water? Are they involved in child labor?... We are clients, end of story.”

Sacramento has an eye on Nestle, and other nearby cities and county governments are dealing with bottled water companies are watching carefully. Is water a commodity to be bought and sold? Or is water, as tribal people remind us continually, a fundamental principle of all life, one to be nurtured, watched out for, and shared by all?

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Monday, September 12, 2016

It’s the Water

I’ve been following the protest in North Dakota over the pipeline, watching it swell with tribal people from across the country. The New York Times says that members from over 280 tribes are now involved. Some are coming in caravans, some by plane and foot, some Northwesterners made their final miles in large, brilliant canoes.

The Times profiled a few of the protesters. Thayliah Henry-Suppah, Paiute, of Oregon, wearing a traditional wing dress with ribbons and otter furs, said she kept this Indian proverb in mind: “Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It was loaned to you by your children.” In her own words: “We’ve lived without money. We can live without oil, but no human being can live without water.”

Most of the Indians profiled by the Times spoke of water: “We say ‘mni wiconi’: Water is life,” said David Archambault II, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, the site and center of the protest over a pipeline designed to ship oil out of North Dakota, under the Missouri River. “We can’t put it at risk, not for just us, but everybody downstream.”

It’s easy in this lush Wallowa Valley to take water for granted, although murmurs from California exiles and smoke from miles-away forest fires are troubling. This gathering of Indian peoples should be just as troubling.

It has to do with an attitude that natural resources are basically inexhaustible, and that, even as we run out of one, another resource or another technology will rise to take its place. Indians are telling us that water is the fundamental resource, and that the beaver and salmon that were taken almost to extinction by the fur trade and Columbia River canneries in the 1800s were indicators of a fundamentally flawed economy.

Beaver had been exhausted in Europe when that business marched across the middle of North America from the 1600s into the nineteenth century. In a dispute over the “jointly occupied” Oregon Territory, the British set out to trap out all of the beaver in the Columbia watersheds, thinking that this would dissuade American trappers and immigrants from occupying it. Eventually, silk or some other commodity replaced beaver felt for hats, the crisis was averted, and Americans found other reasons to settle the Northwest.

In the first Alaskan oil rush, American whalers, who had depleted sperm whales in the Pacific Ocean, killed over 13,000 bowhead whales north of the Bearing Strait in just two decades in the mid 1800s. Needless to say, Inupiat culture, which had revolved around whaling for millennia, was severely damaged. Survivors are now rearranging lives around the twenty-first century oil business, adapting while trying to hold onto vestiges of sea culture threatened by oil spills and warming and rising oceans. It’s the water.

Our economy seems based on the consumption of whatever resource is readily available in the moment, trusting that science and capitalist good sense will discover and exploit the next resource. Good we found petroleum to replace whale oil, shale oil to replace crude, wind to replace steam and water generated electricity. And, eventually, we’ll mine the moon, asteroids, and distant planets.

The Indians bring us back, back to land and water. The Umatilla Natural Resource program has developed a presentation on “First Foods.” They argue that ancient longhouse ceremonies served foods in order of importance, and if we do the same we will be healthier and will live in a healtier environment. Clean water, of course, is first, and then salmon—think good spawning grounds, deer, roots, berries, etc.

Our Wallowa waters are the envy of many. And while local cattle ranchers argue that “there is no such thing as a bad rain,” and grass growers and ranchers measure the snowpack and gauge hay cutting and pasture moves against the year’s weather, most of us not making our living in agriculture and timber are blissfully unaware of local water dynamics. We like the look of snowcapped mountains and the rush of  rivers. We fish, or ski, snowmobile, hunt, run rivers, or sit on the beach at Wallowa Lake and enjoy the sun—and water.

A few people work to rectify twentieth century technology by putting meander back in rivers, cooling water and increasing spawning grounds. Some think about our dam—and how sockeye salmon who once flooded the Lake might be brought to it again. Immigrants from California and Central Oregon shake the dust off and water lawns and pastures. And Washington irrigators follow the dam condemnation and potential reconstruction thirstily—they’ll buy that extra water from us.

Indians from diverse cultures across the country camping in North Dakota remind us that water is not just a commodity to be bought and sold, but the fundamental principle of all life.

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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Indians—and many Mexicans—were here first

Only Louisiana Purchase & Alaska were larger additions
Earlier this week, a Library visitor talked about her “roots”: specifically about a grandmother who was Apache and Mexican. At this point her proud, and very non-Indian or Mexican looking husband chimed in: “Mexican from when Colorado was part of Mexico.”

I grew up, at least partially, in Southern California, close to the San Luis Rey Mission and the Pala Indian Reservation. In 2010, at my fiftieth high school, I learned that some of the Mexicans I went to school with were Indians, or of mixed Indian and Mexican ancestry. I learned too that at least one blonde, crew-cut haired white guy was an Indian too. When I said that I was surprised to learn that he was Indian, he said that he’d been told by family not to talk about it at the time, but that he had years of photos, regalia and artifacts, and the next time I was in California he’d show it all to me.

If you were Indian growing up in Southern California in the 1940s and 50s, it was easier to be Mexican—if you were dark skinned, or Anglo, if you could “pass” as white. My Monday visitor nodded her head as I told my story, although she did say that her grandmother quietly taught things about herbs and customs. She also said that the Mexican side of the family was firm about their pre-U.S. roots in what we now know as the American Southwest.

That’s a fascinating story. Her corner of Colorado was part of a large chunk of the United States ceded by Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War. The machinations that went into this huge land takeover—present-day U.S. states of California, Nevada, Utah, most of Arizona, about half of New Mexico, about a quarter of Colorado, and a small section of Wyoming—were complex, because the Republic of Texas and the US accession of Texas was also part of the mix.

Notice where Mexico is in 1846
US wanted border at 54-40
Britain wanted border at Columbia
So the Southwest joined the Northwestern US as areas where our government engaged with another government—Great Britain and the “joint occupancy” of the Oregon Country in the NW; the US and Mexico in the Southwest—in determining the future of land primarily and for millennia actually occupied by indigenous tribal people, Indians. And the two are tied together. President Polk, despite objections of more expansionist fellow Democrats, concluded the NW question with the 1846 Oregon
Treaty (at the 49th parallel, and not at “54 40 or fight”) as we were going to war with Mexico. The huge land accessions of Hidalgo—third largest in our history—came at war’s conclusion in 1848.

The Northwest is less complicated in one way; Indians were far and away the major occupants of the disputed lands in 1818, when Great Britain and the US agreed to joint occupancy (for 10 years, which became almost 30) and, in a sense threw the matter of ultimate jurisdiction into a race for white settlement.

The Indians were of course the earlier inhabitants of the Southwest as well, but Europeans, primarily of Spanish descent, were well into their takeover of the region in the 1840s. Mexicans—Mestizo descendants of Europeans and Indians—were the major occupants of the territory at cession in 1840. There were still Indian tribal people of course, and Indian raids on border settlements were part of the treaty talks—again another story!

I could find no firm population numbers, but did learn that the populations of California and Texas were small while New Mexico was a robust 40,000 in the 1820s. And I saw one estimate of 80,000 for the newly acquired territory in 1848, and a claim that 90 percent of them had chosen to stay in the new United States rather than relocate to what was left of Mexico. Throw in additional lands in New Mexico and Arizona gained peaceably through the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, and there must have been close to 100,000 Mexicans in the newly configured US on the eve of our Civil War.

Fast forward to now, and to intermarriages with Bracero workers who were recruited to the US during WW II, and others who came through various legal immigrant worker programs, and there are many Mexicans—millions certainly—who were “here” before most of the rest of us. (Most African-Americans too can claim older US roots, but that is a different story.)

Which makes ironic most nativist rants about sealing borders. This might be the bigger story: moving borders, as described in accompanying maps, did as much to determine the current makeup of the United States as has the long history of immigration legislation, legislation that has alternately encouraged and discouraged immigrants by country of origin, color and race with the economic needs and the political sentiments of the day.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The milpa: more to learn from Indians

The article in the New York Times last week about Oglala Lakota chef Sean Sherman was so good, so inspiring, that I just have to pass it on:

I was born and lived my first ten years in Minnesota, so the talk of walleye, deer, and game birds, chokecherries and wild rice is all familiar. Not so the other wild greens and spices that Sherman has traced back to tribal usage and brings now to sophisticated tables.

What I know about American Indian cuisine is small—because the subject is so big. But the article reminded me that the role of Indian agriculture and the adoption of Indian foods worldwide are constantly overlooked. I know I have said this in other posts, but it is always worth repeating: over half of today’s world food crops started in the Americas! Where would Russia, Norway, and Ireland be without potatoes, Italy without tomatoes, Africa without cassava (manioc)? The Americas are huge, and the food gifts to the rest of the world are immense—think beans, squash, maize, sweet potato and more, which, in the decades after Columbus, changed the faces (and tastes) of Europe, Africa, and Asia. American Indians before the Europeans were not all hunter-gatherers, and most who hunted and gathered also farmed.

This piece on Indian cooking got me thinking in another direction too, the milpa. In 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Charles Mann describes “maize milpas” in Central America in which a dozen plants are grouped in a small field. A dozen plants that feed each others’ needs as they provide a balanced diet to their farmers. Some milpas have been productively “farmed” for 4,000 years!

Milpa four months after planting the maiz canopy shades
beans, squash, macal, amaranths and quiniopods and
much more. Credit:
One of the earliest images of Indian North America which many of us learned as third or fourth graders mimicking the first Thanksgiving is of an Indian named Squanto hunched over a hole in the ground in which he is placing a fish in preparation for planting corn, beans, and squash. The fish will succor the plants, the corn will provide stalk for the beans to climb, and the squash will cover the ground and keep down weeds and enhance moisture for it all. Squanto was really Tisquantum, and the scene which we all saw was about indigenous American agriculture. There is no doubt in my mind that there were other useful plants in Tisquantum’s milpa—herbs and medicinals, plants the English probably saw as weeds.

The English and Spanish adapted the American plants, took many back to Europe, and planted them all in rows on both sides of the ocean. They ignored the milpa, and one can argue that the agricultural journey that they launched led to monocultures that eventually depends on hybrids and fierce amounts of chemical fertilizers while ignoring companion planting and even the related idea of crop rotation.

Jack Weatherford, in Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World, says that North Americans continued to plant corn in hills until the 1930s. Even without the entire milpa, Weatherford argues that moving away from hilling has increased soil erosion in the Mississippi River system dramatically.

Mann recognizes that the milpa might be impractical in today’s large-scale agriculture, but suggests we might learn a thing or two from “gardens” that have been around for thousands of years.

And, I’ll add, from chefs like Sean who are exploring the same cultural legacy.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Canoe People

A year ago, Allen Pinkham Jr. worked for a few weeks as an artist in residence at the Josephy Center. He beaded and made drums and taught workshops in beading and drum-making. At the end of his stay, Allen said that he’d enjoyed himself, and that he would like to come back—and he had an idea.  “We were canoe people. I’d like to come back and build a Nez Perce dugout canoe.” We’ve been working with Allen and aim to help him do that this year.

Nez Perce Canoe--photo by E.S. Curtis c. 1910
It turns out that there are only a handful of Nez Perce dugout canoes in existence. The Nez Perce National Historical Park has four of them, so I went and looked at them, and talked with Park curator Bob Chenowith, who has studied them and written about them.  And with help from the US Forest Service, Nez Perce National Historic Trail, we are on the road to helping Allen realize his dream. Excuse me, the “water.”

In the course of this year, thinking about the history and cultures of tribes and reading about Indian canoes, I’ve had another historical aha moment. Allen’s right. The Nez Perce and many other Plateau tribes, other tribes of the inland Northwest, and coastal tribes as well, were canoe people. Because we live in a world of wheels and wings, automobiles, planes, roads, railroads, and airfields, it is another thing about Indian Country that most of us have to work at to understand. As Chenowith points out, we are so used to seeing the world from the road, we have a hard time imagining it from the river.

So the “aha” involves recognizing the obvious: the Northwest is ribboned by river systems, primarily the Fraser and the Columbia with their huge networks of tributaries. For the Nez Perce, it was the Snake and Clearwater and Columbia. Commerce and trade traditionally took place on riverbanks; Celilo was a physical and spiritual meeting place for peoples from the far north, coastal tribes, and inlanders to the Rocky Mountains; the diets of these river peoples were salmon and lamprey, whitefish, sturgeon, and other river offerings. Coastal tribes fished and hunted whales—in canoes!

And the first white people depended on rivers and canoes as well. The Lewis and Clark journey was mostly by water—although the Corps of Discovery was staffed with men used to traveling on water and making their craft, the Nez Perce probably helped them build five canoes that took them to Celilo. Canoes propelled the fur trade in the 18th century, and botanist David Douglas was canoed up the Columbia and the Willamette in the 1820s.

Even after the horse, which the Plateau people gained about 1730, Indian people of the inland Northwest, “Salmon People,” were still tethered to rivers. The Nez Perce no longer had to backpack to buffalo country (evidence is that they did so prior to the horse), and horses became huge items of trade and prestige, but there were still canoes. Lewis and Clark saw hundreds on the Columbia, and Clark says “I saw few hourses they appeared make but little use of those animals principally using Canoes for their uses of procuring food etc.

Of course the Nez Perce were proficient with horses. In 1855, Looking Glass came to the Walla Walla treaty grounds horseback from the buffalo country. Looking at Sohon’s drawing of their dramatic entry, one can imagine Stevens trembling a bit, and helping him to decide that the Nez Perce would get their own reservation rather than one shared with other peoples.

And if you ask people who know a little bit about Indians how they think of the Nez Perce, horses is usually one of the things that comes up. Right up to current  controversies over the origin of the Appaloosa horse.

Nevertheless, Allen’s question has changed my own thinking, and having him build a canoe here, in some proximity to the Josephy Center and nearby Nez Perce Fisheries, should help us all understand more of how life was lived for thousands of years before it was interrupted by horses, European diseases, missionaries, white settlement, dams, roads, railroads, and airfields.

And remind us that the salmon and the Nez Perce, in spite of all kinds of such disruptions, are with us still.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Nez Perce Return

Few Indians live in the Wallowa Country now, but Indians come here every year—maybe, even through war and exile, some few have always made their ways here to hunt and gather foods and be in this place. Now, they come to run Nez Perce Fisheries, to manage a small piece of Precious Land in the canyons, and in the summer for dances and parades. And there is a 320-acre place we call the Nez Perce Homeland Project near the town of Wallowa.

Tamkaliks, Nez Perce Homeland, 2016
Last Sunday, Nez Perce peoples from Colville, Umatilla, and Lapwai—Washington, Oregon, and Idaho—drummed, sang, and danced in the new Long House at that Nez Perce Homeland grounds. Most were descendants of the Joseph, or Wallowa, band of Nez Perce who made this country home for thousands of years before being forcibly removed in 1877.

The drumming and singing seemed louder and the dancing more spirited than I remember from past years, when services were held in the dance arbor; some of that heightening might have been my own emotions. There were smiles and tears among the bell ringers, drummer-singers, and dancers. Words too. Words of homecoming and thanks to the Creator and to all who have gone before and all who came together to build this Long House and make this homecoming possible.

I stood with Indian and non-Indian men on the north side of the Long House, facing the women on the south side with the sacred earthen floor, the wash, on which the dancers moved between us. Dancers were boys and girls, women and men, young and old; the drummers all men, included elders and sons of elders I have watched and listened to in the past.

Indians honor age and wisdom in ways that we in the majority culture seem less capable of. They mentor the young as well, passing on names and ceremony and regalia. Restrictions on these things, and on language and the length of hair, were pervasive a century ago; that these cultural artifacts and practices are alive today is a miracle.

No—it is fortitude and resilience, belief in land and place and people. When Europeans came to this continent, Indians died by the millions. They died in wars, but more of them of diseases that crept eerily among them before most Indians ever saw white men and women. In the northeast, diseases came ashore with fishermen who supplemented their fish-takes with furs and sometimes slaves for the old world. This before the Puritans landed in the early 17th century. On the north Pacific coast they came ashore with English and Russian and Spanish ships seeking otter and looking for rivers from the interior in the late 18th century. Inland, they preceded and followed free fur traders and Hudson’s Bay Company men as they made their ways from the East.

Lewis and Clark estimated 5,000 Nez Perce; an Indian friend thinks there might have been 20,000 before smallpox and measles and other European diseases.

Pieces of the Nez Perce story are carried from generation to generation in Indian country, and are told in books and carried too among whites. Last week a Marine pilot—announced by his cap—of Vietnam era told me that Marines still study the Nez Perce fighting retreat of 1877.

The story is carried in the hearts of tribal families whose ancestors endured exile and injustice. In 1877 these prayer songs sustained families struggling through the 1,400 mile-long retreat that we call the Nez Perce War, then bolstered them on the trains headed to Oklahoma after the surrender at Bears Paw and through years of exile, and carried them on the return train trip to the Northwest in 1884.

In order to bring us to Sunday, here is the briefest recap: Nez Perce (Niimíipu) and related Plateau people of what is now the Northwestern United States lived here for millennia. In the 1730s they got horses from the Southwest, probably through the Shoshone. In 1805 they befriended Lewis and Clark; in the 1830s allowed missionaries Henry and Eliza Spalding to put up a church in what is now Spalding, Idaho. In 1855 most bands of Nez Perce signed a treaty in Walla Walla negotiated by Isaac Stevens, allowing them to retain a huge chunk of territory stretching from present-day Wallowa County, Oregon to northern Idaho and northeast Washington.

In 1861 gold was discovered along the Clearwater, and in 1862, 18,000 illegal white miners flooded the reserved lands. In 1863 some bands signed a new treaty, which reduced the reservation by over 80 percent. This divided the Nez Perce into treaty and non-treaty bands. Joseph didn’t sign, but went home to the Wallowas, where no gold had been found. In 1877, crunched and dislocated by post-Civil War settlers, harassed by government troops smarting from Little Big Horn, Joseph and his people crossed the Snake River and headed for the reduced reservation in Idaho.

There were killings, and there was a war. Almost 1400 miles and six months later, Joseph surrendered, just 40 miles short of Canada at the Bears Paw, Montana. They were promised a return to the Northwest, but spent seven years in exile in Kansas and Indian Territory. The Nez Perce called it “the hot place.”

The Nez Perce did return to the Northwest, but were scattered on three reservations: those close to Joseph were sent to the Colville Reservation in Washington; some of the old and young were allowed to go to Lapwai, Idaho. Some who had escaped to Canada or elsewhere returned to the Umatilla Reservation in Oregon. Joseph himself was rebuffed when he tried to buy land in the Wallowas in 1900. He died in Colville in 1904.

On Sunday the Nez Perce returned to the Wallowas with singing and dancing and Nez Perce prayers. They shouted and banged, and after all of this they thanked the white people of this place who are trying to take care of the land now. And the Indian elders invited ministers of other faiths to use the new Indian church for their own prayers.

And then we all ate salmon and buffalo and elk. And we non-Indians watched the Indian dancers, and, invited, danced ourselves. They were proud in regalia passed down, maybe since the time of War, maybe hidden for decades, and maybe augmented by aunties last week.  Proud in the language long suppressed in boarding schools. And all of us—maybe 600 Indians, whites and blacks—listened and looked out the east ends of the Long House and the dance arbor and knew this was a homecoming of special people to a special land.

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For photos and words from Bobbie Conner and the Sunday, July 24 Longhouse celebration, go to my share on Facebook: