Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Indian photos in the exhibit

Joseph’s Last Visit, 1900. Photo by Frank Reavis
There were 50 photos in the recent Josephy Center exhibit of pre-WW II images from the Wallowa Country. Seven of the images feature Indians, and, it occurs to me, capture a great deal of white misunderstandings of and ambivalence toward Indians over the last 500 years.  The photos all date from about 1895-1930, less than one generation in that long history that unravels with amazing consistency over more than a dozen.

The most salient feature of our photos is that they were all taken after 1877, after the Wallowa Band Nez Perce were removed from this land, chased across Idaho, Yellowstone, and into Montana; lied to about return; sent to Leavenworth and the “hot country”; and returned to the Northwest—but not to the Wallowa—in 1885. Many descendants of the band remain in exile on the Colville Reservation in north central Washington to this day.

So what do the photos tell us?

First, that Indians continued to come into the Wallowa after the War and removal of the Wallowa Band. Who were they? It’s complicated, as our Euro-American history books, when they tell Indian stories at all, speak in terms of leaders and whole tribes, rather than the complex networks of families, bands, and relationships across geography and time. When they touch on Indians at all, they do so by “chiefs”—Pontiac, Tecumseh, Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Joseph. How many of us can attach tribes, bands, and geography to them?

The relationships between and among Plateau Indian tribes and bands were always fluid. The Nez Perce, and their Walla Walla, Umatilla, and Cayuse cousins traveled from Celilo in the west to the buffalo country in the east, north and south from the Spokan to the Paiute. Sometimes they stayed for months—or maybe years. Sometimes they settled elsewhere; they intermarried. I’m told that some Nez Perce had fishing places on the Willamette River through such marriages.

Other bands of Nez Perce visited the Wallowa country before the War, and traveled from Lapwai and surrounding areas into the Wallowa to hunt, fish, and gather, and eventually to work for wages in the harvests after 1877. And the “usual and accustomed places” (off-reservation lands still available to the tribes) for those activities outlined in the 1855 treaties were still valid in the 1863 “liars’ treaty.”  Although it is unlikely that these Indians could read the treaties, many family groups would have kept to seasonal travels as they had done for generations, sometimes dealing with white settlers along the way.

Although the core of Wallowa Band—those who had followed Ollokot and Joseph and other chiefs through the war, were living on the Colville Reservation from 1885 forward, descendants—some who did not go to war; others who had made it to Canada or had just wandered on return from the hot country, settled, and married elsewhere—would have been scattered on the reservations of the inland Northwest, a scattering that continues to this day.

A photo in the exhibit called “Last Camp of the Nez Perce” at Wallowa Lake shows a dozen tipis with fence and buildings in the background. Another shows a batch of tipis at the Enterprise fairgrounds, with a few white people in nice clothes visiting an Indian camp where some of the men wore traditional “stovepipe” headdresses, and yet another of an Indian family, circa 1895, was taken in a studio, maybe in La Grande, by G. W. Mackey. He put his name and “Traveling Artist” on this beautiful family photo. Indians—Nez Perce and their cousins—used some white technology to celebrate themselves. And yet they traveled and lived in traditional ways as much as possible here, as they must have across the entire country. How else do we account for the fact of their survival as Indians?

There’s a photo of Indian women combing children’s hair, taken about 1907. Frank Reavis, a photographer who had married A.C. Smith, the old mountain man’s daughter, noticed the humanity and normalcy of an Indian family. And a photo of the 1931 graduating class at Flora has one of the five students wearing gloves obviously Indian-made. It reminds me of many stories of white settlers saving hides for Indians, who would trace their hands and feet and make custom gloves and moccasins. Sally Goebel brought in a well-worn pair of beaded gloves her grandmother’s size that would have been from this era.

In the years between the 1885 return from the Hot Country to Nespelem and 1900, the Dawes Allotment Act had taken more Indian lands across the country, and Joseph had refused the offer of an allotment in Lapwai. Laws allowing Indian agents to restrict drumming and dancing and even the wearing of regalia had blossomed. As had the boarding school movement, possibly the harshest of the assimilationists’ weapons, with its kidnapping of young students, hair cutting and outlawing of Indian languages.

The historical record matches our photos. The War is in 1877. The return to the Northwest, but not to the Wallowa, is in 1885, when fear of a pan-Indian uprising was rife with some. In 1887 Wallowa County broke away from Union County. And, ironically, that year the name “Joseph” was legally adopted for a town that had been variously called Lakeside, and Lake City. That they would choose that name just ten years after the eviction of the man and his band is numbing.  But it was not unusual. As Indians were being displaced, Indian names were being adopted across the land, and romantic notions of Indians were making there way into popular culture, from “Indian” motorcycles to “Pontiac” cars.

Yet the turn of the twentieth century was a low point for actual American Indians. The assimilationists seemed to have carried the day. To be generous to them, to Colonel Pratt of Carlisle, Alice Fletcher and the Allotment Act, and Edward Sheriff Curtis, the photographer, the assimilationists had a real fear that Indians would literally be killed if they did not assimilate. So Fletcher would document Plains Indian culture, and Curtiss would take photos in sacred places and traditional dress of hundreds of Indians across the continent—“Vanishing Indians,” they called them, glad they had museum-saved the peoples.

The most poignant photo in our exhibit is one of Chief Joseph—Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt—on his last visit to the Wallowa, in 1900. He came with Indian agent James McLoughlin, with a translator named Edward Ruibin and with the intention of buying back a small piece of the Homeland. He was of course rebuffed. The expression on his face as he looks into the camera and the white world, seems to say all of it—weariness, rejection, and yet a remaining dignity, the inner knowledge that he had given everything he had and acted honorably in the worst of circumstances.

Today, Indians are re-learning languages and remembering food and culture across the country, and the Nez Perce and their Plateau cousins, from reservations and cities across the region, come to dance and sing in the arbor and pray in the new longhouse at the homeland grounds near the town of Wallowa. The photos in our exhibit, and especially the one of Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, are not of vanishing Indians, but of a people and culture still with us, and still watching us.

See most of the show and the photos mentioned here:
https://josephy.org/exhibit-slider/historic-photos-virtual-exhibit/


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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Photo Exhibit at the Josephy Center

Apologies for not blogging sooner about a wonderful new exhibit at the Josephy Center. It’s called “Historical Photos of the Wallowa Country Before WW II.” There are 50 photos, some from the County Museum, some from the Chieftain, others from private and family collectors. David Weaver, who collects photos and history and is very involved with the new Wallowa History Center in that “lower valley” town, did most of the collecting and curating, and wrote most of the mini-essays that go with the photos.

I should have written sooner so that more of you could have squeezed a trip to the Center into your January-February schedules—well, you have until February 25 to do it, so hoping that still works for some of you.

Mazama Outing 1918--Eagle Cap Summit
David’s initial instincts on the exhibit—to have each photo stand on its own, with mini-essays accompanying many of them, was perfect. The exhibit is 20 or 30 history lessons—women and work; family camping; Indians here after the War; Indian reflections on the reburial of Old Chief Joseph; sockeye salmon and kokanee; early photographic techniques; “postcard” prints; traveling photographers; the Mobius strip and early threshing machines (or how early farm technicians got the most out of a belt drive); football without helmets; and so much more.

Let me tell one story, because the picture of the Mazama climb of Eagle Cap in 1918 is the cover photo on the show catalog that is now available. ($20, plus $5 for mailing.)

In 1918, on their 25th anniversary, the Mazamas—a Portland based climbing club that is still very much alive—decided to make the Wallowas, and summiting Eagle Cap, the annual outing. Twenty-five of them came on the train, were feted to dinner at the restaurant in Joseph, and then taken by automobile to the head of the lake where they made base camp. The mail was brought in daily by auto delivery, and “enthusiastic fishermen caught trout within a stone’s throw of the camp frying pan.”

They spent the next several days making trips to Aneroid and Ice Lake, hiking the moraines with early Oregon geologist Dr. D. W. Smith, and going by automobile up Hurricane Creek and hiking into Mirror Lake. They fished and relaxed at Aneroid while “seven of the more strenuous members” climbed Pete’s Peak and Aneroid Point. I count 20 in the Eagle Cap summit photo, and surmise one more took the photo.

We know all this because one of the hikers was Lola Creighton, who wrote it up for the Mazama journal she’s to the viewer’s left of the man holding the flag). And we know that because two of her granddaughters—one from the Midwest and one from California—met here this summer with their daughters to show the young women where their-great grandmother had been and what she had done in 1918.

Viewers have loved it, and suggested more historical photo exhibits. Center director Cheryl Coughlan thinks that blowing up historical photos—many of these are 18” x 24”; a few are larger—makes them more real than the book-size photos we are accustomed to. We’ve had students from Wallowa, Joseph, and Enterprise in to see the exhibit—over 100 of them so far, and it is a fine way to teach history. The Indian story makes more sense when there is a photo of the women preparing food for the reburial of Old Joseph and a picture of Indians at the fair grounds in Enterprise. The sockeye and kokanee story moves from past to present with news of a rebuild of the dam at Wallowa Lake—with fish passage! And I always ask them to look at what the girls and women were doing in 1895 and 1918—working horses, playing guitars, fishing on the Lake, and climbing Eagle Cap.

You can scroll most of the exhibit at https://josephy.org/exhibit-slider/. You won’t get the essays, so come on in--before February 25--and see the exhibit, or order one of the exhibit catalogs.

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Sunday, December 23, 2018

At Mid-winter

Dear Friends,

It’s hard to know where to start. Should I tell you about kids and grandkids, triumphs and setbacks over the past year? Or muse about the state of the country and the world, the places I visited or lived in years ago—and are still close to my heart—that are now in turmoil or in ruins? Or should I tell you about the peace and hope that I find in my work with American Indians, how my old mentor Alvin Josephy, gone now for a dozen years, gets smarter every day as I learn from Tribal people? And learn not just about the past, but get glimpses of hope for tomorrow.

Yesterday there were visitors at the Library. Two families from McMinnville, Oregon and their two YES exchange students, one from Pakistan and the other from the West Bank in Palestine. YES, or “Youth Exchange and Study Programs,” brings students from predominantly Muslim countries to the US, and sends American students to those countries. YES involves full scholarships, is administered by the State Department, and was instigated by Senators Kennedy and Lugar, a Democrat and a Republican. It is difficult to imagine how the program survives.

But it does, and my 16 year-old Palestinian visitor—his English was flawless, and he had a good basic understanding of American history and official Indian policy—asked fine questions about the Nez Perce story and Josephy’s understanding of Indians in new world history. We talked about languages—about the 2500 distinct languages in the pre-Columbian Americas and the dialects of Arabic across the world. He was hungry to know what we can learn from the flow and development of languages—I told him how Josephy had gone to linguists to explore the early movements of peoples across the Americas, and to make estimates of their numbers. He promised to look for Charles Mann’s 1491 for a better grasp of the pre-Columbian Americas, the impacts of diseases and the interchanges between the new worlds and the old.

Not fifteen minutes into the conversation, my new friend remarked on the similarities between the plight of American Indians and that of Palestinians—peoples visited and lands settled by foreign colonists.

At this point one can become pessimistic. A YES exchange student from Palestine who lived in Wallowa County a couple of years ago had serious trouble getting back to his family home. Will these bright young people who spend a year exploring America and ideas of peace and friendship get lost in a decades-long fight for home and culture on their return? Or will they be part of new flowerings of peace-making in their home countries, and in the “work” they have done in their brief stays in ours?

We’ve just celebrated my favorite day of the year, the winter solstice, the day that brings more light. It’s also a reminder that our linear understanding of history is always punctuated by the cyclical—or rather that the cyclical is fundamental, and the events and actions done in the present punctuate the rhythms of light and darkness, days and years. Summers and winters come and go; listening to the people who know that the land needs fire, salmon need free-flowing water, that the earth we live on persists through plagues and tyrants, we might begin to live saner lives. As Alvin Josephy said so many times, we have much to learn from American Indians.

And whatever the reasons for the perennial mid-winter calls for peace—shalom—that emerge in many languages and religions, and always in perilous times, let’s listen to them too. Let’s listen to and hope with YES and the students who are bridging the divides in their worlds and ours.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Invisible Indians; Invisible Nez Perce

Alvin Josephy said many times that the greatest injustice done to the Indian people in this country was not the takings of land, language, and culture, but a continuing failure to acknowledge that they existed—or at least that they ever existed as people in their own right.  For the Euro-American, Indians were important for a moment—to teach them tools of survival, but then immediately became hurdles to their domination of the continent. Those other terrible thefts—of land, language, and culture—pale when compared to the taking of history. That taking means erasing the unique lives of individuals and tribes as agents, actors in their own stories, reducing them to asterisks in the Euro-American story of conquest.

If that. In the introduction to America in 1492, Alvin quotes from the 1987 edition of American History: A Survey, a popular text written by three prominent historians: “centuries in which human races were evolving, forming communities, and building the beginnings of national civilizations in Africa, Asia, and Europe—the continents we know as the Americas stood empty of humankind and its works… The story of this new world is a story of the creation of a civilization where none existed.”

But now, you say, we go to powwows and interpretive centers, read Indian writers, and include tribal representatives in discussions of the management of fish, fire, land and water. I’ll grant you that, but remind you that following the original extreme Euro-centrism of Spanish and English explorers and settlers, American government policies of allotment, boarding schools, missions, Termination, and Relocation did everything possible to erase Indians as distinct peoples with unique histories. It is only in recent years, as a result of enormous courage and fortitude, of holding majority America to historical treaties and agreements that assimilationists have worked so hard to remove, that those voices have survived.

Local historian David Weaver recently pointed out a very local example of making Indians invisible. I had just picked up a new book for the Library, Theodore T. Geer’s Fifty Years in Oregon. David suggested we turn to page 281 for the first photo known to have been taken in the Wallowas. It was, according to the author, in August of 1875, when he and a handful of friends left the Grand Ronde Valley for a two-week camping trip in the Wallowas. Thirteen of them, men and women, left from Cove on August 16 with six horses, camping gear and a skiff in the back of a wagon. On the second day they reached the confluence of the Wallowa and Minam rivers, where A.C. Smith had just completed a toll bridge. They camped that night on Bramlette property in lower valley, and the next day reached the shores of Wallowa Lake.

Geer gushes over the Lake and the surrounding territory—“The location is not surpassed for beauty anywhere in the United States”—and he or someone from his party takes that first photo. They launch the skiff, and row to the head of the Lake,

Geer then talks fish, and in his only nod to Indians, calls the Lake the “favorite fishing resort” of the Nez Perce Indians from time immemorial. He goes on: “it was to retain possession of it and the valley surrounding it that Chief Joseph made his stand against white settlers.” And that is the end of his remarks concerning Indians!

David reminded me that 1875 was a turbulent year in the Wallowas, and I reached back to Grace Bartlett’s month-by-month account in The Wallowa Country: 1867-77 to see what was happening in August, the month of Geer’s camping trip. One would think that Geer and his party might have encountered over 100 armed troops from Walla Walla that arrived about the same time they did, or that he would have seen 45 Indian lodges, or even Chief Joseph himself and about 75 tribal members who visited Captain Whipple and his troops. Or, more seriously, that the man who would become the 10th Governor of Oregon, and the first born in the state, serving from January 9, 1899 until January 14, 1903, would have something more to say about the Indians and their removal from his state.

Geer didn’t write the book, subtitled Experiences, Observations, and Commentaries Upon Men, Measures, and Customs in Pioneer Days and Later Times, until 1911, so maybe the Nez Perce and the soldiers that he must surely have seen—and the history of the state he later governed, had drifted away by 1911, when the summation of his trip to the Wallowas remained a glowing pastoral memory—and one without Indians:

“The following days were spent in the enjoyment of the unequaled facilities which the place afforded for a happy camp life—hunting, fishing, boat-riding, reading, story-telling, attempts at singing, cooking, and exploring the surrounding country.”

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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Generational Wreckage of Boarding Schools

It was the week after Albert and Veronica Redstar, brother and sister elders of the Joseph or Wallowa Band of the Nez Perce from the Colville Reservation in Washington, talked about 140 years of exile. The audience was 45 workers and board members from Wallowa County’s government agencies and non-profits. The exile dated to the Nez Perce War of 1877, which took the Wallowa Band across the Snake River in spring flood on an unwanted journey to a reduced reservation in Idaho. An uprising of young Indians against cruel white settlers set off a war, a fighting retreat that ended five months and almost 1400 miles east and north, 40 miles from the Canadian border at Bear’s Paw, Montana. From a famous surrender there the Indians were herded to Bismarck, North Dakota, and then to Kansas and Oklahoma Indian Territory.

Eventually, through the extraordinary diplomatic efforts of their leader, Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, known to us as Chief Joseph, they were allowed to return to the West, and about half of the returnees went to the Idaho reservation. Joseph was not allowed that small reward, and he and 149 followers ended up on the Colville Reservation in north central Washington with the Moses Band. Albert and Veronica are descendants of that group of Nez Perces—still in exile from their ancestral Wallowas.

Their words about loss, and the rifts and reconciliations among the people were vivid and striking. Their remaining attachment to this Wallowa Country is palpable.

They’d meant to talk some about the continuing oppressions by government agencies and officials in the 132 years they have lived on the Colville Reservation, about the government regulations regarding language, songs, music and regalia; the Allotment Act that would turn them all into yeoman farmers; about Termination and Relocation. And about Indian boarding schools. No one was sorry that they ran out of time talking about their own people, the loss on leaving and the years of displacement. I thought I could take a few minutes to address the topic at the next class.

So on the final week of our class, when Wenix Red Elk was to talk about natural resources and about the unique program on the Umatilla Reservation that ties the First Foods served in the long house to land and natural resource management, I asked that we take a few minutes at the beginning of the class to show a short video, a trailer for a longer movie, on the boarding school experience.

I found the story of Walter Littlemoon a few years ago. Walter was born the same year I was, 1942, and grew up in South Dakota, about 300 miles from my own Minnesota birthplace. I lived with parents and, during the war, with my mother and her parents. When Walter was five years old, he was taken from his parents and put in boarding school. Years and years later, Walter is the subject of a documentary called “The Thick Dark Fog,” which described the way he had long felt and became the title of his life story as he retraced it with a filmmaker.

We watched the three minutes, and Wenix, with tears in her eyes, rose to speak. She had not seen this particular video, but the experience of the boarding schools was in her bones—“We forgot how to parent,” she said, “and lost our traditional ways of bringing up children.” And not just for one generation. That loss, Wenix said, is with her people still, with her still. I don’t know but don’t think she went to a boarding school, and if she did so, it was long after severe abuses were discovered and mitigated if not corrected. But that loss is still visibly with her.

I used this video in a class I taught last year at Eastern Oregon, and students were outraged—“We did that?” they said. And I was satisfied that I had awakened something, some new kind of empathy, in them. But I missed then what Wenix felt last week. I missed the generational loss of culture, the longing that some young Indians feel today for the lessons stolen from their grandparents and great grandparents, and therefor so difficult to pass on today.

The sins of “our” fathers visited on Indian people.

Thick Dark Fog trailer

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Oops!



All that chronicling of activities and soft pitch for funds---and no information on HOW to contribute to the Josephy Center.

1. You can make a check out to the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture (Josephy Center enough), and mail it to PO Box 949/ Joseph, Oregon 97846.

or, you can click on the link below and make a donation on line:

https://josephy.org/donate/#donate

Thanks much--and enjoy your holiday!
rich

Monday, November 19, 2018

A pitch into the future

Dear Friends,

(Uh oh! Sounds like he is going to ask for money—yes, but nicely.)

First, I want to tell you what a privilege it is to work at the Josephy Center.  Exhibits are fun—and fun to be a part of. Seeing classes and students, from pre-schoolers to adults, trying paint or clay for the first time can make my day.

And the opportunity to work with the books, papers, and people that are all part of the Josephy Library is just too good. It is humbling to listen to Nez Perce elders who remember their War and exile generationally, as if it were yesterday. It is exciting to hear an elder tell us that some of the kokanee in Wallowa Lake—“The ones trying to get out at the base of the dam”—will find their way to the ocean if given a chance, that a sockeye salmon run, gone for 130 years, is possible again with fish passage at a rebuilt Wallowa Lake Dam. And it is thrilling to see sisters from California and Wisconsin meeting here to celebrate their grandmother’s 1918 climb of Eagle Cap with the Portland based Mazamas.

Research, I’ve come to know, is not just the book writer or movie documentarian’s province, but what we all do when we explore the past and the world around us. It’s elementary kids reading books out of our “Nez Perce Teaching Box,” and the people coming in now with faded photos to give us for the January-February “Wallowa Country, pre-World War II” exhibit. It’s Allen Pinkham figuring out how to build a Nez Perce dugout canoe.

And sculptor Doug Hyde finding the right Nez Perce word for “The Return,” the name he wants for the stone and bronze piece that will go in our front yard this spring. We actually got an answer to his question from Haruo Aoki, the 90 year-old linguist who has spent decades saving and cataloging the Nez Perce language. I can’t make the marks on my computer to show you the Nez Perce word—but I’ll figure it out by the time the sculpture is installed this summer. (We have it in the Nez Perce Dictionary on our shelves.)

That will be a great event, with drums and song and salmon to celebrate—and you will be invited.

The Library and I have been with the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture for seven years—from the beginning. The board is concerned about the future: “What are the Library succession plans?” “How will it be funded?” Current board chair Jeff Costello says the Library is “in our DNA.” But how does that carry into the future?

Good questions. I just turned 76, and although I have no plans to quit this wonderful gig anytime soon, I have to admit that I won’t go on forever. But I know more than ever that the Library and the Josephy Center will go on—we’ve become an important part of this Wallowa Community, and, in my mind, an important window between Indian and non-Indian, urban and rural, present and past. It will be a great job for the lucky man or woman—maybe one of you out there with a passion for the past and its importance today—who steps into it. For now, I want a few more good licks myself on the way to retirement.

Help me do that! Your donation now will support the Library and help keep this wonderful organization and fine building lit and alive with art and learning, words, music, sculpture, pots, glazes, a printing press and blog posts about Coho salmon, seven drums, dugout canoes, and the work of my old mentor and our namesake, Alvin M. Josephy, Jr.

Rich Wandschneider, still learning to be a librarian--and loving it!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Lessons from the Redstars

Veronica “Ronnie” and Albert Redstar (w me)
Sometime this summer, Kathleen Ackley, director of the Wallowa Land Trust, asked me to put together a class about Nez Perce history for local agency and non-profit workers who work with tribes. She wanted me to recruit speakers from the Tribes to be part of the presentations. Her thought was that a better understanding of Tribal history and culture would lead to better working relationships.

So in good white-man fashion, I put together a series of five Thursday programs that would trace, roughly, the history and activities of the Nez Perce Indians in the Wallowas from ancient times to the present. It’s been good, and as always in these things, when you are asked to teach—or to organize teaching—you end up learning. In this case learning to rethink my own linear notions of time and space.

Last week was week four, and I had asked Albert Andrews Redstar and his sister, Veronica “Ronnie” Redstar, to talk about the period of exile for the Wallowa or Joseph band of the Nez Perce after the War of 1877. Their journey, which started in the Wallowas, went from War—the five month, 1400 mile fighting retreat that is chronicled in dozens of books—to exile in Indian Territory to exile on the Colville Reservation in north central Washington. I thought maybe they could talk about how they, the Wallowa or Joseph Band, had become divided from other Nez Perces, how living among the mostly Salish speakers of the other Indians on the Colville had been and is, and about continuing efforts of the American government and most of its population towards assimilation of Indian peoples.

From Albert’s opening words to their closing song—a song that traveled from the Wallowas to Bear’s Paw to Indian Territory to Colville, and now home—the notion that history is some kind of linear journey that we find ourselves on, propelled by the past on an arrow toward the future, I was reminded of how white and Judeo-Christian that notion of history is. The past, Albert and Ronnie told us, is not over and the future is not an arrow. Naming ancestors on paternal and maternal sides—and maternal and paternal sides of grandparents!—linked them and their children to names and places across miles and decades—even across what we would call tribal lines.

The exile has been profound—being cast out of the Wallowas, suffering in the “hot country,” and returned to live among Indians of other languages, cultures, and religions was and is often agonizing. But they showed us, in words and gesture and song, that this Wallowa Land is a lodestone, a true magnetic center that will not fade, and despite everything that has gone before, this land, which brings tears to them still as they come into it from afar, is still a joy to them.

Land and culture, fish, sky, words, and song, are not points or lines on a map—or in a book, but life that is held onto through family and ceremony.

There were stories of relations with people on the Umatilla Reservation and on the Nez Perce Reservation at Lapwai, stories of Nez Perce who did make it to Canada, fleeing cold and hunger at Bear’s Paw in Montana. There was a grandmother who took them to Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist churches—and to the Long House where Seven Drums is practiced. There was the pain of being called “heathen,” and the barriers that religion has fostered. And the pride and joy of leading a service, ringing a bell.

There is something about living orally, face to face, words to words, hand gesture and facial turns, that is both primal and excitingly “new” to an audience of white men and women steeped in books, screens, and electronic devices.

So thank you Albert and Ronnie—I wish I could write and say your Indian names, and maybe someday I will. Until then, many happy returns to your land. We’ll do our best to care for it while you are away.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Coho return to the Lostine River!


I got this “FYI” from Jim Harbeck at Nez Perce Fisheries here in Joseph last night:

“The first Coho Salmon to return to the Lostine River in over 40 years came back home this morning…  I think we’ll see at least a few hundred Coho this fall at our weir on the Lostine. And more importantly, once again the Nez Perce Tribe is proving to be a good steward here in Wallowa County. This fish returned to a reach of river just below old Chief Joseph’s original burial site. I’m sure he’d be proud of his people for this significant accomplishment (and Ken Witty would be too).”

Ken Witty was a long-time fish biologist for the State of Oregon, and did some consulting with the tribe after his retirement.

It’s a long story. 1855 Treaty; Fish Wars of the 70s (which Alvin Josephy wrote about); Boldt Decision awarding half the salmon catch to the tribes; Nez Perce, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, and other tribal fishery programs ramping up; mitigation money from Bonneville Power—and events like this!

I could go on, but encourage you to do so on your own. For now, we celebrate the return of the Coho Salmon to the Lostine River.

First Lostine River Coho in over 40 years!


Friday, September 28, 2018

The hearings—and the listenings

Like many, I have been semi-glued to the judicial committee hearings over the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. And today, showered and ready for work, I paused to listen to Senator Cory Booker—and immediately had a flashback to 1954.

We’d recently moved from Minnesota to California, and my dad was the new owner of a small Mobil gas station on Highway 101 in Oceanside. We lived two blocks from the station, and dad would walk home for lunch and watch the McCarthy hearings as he ate. He’d go back to work, but the TV stayed on, and would be on when I got home from school. I remember no content, but remember the smirk on McCarthy’s face as he hoisted a sheaf of papers or a daily newspaper with new knowledge of communists everywhere, and then he would blare at the TV audience in his gravelly baritone.

I didn’t know my dad’s politics at the time—although I do remember wearing an “I Like Ike” button before the 1952 election, and I remember getting out of school and going to Mrs. Drummond’s house to watch Eisenhower sworn in on TV—a first, I believe, which is why our good teacher thought it worthwhile leaving school for the event.

Although I rarely talked politics with my parents, I guess I came to see them as moderate Republicans, which didn’t matter much until Nixon and Vietnam. Today, I believe my parents were caught in a bind—wanting to stick with country and LBJ and then Nixon. We argued over that, but not to any conclusions, and not to rupture.

Unfortunately, I do not remember ever having a conversation with them about those McCarthy hearings. My guess is that when attorney for the Army Joseph Welch rose to say "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness… You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?", my father and mother, along with millions of Americans, breathed sighs of relief and thought the country had righted itself, come back to its common senses.

As the hearing today wound down to a vote, one of the Democratic Senators—I think it was Richard Blumenthal—spoke to Christine Blasey Ford’s son: “Your mother,” he said, “will be remembered as a hero.” In five or ten years, he opined, her words and her role in the unfolding development of women’s rights in this country would be remembered; her words and work would be honored by posterity.

Another Senator reminded everyone that the truth would eventually come out—just as it did, I would argue, with the rampage of Senator McCarthy.

And why do I, sitting in my enclave of books about history and Indians in the West, think to use this blog to talk about today’s hearings. Nothing about Indians here… Well, maybe there is. There are so many parallels with black and women’s and Indians’ struggles for fair treatment in our country that what touches one touches all.

And the first step in fair treatment is always to listen—to listen beyond the shouts of the demagogue to the voices of the oppressed. I believe the truth on this matter will come out, and my guess is that behind Brett Kavanaugh’s rants of yesterday, and the alcoholic mists of his past, we will find women’s truths.  Ford’s son will be proud. And if we can hear women’s voices and find women’s truths, we can go back to the men of power who stampeded the Indians at Standing Rock. Go back and add another chapter to the slow drive for fair treatment of the first peoples of this continent.

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Monday, September 10, 2018

Fire--and another failure to listen to Indians

The June exhibit at the Josephy Center was about dams and fish. One of the many things I learned in researching and preparing that exhibit was the ways in which 19th and early 20th century scientists and government officials ignored Indian knowledge about the habits of salmon and all anadromous fish. The progressive white voices of the time—from roughly 1880 until 1938—submitted that Pacific salmon returned from the sea to spawn in any random stream or river that caught their swim. Natal streams were insignificant, and in any case we—progressive, scientific Americans—could better nature with hatcheries. We could more than make up for the tremendous numbers of salmon taken from the Columbia to feed the 60+ canneries that lined the river. So we built hatcheries—on the Columbia, the Willamette, and even, in the early 1900s, on the Grande Ronde and Minam rivers.

Alvin Josephy said on many occasions that the most damaging historical treatment of Indians was not the lies—although there were many, but the continuing neglect of Indians as we, as a nation, constructed the narrative of our past. Indians—their voices and their actions—are missing in the standard histories of schools and academe. And of course in discussions of natural resources.

Fire now dominates the news—and lives—in much of the West. As I write this, 35 miles of the I-5 highway at the California-Oregon border are shut down. There are still smoke warnings in Central Oregon, and we in Wallowa County wait and hope for cool nights and fall rains to beat lightening, human carelessness, and wind to the rank grass and dry forests around us.

The Indians burned, purposefully and regularly, in this country and across the West. They burned to invigorate the soil and enhance berry and root production, to make travel easier, and, we might guess, to guard against large, catastrophic fires as much as they could. I understand that agricultural Indians in the East used low slow regular burns to sequester carbon in the soil. I.e. Across the North American continent, fire was the primary land management tool of the people who lived here prior to the Europeans.

I’ve heard that early US Forest Service employees followed this Indian knowledge for a time, but their voices were soon drowned out by the German-trained foresters from Yale who dominated Forest Service administration—and emphatically discredited by the Big Fire of 1910 that raged across the Northwest. Those western Forest Service employees were denigrated as “Paiute foresters,” and the “10 O’clock Policy” came to dominate Western land and fire management for the next 100 years: All fires should be put out by 10 O’clock the morning after their discovery.

The idea that fire is part of the natural regimen of forests and necessary for forest health has been making a slow comeback, but it is difficult to embrace and implement with 100 years of ladder fuels waiting for their match. And with clear-cutting and over-cutting in some places having left a sour taste and environmental outrage in their wake, a reasonable conversation about how to get to baseline—how to reintroduce fire into the landscape—is proving hard.

So here we are with fish and fire, looking for ways to get things back to where Indians told us they should be all those years ago. But that is not right either; getting back to living with the changing world we are part of, which includes big fires and hurricanes, volcanoes and other natural “disasters”—those major events that change the mostly cyclical world we live in.

There is much talk about “white privilege”; maybe there should be more talk about white hubris.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Built on Broken Families

One of the earliest stories of white-Indian interaction in North America is that of Squanto, a Patuxet Indian taken captive by English explorer Thomas Hunt in 1614 and sold as a slave in Spain. Tisquantum—his real name—escaped and made his way back to Cape Cod through England. He had picked up English along the way, a skill that would prove valuable when the Mayflower landed and the newcomers needed help with agriculture and the ways of the new world. Unfortunately, Squanto, whose tribe had completely succumbed to diseases brought ashore by European fishermen, who was valued and praised by Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford, did not live long, just long enough to show the colony food caches, seeds, fertilizer and fields.

The violence in Squanto’s capture and demise was caused by slavery and disease, harbingers of continuing interrelationships between the misnamed Indians and the European newcomers from that day forward. A third tool of dismemberment of the native societies was armed force, the use of guns and powder, as the Euro-Americans marched across the continent.

Here’s the time to point out that the earliest Europeans were WASPS, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, because disease, slavery, and physical force have often been wielded against other “white” immigrants as well as resident tribal people and imported African slaves. And the common theme in all cases is that the break-up of family and tribe was critical in the WASP hold on power as it pursued its Manifest Destiny.

We know the story of slave markets, of selling off children and spouses and arranged breeding of more slaves. We’re less likely to think of the indentured white servants, sent to America by distraught parents living in poverty—often drought related in the time of the Little Ice Age—as a means of giving them some small chance at life. They came singly with ships’ captains auctioning them off for 4, 5, or 7 years of servitude to recapture the cost of their passage. Over half of the European immigrants from the Mayflower to the Revolution—almost 200 years worth—were indentured servants. In other words, single, mostly young, white girls and boys ripped from families to start new lives on their own.

I can find no good numbers on the number of European immigrants, and the number of indentured servants, but adding numbers from various sources says it must have been more than 200,000, so over 100,000 from broken families. And in one place found a number of over 20,000 Irish alone.

For whatever reason, the number of Africans coming to the new world is easier to find. Here, down to the 100s, is a figure for the period 1700-1775: an “estimated 278,400 Africans” were brought to the new WASP world. The point in all of this is that the first 200 years of the United States of America owed its building to broken families.

And it didn’t stop there. While a flood of immigrants from Western European countries came from Civil War through the end of the 19th century, the government, promoting programs of westward expansion and settlement with grants to railroads and eventually the Homestead Act, actively cleared the country of Indians, breaking up tribes and families with wars and, beginning in the 1880s, boarding schools, where children were torn from families and stripped of their language and culture.

But even the Europeans who moved west became or resulted in broken families. Many of the women wanted to stay near families that had become rooted on farms and in towns across the East and Midwest. But the promise of free land and a patriarchal society that put husbands and fathers in charge of their nuclear families moved them west.

Italians, Greeks, the Irish, and Eastern European Jews filled eastern cities and did establish and rely on extended families, which grew into clans that in many cases dominated local politics, business, and even crime. Some accounts say that this—the enclaves of Eastern and Southern Europeans—drove WASPS west and promulgated the idea of Manifest Destiny. Owen Wister and his ilk thought themselves the tip on civilization’s arrow, which they had picked up from the fading British Empire.

But the WASPs could not do it alone. Some did bring slaves with them, but the quest for slave states was lost to the Civil War, and the westering WASPs soon turned to Asian workers. The Chinese and Japanese who came to work on railroads, to mine, and to farm came primarily as single men. The Chinese sent money from Gold Mountain back to China; the Japanese, having fled a small land with growing population, sent home for “picture brides.”

Families made their way on the Oregon Trail. But the white west attracted adventurous men, the fur traders, loggers, and fishermen. The trappers often married or took in Indian women. On an island near Seattle, a man named Mercer sent east for factory working women to come meet potential husbands in the fishermen and lumberjacks on what would become Mercer Island. It’s said that white men outnumbered white women in the region 10-1. The Puget Sound was not settled by families.

The Indian story is the dreariest. Along with boarding schools came the Dawes Allotment Act, which allotted reservation lands to individual Indians. They were to pay taxes and could, after 25 years, sell it to whites. The connections of extended families and tribes were frayed, and the attack on Indian families continued through the 1950s, when Eisenhower sought to “solve” the Indian “problem” by terminating tribal reservations completely, and a “relocation” program which moved young Indians to cities with a bus ticket and a few bucks towards a job or school. The policies failed, and the remnant urban Indians today are sometimes reconnecting with tribal roots and land.

When we come that far forward in time, to WW 2 and its aftermath, the jumble of urban whites from the East had mixed up the West, while the Mexican Braceros—men recruited to work while western farmers went to war, were herded back to Mexico, and the country has invented and reinvented migrant labor programs to harvest our crops ever since. Sometimes migrants travel as families, sometimes as individuals, but in any case they are broken from any previous lives as stable families who lived and grew in one place over time.

New immigrants to the country, whether they come individually or as families, are coming to a world that is dominated by individualism, where grandparents, cousins, extended families and tribes are here still—but often struggle against the forces that have broken families in the names of progress and nation building for over 500 years.

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Friday, August 3, 2018

Indian Church

Longhouse at Wallowa Nez Perce Homeland
It’s called a “longhouse,” because long ago tipis were strung together to make a “long tent” of hides or tule mats that could accommodate a large number of people for living, and, eventually, for religious ceremonies. The ceremonies are often called “seven drums,” because there are most often seven hand drums and a bell at the west end of the room or space looking toward the east, where the view to the rising sun is open. Songs are sung in cycles of threes and sevens, the lead singer/drummer rotating with each song. Women are on the south side and men and boys on the north, and a dirt floor in the center is a place where dancers dance and celebrants moved to speak speak.

These ceremonies and the religious beliefs expressed in the long house have been honed over centuries by Indians of the Plateau tribes of the interior Northwest.

President Grant thought he could stifle corruption among those charged with administering Indian affairs by turning over reservation administration to the churches—a blow of course to traditional Indian religious practices and beliefs. And General Howard’s confrontation with and jailing of Toohoolhoolzote at Lapwai in the lead-up to the Nez Perce War was a marked religious confrontation—Howard wanted none of Toohooloolzote’s beliefs about sacredness of mother earth.

The drums, bells, and songs were harshly suppressed with the many efforts to assimilate Indians—make them White—from the end of the 1877 Nez Perce War until recent times. From the 1870s until 1934, certain “codes” and regulations that allowed Indian agents—many of them religious people—to remove drums and regalia and outlaw songs and dances in the drive towards assimilation. Boarding schools outlawed Indian languages, cut boys’ hair, and put Indians in standard institutional dress. And sometimes the children were outright kidnapped for these schools.

Assimilation might have seemed natural, even desirable to people fleeing other lands and coming to the New World for the chance at new life—my Norwegian grandfather banned that language from his house when he had learned enough English; assimilation was for then a gift. For Indians assimilation was a theft, taking away their lives even as they were sometimes allowed to stay on traditional lands.

Resilient Indians began having powwows on the Fourth of July—getting out their drums and regalia, letting religious and government officials think they were now “half-civilized.” An Indian elder told me recently that the Indian dance bands of the teens and 1920s and 1930s, who played pop dance music and wore traditional clothing and headdresses, had found another way to hang onto tradition and culture under the noses of assimilationists.

Loosening of restrictions on Indian religious practices began in 1934, with a first Indian religious freedom action by the Secretary of Interior, and was enshrined in federal legistlation with The American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978—that is 19 and 78. As Alvin Josephy would say, until that time American Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Moslems, Buddhists and many others had religion; American Indians had “mumbo jumbo.”

These legal steps have also opened the way for language and culture programs, and, along with people of good will across racial and agency divides, have allowed Indians to gain and share spiritual beliefs, practices, and pride.

We have a long house now in Wallowa at the Wallowa Nez Perce Homeland. I say “we” because I am one of many—Indians from Nespelem, Umatilla, and Lapwai, and local Wallowa Countians—who formed this homeland organization years ago to provide a path and a place for the descendants of those displaced 140 years ago to return. There is a dance arbor at the Homeland—has been for many years, but now there is a long house, and on the Sunday of Tamkaliks, the annual powwow and friendship feast on the grounds, drummers and singers from Umatilla, Lapwai, and Nespelem drummed, sang, and prayed together.

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Forked tongues

American Indians have little reason to trust the written word. They are buried in broken treaties and false history texts—words, as Chief Joseph said and Alvin Josephy reiterated 100 years later, spoken with “forked tongue.” Alvin also said that Indians have been and are still disserved by the omission of words, by historical accounts that omit the Indians who were here, and contemporary accounts that forget that they are here still.

Our Josephy Center sculpture project aims to right a local omission, that of an Indian artist on Main Street in the town of Joseph. Four bronze statues in our town depict Indians—none of them the work of an Indian artist.

We selected Doug Hyde—or Doug Hyde selected us! Doug was born in Hermiston, grew up in part at Lapwai, Idaho, was packed off to the Indian art school in Santa Fe when he was 17 after a high school teacher sent a portfolio to the school.

The road wasn’t all smooth. There was Vietnam, combat wounds, and work in Lewiston carving cemetery monuments, but now he is an established artist in bronze and stone across the country. He’s past 70, but working hard from his Arizona studio—because he loves what he does. And what he is doing now for us in Joseph is what he is doing for people and tribes across the country—telling stories without words, without forked tongues.




A Hyde sculpture tellling Hopi stories. I don’t know those stories, but can imagine the Indians nodding at this, seeing their grandmothers and aunties in stone, captured with arms and clothing intertwined, pride and expectation on their faces.









And here’s Doug’s initial concept of the piece that will go in the Josephy Center courtyard: a slab of granite, the Wallowa Mountains profiled on the top, a Nez Perce woman cut out of the granite, and the woman--in bronze--walking back toward the mountains.







Here he is, carving the “maquette” of the woman who will soon walk in Joseph. Notice other Indians looking on in the background, and imagine their life-sized doubles on Indian grounds across the country.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Writing on stolen land

Pendleton writer Bette Husted read from her new novel, All Coyote’s Children, at the Josephy Center last week. It’s the story of a white family living on the Umatilla Reservation, surrounded by and ultimately intertwined with the Indian families around them.

Writing Indian characters and stories in fiction—or non-fiction for that matter—is a tricky business. Having historically used power and privilege to take away land, language, and culture, Euro-Americans should be and mostly are cautious in telling Indian stories now. We’re mindful of guilt for past actions—some of them not so far in the past, as boarding schools and the last efforts at assimilation in the 1950s are in living memory for many—and struggle with speaking “for” others whose experience we Euro-American writers do not have.

A quick survey of the literature finds much that is marked by prejudice and stereotyping (take a look at some old Zane Grey’s!)—and much that is romanticized. And some that explores the complexities of Euro-American—Indian relationships from the beginning. I’ve written before about the attraction of Indian life for colonial women described by Benjamin Franklin and turned into literature for girls in Indian Captive, published by Lois Lenske in 1941. This book is based on the autobiography of Mary Jemison, who was captured by the Seneca in 1755 in the back and forth between British and French and the Indian allies they pursued. Jemison watched her family be killed, but eventually assimilated with the Indians, married and had Indian children, and told her story towards the end of a long and adventurous life. The story has had many retellings, but Lenski’s book for girls sprung in the 1940s—and is still in print, now considered a children’s “classic.”

The capturing of white families in the early years of European colonization—and the capture of Indians and trades of prisoners—was not unusual, and did not end with New England and the 18th century. There is a literature of white captives in the Southwest, and in 2016 Paulette Jiles published News of the World, a page turning novel of a young girl captured by the Kiowa and the 1870 effort of an itinerant “news reader” to return her to her German-American family. She of course does not want to return, and the novel does let her work out a kind of compromise of her two lives.

In both of these cases, the protagonists are Euro-Americans, but the authors also found empathy for the Indian peoples who the captives unwillingly joined and willingly stayed with. They found it in connections to the living earth, the extended family support systems, and the relative freedom of women in tribal societies.

People have lived, married and raised families across racial divides forever. In Lies My Teacher Told Me, James Loewen reminds us of mixed black-white families, and reminds us that principled people who spoke for human rights for black slaves were with us from the beginning of that national tragedy. Until recently—maybe as recent as the 1950s—mixed families have been forced into one community or the other, and the people who stood up for them have been silenced or ridiculed. Decades before that as African-Americans moved north and west to find opportunity, black workers, athletes, and musicians worked and played for white audiences—and then went home to segregated lives.

Ditto for Indians—but with the curious addition of pride attached to tribes and tribal leaders. The current exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian displays over 300 objects of commercial appropriation of names of Indian tribes, tools, and chiefs: “Pontiac,” “Seminoles,” Jeep “Cherokee,” “Apache” and “Chinook” helicopters, “Tomahawk” missile, and the plain old Cleveland “Indians.”

How many times do we hear “my great-grandmother was Cherokee,” or some other story of distant Indian relationships—with no notion that there was a true story there, and no attempt to relate it to contemporary Indian-white affairs.

What Bette Husted and a few other writers are doing is teasing out the real stories of Indian-white interactions, of living together. The title of her memoir, Above the Clearwater: Living on Stolen Land, tells a story. Bette grew up on land in Idaho that was part of the original 1855 Nez Perce Reservation—a part scrubbed away with the discovery of gold and another, “liars’ treaty, written eight years after the first. The memoir explores poverty and guilt; the new novel explores interrelationships.

Luis Urrea takes on the huge complexities of Indian-Mexican-White interrelationships over centuries in Hummingbird’s Daughter and Queen of America. Closer to home, Pam Steele’s Greasewood Creek sits on the edge of the Umatilla Reservation and its people, and Warren Easley dares to take on the flooding of Celilo in a mystery novel, Not Dead Enough. That story was told in an incredible musical drama composed by Thomas Morning Owl and Marv Ross, “Ghosts of Celilo.”

In other words, it’s now ok to chip at the edges of White-Indian relations in books, as we struggle to get along and work together over salmon, water, dams, and economies. Hope is that the books—and their writers, Indian and non-Indian—are settling old history and part themselves of a new, more inclusive present.

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Thursday, June 21, 2018

Lessons from a Nez Perce elder

Proposed High Mountain Sheep Dam
Silas Whitman was in town this week, and the conversations were wide-ranging. The purpose of his visit was to speak to our current exhibit, “Dams, Fish, Controversy”—Jon Rombach’s had interviewed Si in researching the High Mountain Sheep Dam for the exhibit—and we were not disappointed. And the “wide-ranging” conversation was our dessert.

Si had been called on by Tribal officials at the time—in the 1960s—to follow the developments on that dam—and others. High Mountain Sheep was just one dam possibility for the Middle Snake. A competing project somewhat lower on the River put forward by Washington Public Power System argued that public power and their proposal should trump the private Pacific Northwest Power Company’s High Mountain Sheep project. Ironically, their competing project would be called the “Nez Perce Dam,“  and the “lake” behind High Mountain Sheep would be called “Imnaha.” (It’s hard now to imagine the mindset of the American power structure one and two generations ago, a mindset that would alter rivers and landscape and put Indian names on the alterations without comprehending the irony!)

The Nez Perce Tribe fought, legal arguments flew, and eventually both dam projects—although the HMS had already been approved, with road developments and land speculation on the way—were scuttled. The Tribe had been joined by a new non-profit called Hells Canyon Preservation Council and public opposition had grown when local and regional leaders toured the proposed dam sites with celebrities from Arthur Godfrey to Pete Seeger. In the end, Justice William O. Douglas said that fish and all they needed and represented trumped the rights of development; HMS died, and the Nez Perce dam was stillborn.

Si Whitman told us about an undercurrent. The Tribe had been caught between government agencies, and “We were an afterthought. We tried to get the BIA to intervene on our behalf and it was like pulling teeth. Our treaty rights would have been underwater.” The Bureau of Indian Affairs, the government agency charged with “managing” Indian affairs for the benefit of Indians, had played possum while the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation flourished. Indian voices on behalf of fish and all that the River was and represented had to wait for sympathetic white voices to rise before their own could be heard. (Alvin Josephy’s 1969 “White Paper” on the BIA documented this situation across Indian Country—but that is another discussion!)

Si reminded us that treaty rights would have been underwater with HMS and other dams on the Snake, and salmon—the salmon runs on the Snake and Imnaha and the entire Grande Ronde watershed—would have been gone. Extirpated, to use the harsh and correct word.

It seems to me that the greater lesson that Si shared was how “thinking like a fish” has to be joined with science if we are going to remedy the rush towards development that dominated natural resource policy during much of the twentieth century. I have asked biologists for years what might happen if the land-locked kokanee of Wallowa Lake were given access to the sea. Would the “sockeye” salmon DNA send some of them back to the ocean? I have learned from fish biologists that the occasional sockeye, probably with some wild gene in charge, is found in local waters. But Si’s answer was simpler and seemingly even more apt: maybe some of those kokanee found at the base of the dam trying to get downstream have the stuff to make it to the sea. He’d start there.

And with the big dams along the lower Snake that many are now demanding be breached? Si worries about the huge buildups of chemicals behind them, but remembers that Indians, when beaver dams stopped salmon waters too much, would pull them apart along their outside edge, restoring a kind of free-flow to the river. Thinking like a fish: “what we need is safe passage around this man-made barrier… and we don’t need the mercury and other junk stacked up behind the dams.”

On lighter notes, I asked Si about the continuing post-War presence of Indians in the Wallowa Valley. He knew of course about the Indian CCC camp that built the wall around what is now the Joseph Grave Site at Wallowa Lake. And he confirmed what I had heard about Indians camped at the fairgrounds in Enterprise, working the hay harvest in the early 1900s. And later! Si worked hay harvest on Harold Klages’s farm out of Joseph in the ‘50s, and remembered fondly the lunch feeds that Ardis put on for the workers.

And he remembered Irma Tippett and the Gold Room, where he played in an Indian R&B and rock ‘n roll band. And stories of his father playing jazz and dance music in the county with the “Nezpercians.”

Put up a few pictures of dams and fish at the Josephy Center, invite Indian elders to come and remember, and all manner of the true history of this place I’ve called home for 47 years floats to today.

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Monday, June 18, 2018

A good library day--and salmon stories

Fishing at Celilo; Railroad Bridge in background
Thursday, June 7.  A call from the newspaper editor: He’d looked at the current exhibit on dams and salmon and attended Bobbie Conner’s talk at the opening on Sunday. “So when,” Paul asked, “did the biologists really figure out the migration patterns of salmon?”

Fortunately, I had a handy timeline put out by the Native Fish Society, describing the decline of Columbia River salmon from 1779 to present, which told the story of early scientific opinion: Pacific salmon don’t pay attention to natal streams, but randomly find rivers to swim and nesting gravel in which to deposit and fertilize their eggs. The result of such thinking—and it persisted well into the 20th century, was that man could outdo nature, could build hatcheries and hatch fish faster than Columbia River canneries could harvest and process them.

“Got it, Paul,” I said, and emailed him the timeline. He was grateful. The answer to his question, by the way, looks to be 1938! Although Canadian scientists had started preaching natal stream care in the 1880s, the Americans had become taken with the

No sooner had I finished the conversation and emailing with Paul and retired schoolteacher and two-book author Julie Kooch walked in and asked whether I knew if Alvin Josephy had written about an Indian incident at Corral Creek. We glanced at Josephy before going to the Horner Papers. And there, on pages 376 and 377, we found the story of a pre-white battle between the Nez Perce and a band of Snake Indians at the “Notch” on Corral Creek. The Nez Perce had trapped the Snake and killed them all, according to Indian informants of the day. One of them, John Reubin, who passed the story on to white settlers, claimed a scar from the battle.

Julie listened as I read and nodded in approval. It was exactly as she remembered someone describing it to her years ago—but there were doubters, and Julie left happily with pages copied to show them her find.

Julie taught school in Enterprise for many years, but of late has been riding for local ranchers, collecting stories, and writing books. The first was My Life on Joseph Creek, and the second called Riding the Canyons. They are full of pictures as well as stories—candy for people fascinated by the Snake River and adjoining Canyon Country.

And while we’re at it, on the same day or one day before or after, a woman from Boise looked at the dams and salmon exhibit and zeroed in on a quote from Alphonse Halfmoon. “I think he’s my cousin,” she said, “actually, married to a non-Indian cousin of mine. I always wanted to talk to him at family get-togethers, but was too shy.” We made a quick call to Tamastslikt, and the Boise woman got to talk with a long-lost relative.

I could go on. Summer is a time of amazing guests, and the current exhibit elicits their stories: “Dad took me to Celilo before the dam,” and “We would stop and buy fish there before the dam,” and “I heard stories of that failed hatchery at Minam. A bunch of fishermen blew it up, I heard.”

And telling a group of junior high kids from Damascus that the Nez Perce ate an estimated 300 pounds of salmon per person per year put some meaning into those pictures from the “Horseshoe” at Celilo. And makes me remember that wonderful play written and scored by Thomas Morning Owl and Marv Ross about the “Ghosts of Celilo.” The railroad bridge in the play is the one shown in the 16-foot pre-dam photo of the River from above that is part of our exhibit.

In her opening talk, Bobbie Conner pointed out that the Celilo Falls are not gone, just under water. In Indian time—in seven generations—one can see them coming back, see the falls “bigger than Niagara” spilling the waters of the Big River once again.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Dams, Fish, Controversy--June events!

If you are “in the territory” in June!

Salmon talk—and controversy—today is about “spills” on Columbia and Snake River dams to help push salmon smolt to the sea.  Fifty and sixty years ago it was about getting salmon upriver to native spawning grounds.

The June exhibit at the Josephy Center, funded in part by a “Arts Build Communities” grant from the Oregon Arts Commission, opens on Saturday, June 2 at 4:00 p.m. It builds on one that Tamástslikt Cultural Institute on the Umatilla Reservation did last year on Celilo and the dam at The Dalles. They called it “Progress vs. Protest,” and told stories of the economic and energy gains—and the losses of fish and Indian culture on the Big River. In planning this exhibit, Tamástslikt Director Bobbie Conner suggested that we localize, with stories of the dam at Wallowa Lake and the High Mountain Sheep Dam—the one that did not get built—joining text and photos from Celilo.

Wallowa Lake Dam-1916. Photo courtesy Edsal White
The Josephy Center asked Joe Whittle to research the Wallowa Lake dams, and Jon Rombach to take on High Mountain Sheep. The result is an exhibit that gives background on the march of dams on the Columbia, a good accounting of the flooding of the ancient fishing site at Celilo with the construction of The Dalles Dam, and tells important local stories about dams, fish, and tribal culture.

Early settlers scooped sockeye salmon out of Wallowa Lake by the thousands, and failed to realize the species’ special migration pattern from Ocean to river, lake, and headwaters—and back to the sea. But the understanding of all salmon by the scientists of the day—the late 1800s and early 1900s—was off the mark. Thinking that native streams were not important—that Pacific salmon would randomly find a river to travel—scientists thought they could make up for the huge cannery harvests on the Columbia with hatcheries and moving eggs and smolts from one river to the next. Locally, dams and hatcheries at Minam and Troy, the experts thought, would easily replace the fish the settlers were harvesting on upper rivers and in Wallowa Lake.

No one bothered to ask the Indians.

In this exhibit we include the Indian stories of dams and salmon. And several special programs will allow for discussion of dams and fish. The revitalized Associated Ditch Company will talk about the present and future of the Wallowa Lake Dam at a June 12 Brown Bag, and Nez Perce Fisheries biologists Brian Simmons and Lora Tennant will describe how Imnaha salmon and steelhead fare as they migrate through the hydrosystem on a June 19 Brown Bag. That Tuesday evening Nez Perce elder and Fisheries veteran Silas Whitman will talk about culture, salmon, and the Snake River dams, with special attention to the one that did not get built. He’ll be able to point to a topographical map in the exhibit that shows how much of Hells Canyon and the Imnaha River corridor would have disappeared under “Lake Imnaha."

Other programs are in the works, and Allen Pinkham Jr. will continue his dugout canoe carving in June. The exhibit runs the entire month, but please put the opening, the big splash on June 2 at 4:00 p.m., on your calendar. Tamástslikt Director Bobbie Conner will be here to help launch the show.

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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Nez Perce Scores

Mark Eubanks recently brought me the score of a musical work called “The Chief Joseph Legend: A Choral Symphony in Five Parts.” Mark is a long-time bassoonist with the Oregon Symphony who retired to Wallowa County a few years ago, but finds time to take his bassoon over the hill to play with the Walla Walla Symphony Orchestra. There is a connection between “The Chief Joseph Legend” and the Orchestra, and Mark thinks the score and material related to it should be in the Josephy Library.

More on that in a minute.

I immediately thought about “Nez Perce: Promises,” a piece commissioned for the Caritas Chorale in Ketchum, Idaho by its conductor, Dick Brown. The composer was David Alan Ernest, and the librettist Diane Josephy Peavey. I was lucky enough to attend the “world premier” in the Lapwai High School Gymnasium in June 2012. We have the program—with lyrics but not the score—in the Library.

The composer of “Chief Joseph Legend,” John Verrall, had been Mark Eubank’s instructor at the University of Washington years ago. Verrall was born in Iowa, studied in London and Budapest, and spent several summers at Tanglewood with Aaron Copland and other American musical luminaries.

Yaacov Bergman, then and still conductor of the Walla Walla Symphony Orchestra— where Eubank now plays his bassoon—had suggested the subject of the 1988 work to Verrall. Bergman was born in Israel, and in addition to his post in Walla Walla conducts the Portland Chamber Orchestra.

Two symphonic pieces telling some part of the Nez Perce story join hundreds of folk songs, books, articles, poems, stories, sculptures, paintings and drawings related to the story—many of them hinged directly to the most famous Nez Perce leader, Chief Joseph, or Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekht (Thunder traveling over the Mountains). They all confirm my growing idea that the Nez Perce Story has become an American Odyssey, and that Chief Joseph is our Odysseus, the tormented leader exiled from his own land and longing for return.

Writers, composers, artists of all kinds recognize this on picking up the smallest thread of the story, and then work it into their own American narrative. In fact, the Nez Perce and Joseph narrative is powerful enough to attract an international audience and artists like Bergman—and to specially attract the attention of Americans who have left home and looked at their own land from foreign lands, like Verrall.

Diane is of course Alvin Josephy’s daughter. I remember how nervous she was in creating the text for “Nez Perce; Promises.” Being her father’s daughter and an experienced writer in her own right, Diane went immediately to tribal elders for help with the work. Diane also had a history of working and traveling abroad. And her father came to the Nez Perce Story fewer than six years removed from the beaches of Iwo Jima in World War II. In his memoir, Alvin describes finding a “great American epic.”

At the Josephy Library, it is not only professional and amateur writers and artists who come clinging to a page of the Nez Perce Story, but readers and listeners too. And they come from across the world. This week it was a retired pediatrician from Orcus Island who had worked with tribal people throughout his career, but only recently happened on “the story.” He’d read Kent Nerburn’s Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce, and Sharfstein’s Thunder in the Mountains, and that was enough to bring him here. He thinks he will visit Nespelem next, and plans on coming here again.

A few weeks ago it was a retired American History professor from New York, who had not read Indian stories seriously until he retired. He started with the Navajo, and came here for the Nez Perce. Last summer there were visitors from Japan and Germany and Hawaii, come to see the land of the Nez Perce.

Identifying the phenomenon is the simple part. The question, which I have raised from time to time and know will continue to come back to, is about the growing interest in the Nez Perce Story. And why now?

One day we’ll have a symposium or a gathering to consider this. For now, let’s continue collecting evidence—the stories in word and song, stone and bronze; and the writers and composers and painters who are drawn to the Story.

Send me yours!

p.s. Yaacov Bergman will be at the Josephy Center at noon on July 10 to discuss the “Chief Joseph Legend” and tell us what he knows about its composition.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

What DNA says


Viking Travels
A few years ago my sister had a DNA profile done. To her surprise, the family stories, passed down from Minnesota Germans and Norwegians, that said our mother’s people were pure Scandinavian and dad’s side was all German, turned out to be more complicated.

Our maternal grandfather came to Minnesota from Hadland, Norway, in the early 1900s, when he was in his teens. He married another Norwegian, whose family had arrived in Minnesota in the 1880s, and they made a family. They spoke Norwegian at home—until mom, their first child, went to school and was made fun of by other kids. Although grandpa spoke with a severe accent, the slap at his daughter rankled him, and he had enough English to declare himself American and English as the language spoken in the house from that day forward.

Dad’s side is a little murkier, but Wandschneiders and Steindorfs came to the States in the great migration out of Germany in the late 1800s. Grandmother was a Steindorf born and raised in Minnesota; our grandfather was not yet two on his arrival. Dad said that his grandparents did not speak English, but we never knew them, and I never heard his parents—our own grandparents—speak German. Maybe they too had decided “to be American.”

Here is the DNA breakdown that my sister got back from the testers:

Scandinavia—30%
Eastern Europe—28%
British Isles—21%
West & Central Europe—17%
Asia Minor—3%
And then traces from Africa and South America!

Two thoughts came immediately to my mind: the marauding Vikings and the shifting borders in Central and Eastern Europe. Germans and Germanic people have slipped and slid across empires and countries from Central Asia to Western Europe for millennia. And the Norsemen made repeated raids in the British Isles, and certainly brought women home with them. Their travels also included the Mediterranean, where they would have run into slavers that might account for African traces. Viking travels and world-wide slavery can probably also account for South American traces.

Borders have always shifted and people have always traveled--even before there were nations. The first thing to remember is that nation-states are a relatively recent historical category, that more than likely most of the world for most of history identified by local tribe—and language—rather than as members of a German, Norwegian, or Ghanaian nation.

Which ties into my interest in the twin evolutions of Manifest Destiny and the American concept of whiteness. In a review of a new book, Making the White Man’s West: Whiteness and the Creation of the American West, by Jason Pierce, in the Oregon Historical Quarterly, Jennifer Kerns explains how Anglo-Americans fueled the westward movement and the taking of Indian lands as “lesser” groups of whites—Irish, Slavs, Eastern Europeans—filled eastern cities and industrial jobs: “Boosters of the West… intellectually imagined the West as a restorative place for Anglo pioneers whose inherent character was at risk of decline when located in the urban East among ‘motley’ immigrants.” I’ve said it before: In its time Manifest Destiny was not about the white—or even European—westward expansion. It was about the Anglo notion of empire and superiority being passed from British Anglos to Anglo-Americans.

Jason Pierce also explains how the railroads, operating with the largesse of the federal government in allotting them Western lands, went to Europe and recruited Germans and Scandinavians they thought hardier and more industrious than other whites. So these Scandinavian and German men (because our history is almost always about men) eventually joined the lead—Anglo-American—jockeys riding Manifest Destiny to the Pacific Ocean.

Only later, in my mind after and in part as a consequence of World War II, did those “lesser” groups of whites become the right kind of white.

The Indians were more complicated. Apparently some early Puritans thought them one of Israel’s lost tribes, and the Mormons found a special place for them in their theology. Some Europeans even mimicked or joined tribal peoples, but for the most part, from Plymouth forward, the Indians were only an obstacle for Anglo-Americans on their march to the Western Sea. Indians--who had grown across two continents and evolved 2500 languages and tribal cultures--died of diseases the immigrants brought from another world, fought when they could, continued to move and mix genes with other tribes and eventually with some Euro-Americans, and miraculously held onto some older languages and markers of identity.

The new DNA analysis business shows us a world as complicated as the 2500 indigenous American languages added to those of other continents. And “the right kind of white,” like my sister’s DNA, is obviously more complicated than many of its defenders would like to know. What modern DNA analyses tell us is that ultimately, as far as the human race is concerned, we’re all related.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Canoe Notes #4

Allen Pinkham Jr was here this weekend working on the canoe. He had some help in a Saturday work party, and the small canoe--16 feet--Is looking like a canoe. To remind, we had it in the water much earlier--Allen wanted to make sure it floated right, without tilting port or starboard. It did, and we got some pictures, etc.

Which means that he could start thinking about the finer points of design and function: making sure the bow is heavier to compensate for the oarsman in the rear; comparing the shapes of bow and stern to photos of old canoes and the new ones being built by river and coastal tribes. It means we took off another 50 pounds I guess. Allen estimates weight at around 300 pounds now, and thinks we can take off more as we clean up the inside hull. Here is what it looks like now, blunt bow to left:


The next move is to finish this one and begin on two 30 foot logs now stored in Jim Zacharias’ yard. Allen talked with Jim this weekend, and the plan is to float the two logs in Wallowa Lake and establish their density--I.e. find the natural bottom of the canoe.

After that--and this is a variation on earlier plan--both logs will be hauled to the Josephy Center, and with a little bit of space on neighbor Sports Corral’s side yard, set them both up to be carved. One will be worked--as this one has been worked--with power tools. The other will be stone and fire. Well, antler, stone and fire to burn out the hull. The power-tool canoe will be another workshop lab, as the 16 footer has been, aimed at making the traditional canoe better.

This all started when Allen taught a beading workshop here a few years ago and said something like “You know, we [Nez Perce] were canoe people long before we were horse people. I’d like to come back and carve one.

Well--our goal is to help him carve three!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Doug Hyde chosen for Joseph Main Street Art project

Nez Perce Removal and Return
Artist Doug Hyde was born in Hermiston, Oregon, and traces Nez Perce, Assiniboine, and Chippewa tribal ancestry. He attended the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and the San Francisco Art Institute in the 1960s. While recuperating from serious injury after a second tour in Vietnam, Doug learned to use power tools to cut and shape stone. Sculpting in stone and bronze became the passion and focus of his life.

Plateau Indian Art on Main Street is a project of the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture, funded by a generous grant from the Oregon Community Foundation. The Josephy Center’s namesake, Alvin Josephy, Jr,, helped bring the Nez Perce story back to American attention with his classic history of the tribe, The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest, published in 1965.

The grant is part of OCF’s “Creative Heights” initiative, which encourages non- profits, artists and citizens throughout the state to test new ideas, stretch creative capacity, and provide unique opportunities for Oregonians to experience innovative arts and culture. The initiative has thus far invested more than $945,000 through 13 Oregon nonprofits, part of a $4 million, four-year investment by OCF in arts and culture around Oregon.

Hyde will receive a $25,000 artist award in three installments over a year-long period, with additional grant money available for artist travel and expenses, and artwork production. The second finalist for the project was Yakima artist Toma Villa. Each finalist had time to draft a proposal for jurors from tribal and local communities. Doug’s proposal deals with Nez Perce removal and return to the Wallowas. He will visit the city and meet with local artists and Josephy Center and city officials in the near future before developing a final plan.

In 1998, one of Hyde’s sculptures was installed at the White House. In 2008, his bronze, Little Turtle, was purchased for the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s Cultural Resource Center. Hyde has focused most of his efforts in the past decade to help Native American tribes tell their stories.

The Josephy Center and Oregon Community Foundation are proud to give Doug Hyde the chance to tell the Nez Perce story in the town named for its most famous leader.

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Daybreak Star--a Nez Perce Woman



Thursday, April 5, 2018

White Privilege

Washington D.C. April, 1968
Fifty years ago this week I was living in Washington D. C., near DuPont Circle on New Hampshire Avenue. I worked at the Peace Corps office, which was across Lafayette Square from the White House. It was less than a mile walk on Connecticut Avenue from home to work, and walking was sometimes quicker than taking the bus. This was before the Metro, so everything was above ground.

The city ignited with Martin Luther King’s assassination on April 4, and our basement apartment was only a block or so away from the National Guard’s line, established immediately to cordone off a mostly black neighborhood in disarray.

I can’t remember whether we went to work on April 5 or 6, but do remember that there was an immediate curfew in the city (in memory, 4:00 p.m.).  So when we did go back to work the Peace Corps and everyone else shut down by 2:00, so that we could get home and inside.

The curfew went on for days, our basement apartment got dimmer, and, with the curfew, alcohol deliveries at night—a questionable D.C. practice, but one I enjoyed at the time, were not possible.

So after a few days of it, frustrated and looking for a way around it, a work buddy named Charlie, who lived with his wife just a few doors away, my roommate Ash, who worked at the Washington Times, and other Peace Corps friends arranged a pizza and monopoly party at the latter couple’s apartment. Which couldn’t have been more than 4 blocks away.

On a weeknight after work, instead of scurrying home, we grabbed pizza and beer and met at Ted and Carol’s apartment. And after a long game of monopoly, but certainly no later than 11:00 at night, Ash, Charlie, Charlie’s wife, and I started walking home. We hadn’t gone far when a police car wheeled back and put its lights on us. Two black officers got out and asked us what the hell we were doing. And, flashlights in our faces, why did a bunch of well-off white folks think the curfew didn’t apply to us? And why did Charlie, who was black, think that having a white woman at his side and hanging out with white people should exempt him from the curfew?

We were soon at the closest jail, which had been turned into a triage center where protesters, drunks, streetwalkers, and miscellaneous out-too-late-during-curfew folks were sorted by sex, condition, and, presumably, seriousness of suspected offences. After a couple of hours in a crowded cell, we were herded onto a bus and sent to Lorton Penitentiary. There a large gymnasium sized-room had been filled with cots, and we each got one.

I don’t remember much about the night at Lorton, but do remember that we got “tickets,” and that the curfew breaking cost us each about $30 and a missed morning of work. And I remember details of the stop, the jail and the bus ride, where a few black cops used the time—and maybe their grief at King’s death and the turmoil in the city—to spit out a little venom about white privilege.

It would be years before I heard the term.

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