Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Early Assimilationists

Pocahontas--aka Lady Rebecca
I don’t know when it started—maybe with the very first meetings of Europeans and the Indians of North America. The Powhatan child, Pocahontas, at the Jamestown settlement, is certainly an early example of an Indian captured, converted, and assimilated by the English.

(A caveat: I am thinking of the English and other Northern Europeans’ colonization of North America, and not of the Spanish and Portuguese in Central and South America, where other, often brutal, modes of assimilation were carried out.)

Although Pocahontas probably did not “save” Captain John Smith, she was familiar to the colonists at Jamestown, and in 1613 was captured and held by the English. In captivity she was instructed in Christianity and baptized “Lady Rebecca,” and apparently fell in love with one of her captors, John Rolfe. Wahunsonacock, her aging father, who had a complicated relationship with the colonists, at this point had them under siege, but in order to see his daughter again, he agreed to peace and her marriage to Rolfe. The couple, accompanied by a group of Powhatan, including Tomocomo, who the chief tasked with “counting the people,” went to England, where she was a sensation, a model of the “transformed savage.” Unfortunately and quite understandably, given the Indians lack of resistance to European diseases, she died of smallpox on the return voyage to America. Tomocomo apparently gave up counting the English.

It is probable that the numbers of Europeans and the lack of Indian resistance to their diseases were on the minds of many North American Indians as the foreigners came in larger and larger numbers, bringing guns, iron tools, livestock, culture, religion, and diseases with them. There were wars and there were treaties, and the ferocious forces of numbers, diseases, and a religious culture that considered itself divinely driven and the custodian of ultimate truth were relentless in displacing the indigenous Americans by killing, removal, or assimilation.

Alvin Josephy believed and stated often that the Indians had these three choices; he said also that the Europeans’ preferred choice was most often assimilation, making Indians white.

Why?

Killing all of the indigenous people would have been an extraordinary task—they were many peoples living in many different environments, and they knew the land as the invaders did not. And the newcomers needed their guidance: Where did the waters begin and end? What was on the other side of the mountain? How deep would the snow be?  But mostly the Europeans needed what the Indians had—land and the natural and agricultural resources that the land contained and supported.

Removal would become the preferred option under Andrew Jackson, and again in the major treaty period as the Euro-Americans moved across the continent. But in the early days, the new Euro-Americans needed the Indians in their places for reasons above.

Assimilation, the third choice, was that of reasonable men because they could use the information and sometimes the labor and military alliances with tribal people who were alive and in or near their native places.

There were Indian tribes and individuals who resisted, but resistance meant war—and then death, or removal, leaving traditional lands, or some kind of accommodation, or assimilation.  Back to the three alternatives.

For many of the newcomers there were moral arguments for assimilation. They had moral standards—promoted by a body of English common law and a religion that asked that people be treated fairly and honestly. I believe that the religious argument for assimilation—and conversion—was the primary motivation for most of the early critics of those who treated Indians unfairly, the driving force of early assimilationists.

In 1880, Helen Hunt Jackson published A Century of Dishonor, a stinging critique of private and government actions against Indians. She wrote about the massacre at Sand Creek and the Nez Perce War, chronicling misdeed after misdeed, a “Century of Dishonor.”

H.B. Whipple, Bishop of Minnesota, wrote the preface, calling it a “sad revelation of broken faith, of violated treaties, and of inhuman deeds of violence [that] will bring a flush of shame to the cheeks of those who love their country… Dark as the history is, there is a brighter side. No missions to the heathen have been more blessed than those among the Indians. Thousands who were once wild, painted savages, finding their greatest joy in deeds of war, are now the disciples of the Prince of Peace.”

Jackson herself, in an author’s note at the beginning of the volume, says that “The history of the missionary labors of the different churches among the Indians would make another volume. It is the one bright spot on the dark record.”

However misguided, and in order to understand all later attempts to “make Indians white,” we must acknowledge the moral ground on which the early assimilationists  stood.

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Sunday, December 24, 2017

In-mut-too-yah-lat-lat at Christmas

In-mut-too-yah-lat-lat—Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce to the world, wondered about the white man’s religion. Henry Spalding, the Presbyterian, had baptized his father, Tuekakas, and given him the name Joseph, and on his father’s death he had taken leadership of the band of Nez Perce—Nimiipuu—who called the Wallowa Country home, and he had taken his father’s name. At least that is the name the whites called him. What he wondered about was a religion at odds with itself—Presbyterians and Catholics had fought bitterly over theology and converts in his Country from their arrival in the 1830s.

In-mut-too-yah-lat-lat saw and understood many things that whites gave him little credit for; they always managed some workaround of the Indian’s intelligence and logic in pursuit of their own agendas.

At the Josephy Library we give copies of the famous Chief’s speech at Lincoln Hall in Washington D.C., delivered in 1879, just two years after the sad conclusion of the Nez Perce War in Bears Paw, Montana. People sometimes cry when they read it. I think it is a good starting point for understanding a people and history that live with us still—an invitation for scholarship and friendship.

I am privileged to know Nez Perce people and to be learning some of the Nez Perce story. I say some, because a lifetime would be not enough to learn a story of thousands of years, and because my learning would always—will always—be through my own white eyes.

Nevertheless, I get glimpses—in stories from elders, in the way things happen here at the Nez Perce Homeland in Wallowa and at the Josephy Center when Indian people are involved. We’re privileged too to have some written history—oral stories Indians have passed down that have been transcribed; the written accounts of traders and even missionaries; and in my case especially the work of Alvin Josephy.

Alvin waited to reconstruct the story for the white world until he “found” Yellow Wolf and Hear Me My Chiefs, books that are Indian accounts taken down by an eccentric white rancher named Lucullus McWhorter. McWhorter was a friend to Indians who met Yellow Wolf and the Nez Perce as they worked in the Washington hop harvest. Yellow Wolf was a War survivor. McWhorter traveled the route of the famous War Retreat towards Canada with Yellow Wolf, and the books were published by a little known Idaho company named Caxton.

Josephy also scoured missionary and fur trade accounts, and he was just in time to meet and sweat with the last survivors of the War of 1877. His work—The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest, is important in learning the story, but there is no better way to emotionally understand it than to read In-mut-too-yah-lat-lat’s words. And there is no better time to hear them than at the primary Christian holiday:

Whenever the white man treats the Indian as they treat each other, then we will have no more wars. We shall all be alike - brothers of one father and one mother, with one sky above us and one country around us, and one government for all. Then the Great Spirit Chief who rules above will smile upon this land, and send rain to wash out the bloody spots made by brothers' hands from the face of the earth. For this time the Indian race are waiting and praying. I hope that no more groans of wounded men and women will ever go to the ear of the Great Spirit Chief above, and that all people may be one people.

In-mut-too-yah-lat-lat has spoken for his people.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Indian Way of Life

I just finished teaching a “Pacific NW Ecosystems and Tribes” class for OSU on the Eastern Oregon University campus. It was my fourth year, and as I am not a regular teacher, I have tended to revamp the class each year—and sometimes mid-year.

What is consistent is that I try to present the region—the Old Oregon Country; the land occupied by “The People of the Salmon,” as Richard Dougherty elegantly described it in Alvin J’s American in 1492—as it was in 1492, and then the changes that came with each intrusion of the white Europeans: the horse, diseases, explorers and fur trade, missionaries, treaties, settlers, farmers and fishermen, the Wars, the Columbia River dams and irrigation projects, up to the EPA, Boldt Decision, and tribal fisheries programs today.

One of the tasks of the class is to explore “Difference, Power, and Discrimination,” so we follow the power shifts from tribes to whites, from agriculture to industry, rural to urban, and we discuss how Indians and women and others have been treated along the way.

I was on my way to La Grande for class a couple of weeks ago, wondering how to get 33 students involved in more discussion, and a little experiment occurred to me as I drove. I divided the class into three groups, and asked them each to take 10 minutes and come up with lists: Group 1—the tools white men have used to dominate women in our country; 2—the tools white men have used to dominate African-Americans from slavery to present; and 3—the tools white men have used to dominate Indian tribes and people for 500 years.

I said “white men” in each case because when you talk about power, it is white men who have historically held—and still hold many of—the seats of American power. (Current tensions, the results of news reports and confession, are testimony to this fact.)

The lists were remarkably similar: physical strength, religion, education, money, politics—including the vote, etc. But in the middle of the discussion something else occurred to me. “What, I asked, did Indians have that women and African Americans did not have for years and decades in our country?”

Students had little trouble with the first answer: land—property. Early African-Americans, most of whom were slaves, did not own property. And one can argue that white women were considered property themselves for the first 150 years of our national experiment. We had learned in class that it was basically 1900 before women could own property across the country, and of course it was 1920, not yet 100 years ago, when women got the vote! Although one might point to marriages which consolidated lands and the occasional matriarchal land baroness, they were exceptions, while Indians occupied and held onto lands that white men wanted from the time the first fishermen stepped off their boats and the first pilgrims landed. The diseases, treaties, duplicity, and conflicts that allowed white men to confiscate Indian lands from coast to coast is the earliest—and often most neglected—chapter in the nation’s history!

The second thing that Indians had that neither white women nor African-Americans could boast of was an attractive lifestyle. From Rousseau and his “noble savage” and the European painters who dressed King Hendrik in regal gowns, from John White’s 17th century drawings of muscular, handsome Indians, to Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, and scores of French-Canadian voyageurs who went into the American wild with and as Indians, a certain small number of Euro-Americans—including some “captured” women and children—have embraced an Indian way of life.

There is an entire literature of this, possibly beginning with Benjamin Franklin, and certainly running to the recent tale of a young girl captured and raised by Kiowa Indians being “returned” to her white family by a grizzled old veteran named Captain Kid. It’s News of the World, and it’s a good read, based, I’m sure, on extensive research into the literature.

But let’s begin with Franklin:

“When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and makes one Indian ramble with them, there is no persuading him ever to return. [But] when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived a while among them, tho’ ransomed by their friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a short time they become disgusted with our manner of life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good opportunity of escaping again into the woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them.”

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Canoes, statues, gifts

Many of you have been following our canoe journey, and some know about the big grant we received from the Oregon Community Foundation to have a Plateau Indian artist put Indian art on Main Street in Joseph.

That one is a long process. We are recruiting artists now--deadline January 15--for a first selection of three artists, who will each be given $1,000 and a month to develop proposals. One of the three will then have a year--and a $25,000 artist’s award--to complete an art project for Joseph’s Main Street. If you know of Plateau artists who might be interested, let us know! The OCF grant will cover most of the costs of this project.

Allen Pinkham Jr.’s small canoe floats! There is a little polishing up to do, but he is now thinking about those 30 foot logs sitting in Jim Zacharias’s log yard! We have some grant money for this project, but we will need more to get a traditional 30 foot Nez Perce dugout canoe on the Snake River in 2018!

And we will need more to complete a “Who Lived Here and How They Lived” permanent exhibit on the Center’s second floor next to the Library. Joan Gilbert, who designed the Josephy exhibit, is designing this one, and I think it is going to be good. The intent is to answer your questions--and those of visitors from across the world--about the Nez Perce who once lived here and who we at the Center, along with many others in this community, are now welcoming home.

We are also working with Tamástslikt on a summer 2018 exhibit. No end of good things going on here (I have not touched on the classes and exhibits and concerts that Cheryl has lined up), and I hope that you will be able to enjoy some of them in person.

Meanwhile, on this Giving Tuesday, or anytime, for that matter, we’ll appreciate your support of the Josephy Center and our good work. Check here to give online--https://josephy.org/support-the-josephy-center-for-arts-and-culture/--or give a call if you’d like!

Thanks--and the very best of holidays to you and yours.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Canoe notes #3


Allen Pinkham Jr. got his dugout canoe into the water at Wallowa Lake in November. He’ll be back for some finishing work on this 16 footer, and then on to the 30 footers! The plan is to build one with the help of modern tools--as was done with the smaller canoe--and then one with traditional tools and methods. And then---he wants a trip on the Snake River in 2018.

Meanwhile, here’s the run-up to launch, and the canoe--and Allen and granddaughter--In the water. That’s son-in-law Travis, whose day job is in a commercial boat-building shop, working with Allen.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMIwMx7VA0Y


Friday, November 17, 2017

History buffs and novelists tell the stories

Alvin Josephy wrote and spoke frequently about the Indian story being left out of the standard American history of school textbooks and the academy. He said that amateur historians--“history buffs”--and novelists kept the story of Indians and the West alive when academia didn’t much care.

I teach a class in La Grande on Northwest Tribes and the Ecosystem they lived in, and how European intrusions, from diseases, horses, fur-trapping, and treaty-making to boarding schools, dam-building, and fire suppression changed Indians and the land. I’ve become increasingly interested in white-Indian realtionships, and yesterday we compared white male—women; white male—African-American; and white male—Indian power struggles from colonization forward, looking particularly at the rise of Black Power, Red Power, and Feminism in the 60s and 70s.

Two things stood out. First, white men, empowered by physical strength, religion, and tradition, were able to dominate women in the United States from our beginnings, and the appreciation of women as human beings deserving of the recognition and opportunities accorded their fathers and brothers has come about very gradually, and often painfully.

Second, African-Americans were brought to the new world as slaves, smothered first with physical force to get them onto ships and then shipped to a completely alien world, where fellow slaves often did not share language or culture, and a white minority was able, with the slaves’ debasement and confusion and their own assumptions of superiority and use of force, to dominate them. Their recognition as human beings deserving of the opportunities accorded their white brothers and sisters has also been painful and slow.

Indians are more complicated.

Josephy says that Europeans gave the Indians three choices: Assimilation; Removal; and extermination. There have been killing sprees and even genocidal actions against Indians, but Indians did not all die.  Removal has stumbled on inconsistencies and out and out failures, from Jackson’s removal policy to the widespread introduction of Indian “reservations.” Indians are still here—on and off their reservations.

Assimilation has always been the preferred government and societal treatment of Indians. Indians have been missionized, allotted onto farms, barred from practicing religion and cultural events, kidnapped and stripped of hair, language and culture at boarding schools, terminated from their reservations, and relocated to urban centers, all in the cause of making them white.

Women could not be made white—white men that is; Africans could not be made white, but the very early conceit in our country was that Indians could be made white. The Indian, the old boarding school anthem went, could be killed to save the (white) man.

Indians, it seems to me, had and have two things that European women and African-American men and women did not have when confronting white European men. First and most importantly, Indians had the land—and all that that meant. They knew the land, how to use, travel, and live on it. Europeans needed Indians at every point along the colonization road to show them those things.  But White Europeans wanted that land for their own purposes, and used every means of getting it—war and treaty being the primary means. Because the Indians had the land originally, they had a power in war and negotiations that neither women nor African-American slaves had. In the time, they were often overwhelmed with force and deception, but they hung and hold on—now to small bits of land and culture that take them back millennially.

The other thing that Indians had from the beginning was a physical health and lifestyle that was attractive to some of the European intruders. Think of Rousseau and his noble savage, and of Daniel Boone, the fur trappers and mountain men who left polite society to live with and like the Indians. They get their due in university press and small local publishers, not in our textbooks

And the story of women and children captured by Indians is threaded throughout our literary history in adventure books for children and in the diaries and narratives of “amateur” historians.  Not, again, in the textbooks, where the stories of grim preachers, prim women, and Salem witches do find room. But the “captives,” including the many who refused to return to “polite” society, have their own literature, from Mary Jemison, captured in 1753 at 15, diarist and subject of a stream of books from then to now, to Paulette Jiles’ just-published News of the World, a fictional account of a white girl raised by the Kiowa.

With Indians, white-guilt, Indian resilience, romanticism and a lingering taste for the land and the wild have crowded and continue to crowd each other in an ambivalent  500-year stew of a relationship. A stew too complicated for textbooks, left to novelists and history buffs.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Truth-telling

Friends

This is a newspaper column I wrote for the Wallowa County Chieftain this week. It was suggested I post it here. I don’t think it is out of place.
best, rich


We live in a strange time. National news is dominated by arguments over facts—half-facts and fake facts, social media condemnations and accusations—while a growing chorus of serious speakers of all ages, religious and political persuasions rises to speak truth.

The liberal movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was not the first person of note to be accused of sexual abuse and huge hush money payments—Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly beat him on that score—but the accusations against Weinstein have opened a dam of stories about major figures in entertainment, religion, sports, and politics with sometimes bizarre accounts of power, control, and sexual predation.

Diana Nyad, the greatest long distance swimmer ever, wrote last week in the New York Times about a swimming coach who abused her and others when they were in high school, and how, after the girls told the school, the coach was quietly let go, and then went on to coach in college and in the Olympics! She’s been telling the story for decades; now people are listening. And listening to Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, who joined the chorus with accusations against USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who is already facing charges of abuse and child pornography. These stories—and powerful organizations and a na├»ve public—are too late for scores of abused swimmers and gymnasts, but “late” is saving lives.

Last week also the Brooklyn Diocese released the names of several priests who had been “laicized” for abusing young boys 30 and 40 years ago. One went on to an illustrious academic career—which Arizona State University terminated with the new revelations.

The comic Louis C.K. joins Kevin Spacey and Public Radio’s Senior Vice President of News Mike Oreskes in the parade. In the NPR case, as in most others, the women—and in Spacey’s case, men—who had been reluctant to come forward have found courage in the wake of Weinstein’s fall. Even the US Senate has decided that sexual harassment training should be required—as Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore fights off accusations of pursuing and abusing teenagers as a young lawyer. My favorite defense: the Bible has stories of older men happily marrying teenagers.

If you think this all happens somewhere else, talk to the folks at Safe Harbors, and comb old local newspapers for reports of men physically and sexually abusing girls, women, and the occasional boy. The legions of famous victims who have stepped forward will embolden ordinary people in towns and cities across the country.

And listen for other stories too. Race has not been far behind gender in today’s truth-telling. Recent studies show that the tide of white Trump voters who swept him into office—despite evidence of questionable sexual and racial behaviors—was largely motivated by fear of immigrants and the fact of a sitting black American President.

In Wallowa County we named the mascot at Wallowa High School “Amos,” after an African-American named Amos Marsh, probably the most successful athlete who ever graduated there. And we laugh at the story of our beloved County Clerk, Marjorie Martin, who felt obliged to hide documents related to the massacre of Chinese gold miners on the Snake River while close relatives of the perpetrators were still alive.

Oregonian reporter Greg Nokes caught wind of the massacre story and doggedly pursued it, befriended Marjorie, and gained important information after she retired and new Clerk Charlotte McIver uncovered old documents stuffed away in the “wrong place.” A book, a monument on Snake River, and an Oregon Public Television documentary followed.

A recent showing of “Massacre at Hells Canyon” drew over 100 people at the Josephy Center, and Joseph teacher Jason Crenshaw showed the film and taught the event in his US History class.

Gwen Trice has been uncovering the history of African-American loggers in Wallowa County with the Maxville Heritage project for several years, and Pearl Alice Marsh, younger sister of star athletes Amos and Frank, is compiling a written history with interviews of the first generation descendants of those loggers.

Last week Pearl Marsh told the Joseph student body, grades 7-12, what it was like to grow up black in Wallowa, how she couldn’t be a “Brownie,” but a kind 4-H leader recruited her, how famous Amos could dance with white girls, but not date them, how living in Maxville and Wallowa was tough, but a huge step up from the Jim Crow south. When a student asked if she still experienced discrimination, Pearl said yes, but we’re much better now than we were with the legal discrimination and the lynchings that haunted all black American lives just a few years ago.

We are all better for knowing the truth—even when the telling is hard.

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