Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Ancient One

That is what Tribal people called the skeletal remains that white anthropologists dubbed “Kennewick Man” when he was unearthed along the Columbia in 1996, and quick carbon dating suggested he was 7,500—9,000 years in the ground. They argued that the remains were theirs, and that they should be allowed to rebury them properly.

Some scientists argued otherwise—the archaeologist James Chatters initially described the skull as Caucasian, and produced a reconstruction of his face suggesting that Kennewick Man looked a bit like the actor Patrick Stewart. The scientists mounted a vigorous campaign for more testing and against the Indians favoring reburial. (To be fair, Chatters subsequently changed his mind on the Caucasian idea.)

It all helped fuel a movement suggesting that Indians—Native Americans with Asian genetic connections who had crossed the land bridge tens of thousands of years ago—might not have been alone here. Or even first? Advocates of the “Solutrean hypothesis” held that during the Ice Age anatomically modern humans from Europe crossed via an ice bridge or over open water to North America, and the Solutrean high hunting culture of present-day Europe (roughly 20,000 years ago) became known as the Clovis culture in North America.

Others have argued about later, but still early arrivals of European peoples. Kennewick man was a marker in the scientific quiver of all such early European influence advocates, and eventually the courts backed the non-Tribals, and the Ancient One was measured and shared, to some extent, across the scientific world.

On Thursday, 21 years later, Danish scientists published an analysis of DNA obtained from the skeleton. Kennewick Man’s genome clearly does not belong to a European, the scientists said:

“It’s very clear that Kennewick Man is most closely related to contemporary Native Americans,” said Eske Willerslev, a geneticist at the University of Copenhagen and lead author of the study, which was published in the journal Nature: (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vnfv/ncurrent/full/nature14625.html).
According to the team of Danish scientists, who examined DNA from across the world, the Ancient one apparently has a close relationship with the Colvilles in north central Washington State.

So the Indians were right, they have the closest relationship to the Ancient One, and I imagine that a ceremonial reburial will eventually happen somewhere in the Northwest.  But what does the whole episode tell us about advocacy and science in the service of certain belief patterns.

I’ve wondered from the beginning how much we can tell about a skeleton by the shape of a skull? Think about the variation in skull shape among your neighbors and friends, maybe even within your own extended family. I immediately thought about that period when nineteenth century “scientists” thought that skull shape said something about personality—phrenology, wasn’t it? Apparently some in the scientific community came to a similar conclusion before the Danish DNA analysis.  It might have been why Chatters abandoned the Caucasian skull hypothesis.

But given that, what drives science—and lay students—to look for a European explanation for New World development? It is now pretty certain that outliers from Europe have made landfall from time to time over the eons. We know that the Norse found Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland over 1000 years ago,, during the Great Warming, built communities, and then were frozen out of the last two by the little ice age.

But all evidence is that the major developments in what would become known as North and South America—the mound cities and Mississippian Culture, the Mayans, Aztec, pre-Inca and Inca cultures, the domestication of over half of the world’s major agricultural products, Tlingit art, and Makah whaling owed nothing to Europe and Europeans. Whatever Asian migrations and interactions of different migrations occurred, what developed here before 1492 was indigenous to those ancient peoples who share more DNA with Siberian nomads than they do with German burghers or English sailors.

As far as we know now, all human DNA weaves back to an African beginning. And following the journeys out of that continent and across the world is exciting stuff.  But I think we’ve had enough of putting white Europeans at the center of all important movements—we have as much to learn from the stories that the Ancient One passed on in his time and to his progeny, which might now be scattered across the two continents, mixed with other threads and carried in the thousands of stories of creation and migration that were here when Columbus first set foot at Hispanola.


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For the NYT account of the Danish scientists’ findings:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/19/science/new-dna-results-show-kennewick-man-was-native-american.html?emc=edit_th_20150619&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=66175474&_r=0



Monday, June 15, 2015

Celebrating the Nez Perce

A few hundred Nez Perce Indians called this Valley home for thousands of years. They called themselves Nimipu (“the people”) and identified with this place, their families, their band and its headmen (Young Joseph, Old Joseph, Wal-lam-wat-kain, and on and on) more than any larger tribal group. European horses and diseases got here before Europeans did, and then the fur traders, who probably had seen a couple of Indians in buffalo country with dentalia they had traded for at Celilo through their nostrums, and put the Nez Perce name on them. This all before 1805 and Lewis and Clark. The fur men, migrants themselves, many from France and Scotland, trapped, traded, traveled and married with Indians. They had posts in Spokane and made it to the Pacific just five or six years after the Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery.  Historian Grace Bartlett says there were a couple of Frenchmen living in the Wallowa Valley with Indian wives when the first settlers came in—that was all the way up in 1871, when all manner of people were rattling around what some call Salmon Country—the lands from the British Columbian coast to the Northern California coast, and from salt water to the Rockies.

Settlers came after fur men, missionaries, surveyors, treaty makers, and gold seekers. It’s a long complicated story—thousands of years long and the length of rivers and mountain ranges, and the Nez Perce National Historical Park collects the pieces and tells the story in places across four states—Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Montana. They’re headquartered in Spalding, Idaho (ironically, named after the early missionaries to the Nez Perce) and are celebrating 50 years of work. One of the ways they are celebrating is with a show of “gift art,” the beaded bags, cradleboards, flutes, and moccasins Indians made and still make for children, sisters, and friends. And, fortunately for us here in Wallowa County, the first showing of this work is at the Josephy Center on Main Street in the town of Joseph (named, of course, after the last Indian headman who lived here).

It came on May 30 and will be up until the June 28. On the opening day we celebrated with Indian singers and drummers and artists and interpreters telling us stories.  Happily, May would have marked the 100th birthday of Alvin M. Josephy Jr. the man who told the Nez Perce story in exquisite detail, told it with the background of horses, diseases, fur traders, “discoverers,” missionaries, treaty makers, gold strikes, the Civil War, etc., told it, as much as he could, through the eyes and voices of the people themselves. On May 31, we celebrated his centenary.

There were still three survivors of the War of 1877 alive when Alvin began his work, and he spoke with them. When the Nez Perce returned to the Northwest in 1884 from the place they still call the “hot country” (Leavenworth; Indian Territory), the young men and those closest to Joseph were sent to Colville, in Washington—there was still much fear of Indians in Idaho and Oregon. Alvin went to hear the stories in Colville too. And in 1965 he published The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest, still—fifty years later—the acknowledged starting point for book learning about the tribe and culture. 
The drummers stayed and played for the Josephy party. Gordy High Eagle, one of the drummers, had been a “camper” at the Josephy house in the earliest days of the Chief Joseph Summer Seminar, then known as the Day Camp. Indian kids came for several summers, and always stayed at the Josephys. Another camper, Albert Barros, is now on the tribal council in Idaho. He brought a proclamation from the Tribe honoring Alvin. Betty Josephy, Alvin’s wife, was honored too—Albert called her “mom.”

Bobbie Conner, who is now the director of the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute on the Umatilla Reservation and is of Cayuse and Nez Perce descent, spoke movingly of listening as a child as Alvin talked with her grandfather. She also spoke movingly of this Wallowa land, thanked those of us who live here for loving it and taking care of it, reminded us why her people tried so hard to hold onto it.

Which reminded me that Alvin once told me that the Nez Perce claim to the country still had some merit. Now, in the library of books he left us, and in the writings of Grace Bartlett, the local historian who put together a day-by-day account of the last days of Indians here, I consider this. In 1873, President Grant came to the same conclusion, that the Treaty of 1863 was invalid. He rescinded the treaty, and determined that the Nez Perce should have half of the Wallowa Country. His agents went so far as to assess the improvements on the land in anticipation of paying off the settlers (some $68,000 on fewer than 100 claims).  

It didn’t happen of course. Some settlers were dug in, there were Indian haters in nearby Union, and there was fear of Indians engendered by the Modoc troubles. Finally, fears rose to fever with Custer’s debacle in 1876, and the Nez Perce War followed in 1877.

That is a too short history story. To learn more, one could follow the Nez Perce National Historical Park sites along the trail—some 1200 miles—that took the Joseph Band and other non-treaties almost to Canada, where Sitting Bull is supposed to have waited for them.

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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Alvin Josephy, the Listening Man

Gordie High Eagle, Millie Zollman, Albert Barros 
On Sunday at the Josephy Center we honored Alvin with Nez Perce drums and talk and a new exhibit highlighting some of the milestones in his life. This all followed the opening of a splendid Nez Perce Art Show. The show, mounted in celebration of the Nez Perce National Historical Park’s Fiftieth Anniversary, features art that tribal members make for each other—the buckskin shirt, cornhusk bag, moccasins, beaded horse regalia and headdresses worn for ceremony and parade. It’s here for June, then goes to the History Center in Lewiston, Idaho.

The Josephy exhibit stays put!

And, it seems to me, the story it tells—and the honoring of him on Sunday made this explicit—is that Alvin Josephy was a “listener.”

Bobbie Conner, the director of the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute on the Umatilla Reservation, spoke emotionally about conversations between her grandfather and Alvin in the 50s and 60s. Alvin, she said, listened to Indians, and tried until the very end, especially with his work at the National Museum of the American Indian, to get  Indians to tell their own stories and the rest of us to listen to them. On his visit at the opening of Tamástslikt, she said, Alvin commented on it portraying the “Indian” side of the story. He hoped that the national museum would do the same.

Cliff Trafzer, who holds an endowed chair in Indian studies at my alma mater, UC Riverside, says much the same thing in the introduction to the history section of a Josephy Reader Marc Jaffe and I are working on. When white historians were busily restating what other white men—it was mostly men, although we must remember Alice Fletcher and a few others—had said about Indians, Josephy took the “radical” step of listening, of asking Indians for their stories, the stories passed down in families and at tribal gatherings, sometimes for millennia.

In Alvin’s last book, Lewis and Clark Through Indian Eyes, he asked Indians to do that, to tell their family and tribal stories about Lewis and Clark. We know the Captains’ and the Corpsmen’s stories pretty well by now, but no one, Alvin wrote in reviewing Stephen Ambrose’s  Undaunted Courage for the New York Times, had bothered to ask the Indians about their side of Lewis and Clark’s journey.

So he and fellow editor Marc Jaffe did ask them. And produced a delightful collection of the personal and the tribal. Once, shortly after publication of the book, one of the Indian essayists and storytellers asked me what I thought of it. I told her I loved her piece and liked most of the pieces in the book very much, but I did express a little disappointment in one author. She put her finger in my chest and told me in no uncertain terms that Alvin had asked Indians to tell their stories as they had been told and wanted them told in their families and tribes, not “the stories you white guys want to hear.”

I retreated. She had said it all.

On Sunday, young Alvin, or Alvin Josephy III, talked about his father’s early dream of becoming a journalist. In the memoir, A Walk Toward Oregon, Josephy says something about newsprint and ink “getting in his blood.” The early interviews—for his high school newspaper—of H.L. Mencken and others—exhilarated him, and must have given him courage to go off and get stories from President Cardenas and Leon Trotsky in Mexico, in 1937, when he was 22 years old!

And the listening and the courage carried him to WOR Radio, to Archibald McLeish’s war propaganda department, to the Marine Corps and Guam and Iwo Jima. It took him to Time Magazine and to the Nez Perce story. Alvin was touring Lewiston with the local bigwigs, and it included a stop at the Nez Perce tribal agency headquarters. The young man at the agency desk, Bill Stevens, on learning that Alvin was with Time Magazine, asked him if he knew the Nez Perce Story.

Alvin listened—and the line of his listening lead directly to our listening, over 60 years later, to the Nez Perce artists and drummers this weekend in Joseph, Oregon.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Nez Perce Park turns 50; Alvin Josephy 100

Beadwork byAllen Pinkham, Jr.
The Nez Perce National Historical Park celebrates 50 years this summer, which also marks the centenary of Alvin Josephy’s birth.  Josephy, who passed away in 2005, wrote The Nez Perce and the Opening of the Northwest and is the namesake of the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture and the Josephy Library—which is my gig. As part of the Park’s anniversary celebration, the Center is honored to host “Nuunimnix” a Native American Art Exhibit, which opens this Saturday, May 30 at 3 p.m. This will be followed by a Sunday celebration for Alvin, a “birthday party” for the historian and friend of the Nez Perce people. This one is at 4 p.m. May 31.

The Nez Perce art is not commercial, but “gift art,” the things tribal artists and craftspeople have made for each other. The Nez Perce Park, for those not familiar with it, is unique among national parks because the land is not all contiguous, and is not all owned by the Park Service. It is headquartered on the Nez Perce Reservation in Spalding, Idaho. In 1965, all sites in the Park were in Idaho, but it now includes bits of Oregon, Washington, and Montana. In Wallowa County, the Dug Bar Crossing and the cemetery at the Lake are now on the list. For more information on the Park, go to http://www.nps.gov/nepe/index.htm,

Some of the Indian artists and the show’s curators will be here to talk about it, and a Nez Perce Drum will be here to help with the celebration. Fortunately, the drummers and singers have agreed to stay over and help with the Josephy celebration. For those of you who were at the memorial service at the Josephy ranch in the summer of 2006, this is the same group of drummers who honored the Josephys at that time. And although I cannot promise it, I believe that one of the drummers stayed at the Josephy ranch as a boy and attended the Wallowa Valley Day Camp.

Albert Barros, who is currently on the Tribal Council, will also be here. He too stayed at the Josephys, went to Day Camp, called Betty Josephy “mom,” and am sure will have a few words. This is a tight circle, with old family friends, many of whom grew up with the Josephy children, now tribal elders!

Al Josephy’s favorite picture of his father
Josephy children: Al Josephy and some of his extended tribe plan to be here as well. Daughter Kathy—“Katch”—hopes to sing one of her dad’s favorite songs. And we will be opening a small permanent exhibit that explains Alvin’s career. It’s set up as a hundred year timeline; Al came up with the title: “100 years of Headlines.”

Alvin Josephy never set out to make headlines, but he wrote quite a few. Our exhibit will feature many of his books and articles—Now That the Buffalo’s Gone and 500 Nations; “The Custer Myth” in Life Magazine, and “Wounded Knee and All That—What the Indians Want” in the New York Times. It might not be ready this Sunday, but we will have his voice in that broadcast on the Marine Corps invasion of Guam.

So this is a big weekend, and I hope that some of you who read this blog and follow goings on here in the Wallowa Valley will join us in the celebrations. And if you cannot make it now, sometime in June, while Nuunimnix is still on display. And if not in June, whenever you make it to the Wallowa Country, traditional home of the Joseph Band of the Nez Perce Indians.


p.s. If you get Oregon Public Broadcasting, April Baer and I talked this morning, and some portions of it will be broadcast on her “State of Wonder” program at noon this Saturday. I understand you can “stream” it from anywhere, but any streams I know about are all wet.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Remembering Ivan Doig

The Daily News Online
I think it was the fall of 1977 or the spring of 1978. We had opened the Bookloft in Enterprise in late 1976, and were going to our first “trade show.” It was in a Seattle hotel, and there were tables and tables of books—books recently published or about to be—with publishers’ representatives standing behind their wares and offering special deals…. if we would just order so many books.

And there were authors’ appearances. Over the course of a weekend a dozen or more authors read briefly and talked about their new books, and we booksellers, new cloth book bags in hand and already filled with publishers’ catalogs, stood in line after the appearances for free autographed books.

Ivan Doig was an unknown at the time—still making a living as a journalist as I recall. But he was good, and I stood in line for him, and made it to the front before Harcourt Brace & Jovanovich ran out of copies of This House of Sky. When my turn came, Ivan looked me in the eye and asked me what my name was. “I’m going to sign this to you—so you won’t sell it!” he chuckled.

A few years passed, and a quiet couple came into the bookstore, browsed, and drank coffee in Judy’s Kitchen at the rear of the store. They didn’t announce themselves, but I slowly figured, from that first Seattle meeting and the jacket pictures on his books (by then there were several), that it was Ivan Doig. They said that writer-friend Craig Lesley had said good things about the country and our bookstore, so Ivan and his wife Carol had made the long drive from Montana or from Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane to Portland and Seattle—or from Seattle and Portland to Spokane or Montana—taking the long route through Lewiston on Highway 3.  We had a short talk, they bought a book or two, and were on their way.

In 1988, I moved from the bookstore to Fishtrap, and immediately began inviting Ivan Doig to join us. I had a fistful of polite rejections when another writer, Bill Kittredge, explained that he and many of his friends enjoyed the writing conference circuit, but Ivan stayed home and wrote!

That didn’t deter me; I kept inviting him. And in 1994 our theme was “The Restless West: WW II and After,” and Ivan had a new book out. It was called Heart Earth, and covered the War period from a trove of letters between his mother and her brother, who was stationed on the USS Ault in the Pacific. Ivan’s mother had passed when he was six, so he was reconstructing a time in his own life and in her life that had been covered over as he and his dad moved from sheep ranch to cow camp across Montana in the 1940s and 50s. He would be a perfect fit.

I learned later that it wasn’t the theme that brought him to Fishtrap—historian Richard White, from the University of Washington, was our keynoter. He and Ivan were friends from the time Ivan picked up a Phd in History at UW. When sales of House of Sky took off, so did any thoughts of an academic career, though Doig is remembered for the attention to historical accuracy in all of his books.

So he and Richard had talked. Ivan had seen a little bit of the Wallowas, and that was good, and Richard’s friend, the historian Alvin Josephy, would be here. So there was the chance to meet him. He came, read, and talked, and we all loved him. Personable, honest, a man who read and treasured Irish writers and Australian writers as well as his American peers. For Ivan’s stories and Richard White on how WW 2 had shaped the West, and for Alvin’s stories of the Pacific—that was the time he played a recording of the landing at Guam—it was a memorable Fishtrap.

I can see him now at the Fishtrap podium. I think I am going to dig out a recording of his 1994 talk. I had no notion that he had been battling cancer for eight years, and his death on April 10, which I am now reading about in the Missoulian and the NY Times and Washington Post, slipped right by me. Those who knew him revere the connections (recollections like mine must be going on in thousands of minds as I write), and no one seems surprised that he had been quiet about the cancer, and gone on doing research, writing books, and granting interviews to the end.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Chief Joseph--Idaho Governor Otter is wrong!

Idaho Governor Butch Otter is dead wrong in quibbling over Chief Joseph’s ties to Oregon and Idaho and questioning Oregonians’ choice of him for a Washington D.C. monument.

Joseph was the leader of a band of Nez Perce Indians that lived for millennia in the valleys and canyons of the Wallowa Country in what is now Northeast Oregon. In 1855, Old Joseph, the father of the chief who became a national figure during and after the War of 1877, along with leaders of many bands of Nez Perce and other plateau tribes, went to Isaac Stevens’ Walla Walla Treaty Council, where Joseph and most Nez Perce band leaders signed the Nez Perce Treaty of 1855. He returned peacefully to the Wallowa homeland, which was included in its boundaries.

The Nez Perce fared well in that first treaty, being the only tribe not to be “confederated” with neighboring tribes, and retaining a substantial amount of land that stretched from the Wallowas in the south and west far into what is now Washington and Idaho north and east. But in 1861 gold was discovered in Idaho, and in 1862, 18,000 illegal white miners were working it. In 1863 a new treaty, which reduced Nez Perce lands by almost 90 percent, was engineered and the tribe—numbering about 3,000--5,000 then—split into treaty and non-treaty bands. Joseph did not sign what Indian heirs and some historians call the “liars’ treaty,” which excluded the Wallowas.

He did return to the Wallowas—where no gold had been found, and for some years life went on as before. But the Homestead Act of 1862 and a dry grass year in the nearby Grande Ronde Valley a few years later brought settlers in. Whites and Indians tried and for the most part did get along for several years, but a few local incidents, a rabble rousing newspaper man in Union County, the Modoc Wars, Indian affairs in the wake of the Civil War, President Grant’s failed attempt to rescind the 1863 Treaty and give half of the Wallowas to the Joseph Band, and Custer’s debacle all combined to force young Joseph (his father had passed in 1871) to move his people toward the reduced Idaho reservation in the spring of 1877.

In the move, while in Idaho, killings occurred, war broke out, and it ended 1400 miles later with Joseph and the non-treaties 40 miles short of Canada and Sitting Bull’s camp. Although promised a return to the Northwest by those they surrendered to, the Nez Perce spent years in exile in Kansas and Indian Territory. When they returned, in 1884, Idaho and Oregon did not want Chief Joseph or any Nez Perce of warrior age, and Joseph and those close to him ended up on the Colville Reservation in Washington. He tried continually to come back to the Wallowas, but was always rebuffed. On his last trip, Federal money in hand to purchase land, he was “made sport of” by the locals, according to the papers.

Joseph died “of a broken heart” on the Colville Reservation in 1904. We in Oregon and Idaho can take no pride in the way we treated him and the Nez Perce—or other tribal peoples for that matter—in that time, but we can admit our errors and make his descendants welcome again. There is now a “Nez Perce Homeland Project” of 320 acres near the Oregon town of Wallowa. There is an annual powwow; there are naming ceremonies and giveaways and burials.

Idaho—and the Northwest and the Nation—can embrace Chief Joseph now, but it is the privilege and job of Oregonians to do so first, and identifying him nationally with his ancient homeland with this small gesture of an Oregon State statue in the nation’s capitol is a first step. There will be many more.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Custer Myth and Henry Luce

The July 2, 1971 issue of Life Magazine carried a story by Alvin Josephy called “The Custer Myth.”  In the late 1960s, during the filming of “Little Big Man,” for which Alvin was a technical advisor, he took some Indian friends to see the Custer Battlefield, While they looked at exhibits, the government “interpreters” went on about the battle, calling the Indians “savages,” and even intimating that some kind of plot to discredit the American military was sweeping the country (this was during the Vietnam War). 

The Indians became increasingly uncomfortable, muttering that “Crazy Horse was no savage, he was a great man.”  Alvin goes on to quote a Nez Perce friend about the importance of Custer to all American Indians:

"The white man’s knowledge of Indians is based on  stereotypes and false, prejudiced history. Custer is the best known hero of that myth to the whites. Therefore, to every Indian in the country, it is the biggest and most important symbol of all the lies that have been told about us. Destroy the Custer myth, the biggest one of all, and you’ll start getting an understanding of everything that happened and an end to the bias against the Indian people.”

Almost as interesting as the story and the point it makes about Custer and Indians is the managing editor’s preface to the entire magazine edition, billed as “The Fourth of July Special: The American Indian.”  It is especially interesting in light of Alvin’s remarks in his memoir about his boss at Time, Henry Luce. Luce, he said, didn’t like Indians, thought they were all “phonies” who should just get on with it and get assimilated!

In his preface to the 1971 issue, Life Managing Editor Ralph Graves says about Luce (interestingly enough, without naming him; and he had passed away a few years prior to this publication):

“One former managing editor of this magazine was a man of legendary likes and dislikes. One of the things he disliked was any story about American Indians, but one of the stories he couldn’t resist was any story about trains. For years his staff wondered what he would do if confronted by a marvelous picture of a railroad locomotive—with an Indian in full headdress seated in the cab. As far as anyone can remember, no one quite dared to offer him this impossible dilemma.”

For those of us looking for progress in Indian-white relations and understanding, I think we can say that the Custer myth—after many long and torturous years—is no longer widely believed by Americans of all colors. And Henry Luce’s great Life Magazine, which alas is no longer with us, was able to portray the people he thought “phony” in their own words and pictures before it bowed off the stage. 

And Alvin was there to help.



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