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.

# # #

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.

# # #

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.

# # #

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.

# # #

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Race matters, color matters

Recent studies show that African-American women with similar economic and educational backgrounds to white counterparts die more often in childbirth, and at younger ages overall. After ruling out all of the geographic and sociological factors they can, researchers attribute the more frequent and earlier deaths of the black women to the stress and anxiety that comes with having black skin.

In the New York Times this week, an extensive study of thousands of boys concludes that white boys from rich families mostly remain rich; black boys from rich families more likely drop down the income ladder. Latino boys drop as well, but not as many and not as far. Asian boys better their white cohorts—remaining in the same income bracket or moving up.

Although the number of American Indian boys who grow up in rich families is small, their trajectory is like that of African-American boys.

When I explained to an Nez Perce friend that my grandchildren, whose father is from Calcutta, experienced subtle—and sometimes not so subtle—racial slurs in Eastern Oregon, he said that I didn’t have to explain that to him: “I’ve been brown for 80 years.”

And on and on we go, led now by a President who has emboldened talk of race, color, and the “art of the deal.” As far as deals go, there have probably never, in history, been as many crooked deals as those made by those white, westward riding Manifest Destiny jockeys in their carefully worded, often amended, and rarely observed treaties as they gobbled up lands from tribal peoples, and shuffled them around like pawns on a board.

Last night I watched a repeat of the Jackie Robinson story. It all happened in my lifetime! One black man, who could have played professional football or basketball, ran in the Olympics, or commanded troops in World War II, ran, hit, scratched, defiantly sat where he wanted to on the bus, bit his tongue when he needed to, and carried out the biggest breakthrough in racial integration in the 20th Century.

But he was helped. Labor Unions and sports writers and a baseball team owner and manager, and, ultimately, other ballplayers, fought alongside Jackie Robinson.

Today, in a strange reversal, black athletes dominate professional football and basketball, and Latino and now Asian players are the new kids in professional baseball.  But maybe it is not so unusual. It is still white men, for the most part, who are the team owners and financiers—the “Romans” watching the Christians and lions battle it out in the arena, cutting the deals, writing the treaties.

I don’t know what it will take to get past all of this? I put my faith in women and children. Women, including black and brown women, are running for political office. Women are talking about the powerful men who harass and abuse them. Women, having crept through the hole afforded them by Title 9, are becoming doctors, lawyers, executives, plumbers and electricians.

And children are marching against the NRA, taking on one of the most fiercely white-male dominated organizations in the country. (I cannot resist mentioning the draft deferments handed out to NRA exec Wayne La Pierre and President Donald Trump. It is so consistent with reducing risks and handing out rewards to the right kind of white men at the expense of boys and men of color and women in general.)

More importantly, children are fearlessly expressing their sexuality and marrying people from other tribes. And this is the real hope. As more and more of us have openly gay people in our families and among close acquaintances, the tolerance for gays is growing—even evangelical Christians under 40 seem to accept the fact.

More and more of us having rainbow marriages among our networks of family and friends seems the only practical remedy to the reign of white American men.

The trick now will be to get to there without losing the traditions and knowledge held onto tenaciously, against overwhelming odds, by the African-Americans, Latinos, south and east Asians, and American Indians among us. The more important marriages are of modern technology with ancient wisdom, the nurturing of women with public and private leadership, and the health of the public space—indeed, the planet—with the needs and freedoms of individuals.

# # #

Monday, March 12, 2018

Sherman

When I first heard the news about Sherman Alexie’s treatment of women—especially of Native women writers—I thought immediately of Bill Clinton. Poor kid from wrong side of tracks with extraordinary smarts fights his way up the white male-dominated American ladder of success.  And decides he deserves what those already at the top by dint of birth, family, and place of origin effortlessly have.

But Sherman is Indian, and everything Indian in this country is immediately more complicated. Starting with the name itself—“Indian,” an early European mistake that has been followed by 500 years of them.

Nevertheless, Sherman Alexie, by all accounts and by his own admission, is responsible for demanding sexual favors for career assistance with many women. It’s a charge that has become so routine in recent months that we barely flinch as we go on to the next accusations, the next TV expose, the next admission of guilt.

But Sherman Alexie is not Bill Clinton. In fact, Clinton’s long-ago carefully crafted admissions of extra-marital sexual misconduct and current stunning silence about issues of harassment and assault strike me as huge roadblocks in the national battle for respect and fair treatment of women.

But that is for another day.  Sherman has in fact offered some sort of apology, and, if I know Sherman at all through his writings and brief personal contact, he is now in deep and profound self-examination of how he got where he is.

I am NOT excusing anything; I am exploring.

I just finished listening to his memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. The story is painful, from the tortured relationship with his parents—mother especially, to athletic and academic successes in a white world he purposefully pursued from a very young age, and on to a sparkling literary career. I say that because there is continuing pain through the successes. Sherman willed his way off the rez when he was very young and different. He excelled at an all-white close-by school in debate and basketball, had white friends and white girlfriends, found his way to college and literary success. There are periodic visits back to family and friends and childhood torturers on the rez—some of the visits around funerals. All of the visits, the phone calls, and the recollections are permeated with stories of Indian tragedies—failures, breakups, and diseases; deaths by alcohol, car crash, and suicide.  At one point he recognizes that he is the only one in his grade school cohort to still be alive.

The light in Sherman’s memoir is his wife and child. Which make the charges and admissions of guilt all the more painful.  Why would a man with a beautiful, understanding, Indian wife he expresses the deepest love for in his book resort to harassment and sexual demands of other women?

* * *

Sherman came to Fishtrap one time. I got a phone call from Bob Greene, the owner of that fine Moscow, Idaho bookstore, Bookpeople, suggesting that Sherman Alexie was about to explode on the national scene, and if we were going to get him to Wallowa Lake, we should do it now. A story had just been published in Esquire, and two books, The Business of Fancydancing and Old Shirts and New Skins, had been published by small houses. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven was about to come out from a major publisher.

Sherman came, and he delighted. I chided him for not sending a photo, said that I had to cut one off the back cover of one of his books. He laughed and did a quick stick drawing self-portrait in the book in return.

I could not get him back to Fishtrap—he had indeed gone on to major fame, and once, when I saw him in Portland and asked about it, he described an uncomfortable scene in a Wallowa County gas station—he’d been asked to pay for his gas before the attendant would fill the tank. It’s too hard being brown out there, he said.

In many ways, it’s hard being brown anywhere in this country, especially in the current climate that permits overt racism. But Sherman will continue to be a brown American Indian, and in these times when harassment and assault are being openly talked about, he will continue to be known for his abuse.

Can anything good come of it?—he’s one step ahead of Bill Clinton with his acknowledgement and apology. But I am going to expect more from him than from Clinton or Matt Lauer or Charlie Rose or all the others in the parade of white male aggressors. I am going to look for words from Sherman. Words have been the tools of his trade from reservation grammar school to today. I want to know from him how and why, want an explanation of these terrible infidelities and sexual demands as muddy and clear as Indian humor and Indian resilience are muddy and clear in his movie, Smoke Signals.

I won’t go back and read the old books, but I might have to watch that movie again, remember how much it made me cry even as I laughed. I’m crying for you now, Sherman, and I can wait for the laughs as you spill out the pain that put you into this awful mess. But write it out—maybe show women they’re not to blame, and show white men how to begin making things right.

# # #

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Josephy Library

I had the privilege of writing a piece on the Josephy Library for the latest edition of the Oregon Library Association Quarterly. Here’s a bit of info and the link to the journal. Mine’s the last article. You can click on a link to a pdf of it--or the whole thing. Here it is from the OLA President:


The latest issue of the OLA Quarterly is now available!

The theme for this issue is Small Libraries, BIG Ideas, and the Guest Editor is OLA President Buzzy Nielsen. From Buzzy's introduction:

"The Oregon library community consistently amazes me with its innovative, enterprising, and patron-focused activities. Indeed, we hear about these many activities through Libs-Or, OLA conferences, and this journal. While certainly not by design, many of the voices we hear come from libraries along the I-5 corridor. Cool things happen in those libraries, of course, but this issue of the OLA Quarterly amplifies voices we hear less frequently: the rural institutions that constitute the majority of the libraries in Oregon.

Please feel free to share this issue widely! We hope you like it.

Reading tip: The text and images are more clear if you download the issue and articles all the way to a .pdf reader, and if you do so, the links will be clickable. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Immigration: two things to remember!

In this time of Sturm und Drang over immigration:

First, there were brown people in North America before any white people of European stock arrived. They spoke hundreds of languages before Dutch, French, Spanish, German, and English arrived. They hunted, fished, foraged, and GREW hundreds of different foods and herbs—many of which were taken up by the Europeans and sent off to the rest of the world. America’s tomatoes would become Italy’s food; her tobacco would fuel economies in Europe and Asia and bring on its diseases; her cotton would clothe the world and her corn would feed it. Most importantly, for the future of North America and the United States, pieces of the wisdom of the Iroquois would find their way into our original written documents and the form of the government itself.

Secondly, we should remember that before California, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico were part of these United States, Mexicans, Mestizos of mixed European and American Indian blood—brown people, had lived in and developed economies, cities, and societies in those places. (And yes, that too was a displacement of indigenous brown people—but also a mixing.)

The mythology of a white, Eurocentric culture as foundational, and of brown culture as arriving later and being of immigrant origin is exactly that, mythology. Yes, there was forced immigration of black people from Africa—and their contributions to American culture are substantial and generally acknowledged. And there have been huge migrations of people of all colors from Europe and Asia—often, as with Irish brought as slaves, British Islanders and Europeans brought as indentured servants, and the Chinese brought to work on the railroads, their in-migrations were not quite voluntary. Even the “voluntary” immigrants, those fleeing hunger in Ireland, forced military service in Germany, the family land holdings and divisions in my grandfather’s Norway, and wars and oppression of one kind and another across the world, have not always made their migrations by choice.

So this mass of immigrants has helped create a nation, but the nation was not created in a vacuum, or by divine providence, or without damage to many. And it has been built and continues its growth on the substantial lands and cultures husbanded and developed over millennia by others. And those black and brown people—the ones here first and the later imports—have played and continue to play roles in the ongoing historical drama of the United States.

It is convenient to cherry pick history for an argument; it is more difficult—and truer to the nation we set out to be—to acknowledge all of that history.

# # #

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A Better Life Among the Indians

Mary Jemison was captured by Seneca Indians in 1758. Her parents and most of her siblings were killed, and for some time she tried to resist her captors and find a way back to place and family. But, eventually, she stayed, stayed to marry two Indian men, to have Indian children, and, living with Indians as an Indian in her 80s, to give an interview about her life to a white doctor named James Everett Seaver. Her “memoir,” first published in 1824, had been published in at least 30 editions by the time the author of the book I read, Lois Lenski, published her fictionalized account of Mary Jameson’s life in 1941.

Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison, won the Newberry Award for children’s literature in 1942. I read the Harper Trophy edition, first published in 1995—my copy is the 17th printing! I imagine it is still in print.


Indian Captive. Parents and siblings murdered by the Indians. Children’s literature?

There are many ways to talk about Euro-American ambivalence towards Indians, but this is certainly one of them! Author Lenski, in her treatment of the subject, explains her research into Seneca Indian history and culture at several museums, includes drawings of tools, clothing, and places, and lauds Jemison for giving us the real story of pre-contact Indian life. Buckskin clothing is compared to the traders’ broadcloth, porcupine quills to beads, coiled pottery to brass cooking post, and guns to bows and arrows.

More importantly, she deals with the social life—the nature of capture and adoption in Indian culture, the friendships and kinships that sustained Indian life. While the early chapters and Mary’s fictional voice are harsh towards the Indians, by the end of the book she is defending Indian ways to an English officer. And, given the opportunity, refusing to go back to a white community.

In Lenski’s treatment, the English officer is a convenient foil—and a pivot point for the captive girl. She listens to him deal man to man with the Indians—he wants their support against the French, but then, when he encourages her to come with him, to leave the dirty savages and their heathen ways, he is totally disparaging of the people and family that she had become a part of.

There are several striking things in this story. First, it is based on a real—and one of the first—narratives of a white captive of Indians. Indians capturing—and sometimes killing—white settlers was not uncommon, and treaties, as the one alluded to in this book, often stipulated the return of white captives. And captives, as even Benjamin Franklin acknowledged, and as a myriad of stories from the 1700s to the late 1800s, often wanted to stay with their adoptive Indian families.

The book paints a sympathetic view of Indian life—the relationships with land and among tribal members are strong, the knowledge of natural resources is keen, and the importance of and comfort in tradition is comforting to readers.

But maybe the most important thing that I’ve learned with this book and a small amount of research, is that there has been and still is a vigorous interest in the “Indian experience.” I’ve only dipped into the literature, but one cannot help but contrast the tightly wound lives of white children—and especially of their mothers, from Colonial to modern times, with the relative freedom enjoyed by Indians. I see in my mind’s eye a prim colonial woman in her patriarchal nest, in church for hours each week, tending to food and childrearing and housekeeping for a dominant husband who makes decisions for family and community. I see a young American girl in the 1940s, constrained by family and convention, looking to a life of housekeeping and childrearing, listening to men who preach more of the same.

That this book, Indian Captive, has a 75 year history of publication as a “children’s book,” is telling. It tells me about the long oppression of white American women: property rights—about 1900 in most states; the vote—the 19th amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1920; participation in high school and college athletics, and more than a token chance at medical or law school—Title 9, passed in 1972.

My guess is that thousands—no millions—of American girls have listened to these stories, had these thoughts, read this book and others over the past 250 years, and dreamed of a better life among the Indians.

# # #


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.