Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Oregon is Indian Country

This is a regular "Main Street" newspaper column for the Wallowa County Chieftain, a column that I have been writing every other week for about 24 years. It will also appear on the Oregon Days of Culture web site (OregonDaysofCulture.org). As you will see in the column, dealing with political issues in Indian Country can be tricky--waters run deep. I hope I have done justice to all parties, but especially to the Nez Perce.
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The “Oregon is Indian Country” exhibit currently showing at Stage One in Enterprise was put together by the Oregon Historical Society and the “nine federally recognized tribes of Oregon.” Fishtrap and its Josephy Library, the local hosts, have invited elementary student groups for special programs, and are bringing in speakers to address issues suggested by the exhibit.

Most of the young students have quickly identified the Indians who once lived here, in the Wallowas, as Nez Perce. Few could name other Oregon tribes—even our close neighbors on the Umatilla Reservation near Pendleton, the Umatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla. But even adults are surprised to learn that the Nez Perce are not a “federally recognized tribe OF Oregon.”

We’ve hung a good map of the Nez Perce War of 1877 on the wall at Stage One. The retreat starts in the Wallowa valley, crosses the Snake at Dug Bar, and becomes a fighting retreat as it meanders through parts of Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. It stops at Bear Paw in Montana, just 40 miles short of the Canadian border and freedom. A few Nez Perce did, in fact, make it across the border, but most surrendered, and this is where Joseph made his famous speech, asking leave to look for his scattered, hungry old and young.

The map does not show what happened then to the Nez Perce: the trip to Leavenworth Prison and the years in Indian Territory—land the Nez Perce still call the “hot country”; the eventual return by train to the Northwest and the split at Wallula, where the old and Christian were allowed to join Nez Perce from other bands on the much reduced Nez Perce Reservation at Lapwai, and the young, and specifically the followers of Joseph, were sent to Nespelem in north central Washington to live among Indians of different cultures and languages. Oregon and Idaho were afraid of another uprising by Indians wronged by the broken treaty of 1855, which had left the Wallowa Country to the Nez Perce.

Joseph came back to the Wallowas in 1904, with money in his pocket, but newspapers railed against Indians and locals would not sell him land.

Alvin Josephy, the late dean of Western American and Indian history, and part-time Wallowa County resident for over forty years, explains the “conviction,” from colonial days, “among settler-invaders and their descendents that Indians in their native state and Whites could not live together in peace… If the Indian submitted, cut his hair, dressed like a White, lived like a White, became a Christian—in short, was assimilated and no longer an Indian—he might survive. Otherwise, he was to be pushed a safe distance away from White society [onto reservations], isolated and rendered harmless…, or he was to be annihilated.”

According to Josephy, “these three options ran thereafter like threads through the course of Indian-White relations…” The assimilationist urge reached its zenith when the Eisenhower Administration decided to solve the “Indian question” once and for all by “terminating” all tribes with cash buyouts of old treaties. Ironically, according to the “Oregon is Indian Country” exhibit that now celebrates our tribal neighbors, Oregon led the way nationally, with 62 of 109 terminations—all of the Western Oregon tribes—between 1954 and 1961. Fortunately, the policy was reversed, and Oregon tribes have been reinstated, though now “confederated” into one or another of the nine “recognized tribes.”

Our young students were surprised to learn that there were thousands of Indian tribes and bands living in the Americas when Columbus landed—Josephy says that there were probably more than 2500 mutually unintelligible languages spoken, as many as 90 million people, and cities larger than any European cities of the time. Oregon alone must have been home to over 100 tribes and bands.

For the moment, as evidenced by the Oregon exhibit, Indians and Indian culture enjoy more favorable attitudes from the general population. Indians are allowed to dance and drum openly—things once legally outlawed in attempts at assimilation and Christianization—and we go to see them. We applaud their efforts in bringing the salmon back to the rivers.

Locally, we welcome Indians at Chief Joseph Days, and at the Homeland Project in Wallowa and its annual powwow and Nez Perce Art in the Wallowa show. Although Nez Perce Tribal government is headquartered in Idaho, (and the exiled Nez Perce are governmentally part of the "confederated" tribes at Colville, Washington), the tribe owns land in Wallowa County, and, possibly of more importance, its Fisheries and Wildlife departments work IN Oregon under federal recognition of “usual and accustomed” places acknowledged in the 1855 treaty and in subsequent negotiations.

And, in fact, a 1999 Oregon Legislative Assembly joint resolution offers an apology for the Nez Perce removal, and says that “The people of the State of Oregon welcome the Nez Perce Nation in their return to stewardship in the Wallowa Mountains.”

We are Indian country too.

###

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Alvin at War


Alvin at war

Being a direct participant in World War II was a choice for Alvin Josephy—but not much of one. Born in 1915, he came of age in the depths of the Depression as fascist regimes were gaining power in Europe. He’d been involved with student groups and national politics—meetings and debates on Huey Long, socialism, communism, and the New Deal—while at Harvard, traveled to Mexico to interview Trotsky and President Cardenas in 1937, and was working as news director at WOR Radio in New York on the eve of Pearl Harbor.

Soon after Pearl Harbor Alvin headed to Washington D.C. and Archibald MacLeish’s Office of Facts and Figures—the government propaganda arm. It wasn’t close enough, and connections, contacts, and events soon had him at Perris Island Boot Camp, and then a Marine Corps combat correspondent in the Guadalcanal mop-up, and at the landings and occupations of Guam and Iwo Jima.

He waded ashore at Guam, talking into a condom-covered microphone tethered by 40 feet of wire to a recording machine buried in a landing craft. Most of the men he walked ashore with were hit before they made the beach, but securing the Island and taking Japanese prisoners was every bit as dangerous and as important in Alvin Josephy’s growth as a man and writer. On Iwo he hopped from unit to unit, place to place, often traveling by ambulance—he said ambulance drivers knew the current score on the ground better than anyone else.

Alvin and a few others were called back to the States from Iwo to explain to the American public why over 4,000 Marines gave their lives to take an 8 square mile island a million miles from home. The answer was B-29s. In the first 100 days after the Iwo airfields were opened, 851 planes, coming back crippled from air strikes on Tokyo, unable to make it back to their take-off points in the Marianas, landed safely on that 8 square mile island.

Then came the Atom Bomb—and Alvin did not have to return to battle in the Pacific and the anticipated invasion of Japan. A trunk arrived from Guam with carbon copies of the dispatches he’d sent to ships to send to home town papers across the land—interviews in fox holes, stories of courage, camaraderie, and thoughts of home. He took a month of leave, went to North Carolina, and wrote his first book, The Long and the Short and the Tall.

It was published in 1946, when he was 31 years old. I’d never read it while he was alive, though I’d heard some of the stories as we traveled the Northwest to readings and signings with his memoir, A Walk Toward Oregon. And watched and listened as old Marines came to have books signed and talk about Guam and Bougainville, Tarawa and Iwo Jima.

Some of them cried, as I cried last week, 65 years after the events and the writing about the events, cried at the horror, heroism, dumb luck and tragedy of a war so huge and so different as to make it almost inconceivable now. Today’s wars are their own kind of horror, heroism, dumb luck, and tragedy, but the concept of 800 ships and thousands of men attacking 30,000 enemy soldiers on a tiny island with bombs, shells, and bayonets is a hard one to get around today. But it made the “survivor’s guilt” that Alvin sometimes talked about and that the vets who came to our readings talked about palpable.

And I think I found an understanding of something else that he brought back from that War. On Guam they had launched an effort to take Japanese prisoners, and although most of the defeated Japanese committed suicide or fought to their deaths, some did surrender, and Alvin found hope in that. He thought, as he lay in a ship’s hold with a handful of prisoners and fellow Marines after an evening of conversation, that maybe minds could be changed, that Japanese soldiers who thought suicide more honorable than surrender could learn “bigger ideas,” and that the world might embrace” freedom and democracy and justice and truth.”

He spent the next 60 years chasing and embracing those ideas.

p.s., used copies of The Long and the Short and the Tall can be had for five dollars and up. “New” copies—I would guess that means mint condition copies—of the 2000 paperback edition from Buford Books, with a new foreword by the author, are $100 and up!

Alvin Josephy at War



Alvin at war

Being a direct participant in World War II was a choice for Alvin Josephy—but not much of one. Born in 1915, he came of age in the depths of the Depression as fascist regimes were gaining power in Europe. He’d been involved with student groups and national politics—meetings and debates on Huey Long, socialism, communism, and the New Deal—while at Harvard, traveled to Mexico to interview Trotsky and President Cardenas in 1937, and was working as news director at WOR Radio in New York on the eve of Pearl Harbor.

Soon after Pearl Harbor Alvin headed to Washington D.C. and Archibald MacLeish’s Office of Facts and Figures—the government propaganda arm. It wasn’t close enough, and connections, contacts, and events soon had him at Perris Island Boot Camp, and then a Marine Corps combat correspondent in the Guadalcanal mop-up, and at the landings and occupations of Guam and Iwo Jima.

He waded ashore at Guam, talking into a condom-covered microphone tethered by 40 feet of wire to a recording machine buried in a landing craft. Most of the men he walked ashore with were hit before they made the beach, but securing the Island and taking Japanese prisoners was every bit as dangerous and as important in Alvin Josephy’s growth as a man and writer. On Iwo he hopped from unit to unit, place to place, often traveling by ambulance—he said ambulance drivers knew the current score on the ground better than anyone else.

Alvin and a few others were called back to the States from Iwo to explain to the American public why over 4,000 Marines gave their lives to take an 8 square mile island a million miles from home. The answer was B-29s. In the first 100 days after the Iwo airfields were opened, 851 planes, coming back crippled from air strikes on Tokyo, unable to make it back to their take-off points in the Marianas, landed safely on that 8 square mile island.

Then came the Atom Bomb—and Alvin did not have to return to battle in the Pacific and the anticipated invasion of Japan. A trunk arrived from Guam with carbon copies of the dispatches he’d sent to ships to send to home town papers across the land—interviews in fox holes, stories of courage, camaraderie, and thoughts of home. He took a month of leave, went to North Carolina, and wrote his first book, The Long and the Short and the Tall.

It was published in 1946, when he was 31 years old. I’d never read it while he was alive, though I’d heard some of the stories as we traveled the Northwest to readings and signings with his memoir, A Walk Toward Oregon. And watched and listened as old Marines came to have books signed and talk about Guam and Bougainville, Tarawa and Iwo Jima.

Some of them cried, as I cried last week, 65 years after the events and the writing about the events, cried at the horror, heroism, dumb luck and tragedy of a war so huge and so different as to make it almost inconceivable now. Today’s wars are their own kind of horror, heroism, dumb luck, and tragedy, but the concept of 800 ships and thousands of men attacking 30,000 enemy soldiers on a tiny island with bombs, shells, and bayonets is a hard one to get around today. But it made the “survivor’s guilt” that Alvin sometimes talked about and that the vets who came to our readings talked about palpable.

And I think I found an understanding of something else that he brought back from that War. On Guam they had launched an effort to take Japanese prisoners, and although most of the defeated Japanese committed suicide or fought to their deaths, some did surrender, and Alvin found hope in that. He thought, as he lay in a ship’s hold with a handful of prisoners and fellow Marines after an evening of conversation, that maybe minds could be changed, that Japanese soldiers who thought suicide more honorable than surrender could learn “bigger ideas,” and that the world might embrace” freedom and democracy and justice and truth.”

He spent the next 60 years chasing and embracing those ideas.

p.s., used copies of The Long and the Short and the Tall can be had for five dollars and up. “New” copies—I would guess that means mint condition copies—of the 2000 paperback edition from Buford Books, with a new foreword by the author, are $100 and up!