Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Josephy blog in 2012

First off, thanks to all who have followed and responded to postings on the Josephy Library blog this year.

The deeper into Josephy I dig, the more I learn, and the more prescient his early writings in Western and Indian history become. I guess if I had to distill a year’s reading and digging to a sentence, it would be that Josephy learned and declared in the 1950s that Indians have, against all attempts to kill them and/or to assimilate them, survived; that Indians have history that has been ignored and maligned; and that Indian history and culture have things to teach us still.

Alvin gathered Indian writers and scholars and produced America in 1492: The World of the Indian Peoples Before the Arrival of Columbus, on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s landing. My favorite read this year was Charles Mann’s recently published 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus, which picks up the argument.

Alvin’s writings on Indians and salmon, Indians and the Kinzua Dam, Indians and the Four Corners, Indians and water rights, Indians and sacred sites, played their roles in moving public policy and perceptions at the time—and they are still timely.

So long-time publisher and friend of Alvin’s, of mine, and of Fishtrap, Marc Jaffe, and I are working on an anthology of Josephy writings—published and unpublished—that could move beyond this blog and contribute to the current idea exchange. We will keep you posted.

And I am, with friends at the U of Oregon Library and Cliff Trafzer at the U of California, Riverside, trying to find an unpublished Josephy manuscript on the Sioux. It might be publishable still.

And a weekly, three minute radio program, “From the Archives,” will begin running on KPBX, the public radio station in Spokane, in January.

And our amazing volunteer librarian, Shannon Maslach, continues to put books and interesting ephemeral material on the shelves and into the SAGE Library cataloging system. I will have a piece on the ephemera and manuscripts out soon. This is material that some of you will find useful.

I wish you the very best in the New Year, in your vocational and avocational work in history and Indian affairs, and in your personal lives. I wish friends in Indian country continued success in bringing your stories and contributions to all of America.

Most of all, I wish you—and me too!—good luck in dealing with a world that is often overwhelming. Remember that Alvin kept harping on those 1950s themes till the end, often in the face of indifferent audiences and Indians who felt defeated, but he kept after it, and we are here to say that his words mattered then and matter still.

Happy New Year!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Alvin and the occupiers

This might be dangerous. Many of you—Alvin Josephy’s friends and followers—might not be political at all, or are primarily interested in Alvin as a historian and advocate for Indian peoples, and don’t care about his politics outside of Indians. But I am reading Alvin material every day, and he was so bound up in the major issues of his times—from the Depression through World War 2, from dignity and self-determination for Indians to a concern for the physical world that he learned from Indians and carried with him to the pages of Audubon Magazine and Congressional Testimony—that it is impossible to look at Alvin Josephy without thinking about politics.

I am going to lean on material from interviews with Alvin’s friend, Jack Loeffler. Most of the interviews occurred in 1995, but there is some later material too, from 2001. In their rambling conversations Alvin recounts some of the major events in his life—in 1995 he was deep into writing the memoir, A Walk Toward Oregon—and reflects on the condition of Indians, the country, and the world in 1995 and 2001. All quotes below are from the interviews. (We have both audio cd and 56 page printout at the Library.)

Alvin was born in 1915, went to public school through his first eight years, where he learned “reading , writing, arithmetic, regular courses that were turning people of all backgrounds into Americans and making them all feel like they were members of the same country and patriotic about it.” And he continues: “we split at the end of eighth grade into long lines of inequality.”

Alvin went on to get a fine education at Horace Mann School, and then to Harvard for two years, before a bank failure in New York and the death of his grandfather, Samuel Knopf, depleted all college money for Alvin and his brother. Even though his family had been one of means, at Harvard he learned that the “Cabots and the Lowells and the Calloways and so forth... knew each other because they had all gone to the same prep schools—St. Paul’s and Milton and Groton,” and they were the “kings of the class.” He called them the “snobs.”

But this crew went through the Depression and through WW 2, and “by the time of our 25th reunion, these guys who had been snobs were Democratic as hell... They had become the type of people who were the great leaders of our war effort…” And then, “By the time of our 50th reunion, these people were fighting mad liberals. I mean they were environmentalists… They were people giving to causes... They were like the cabinet members of Roosevelt and Truman and Eisenhower, that decent type of Republicanism that’s vanished or almost vanished. It’s very hard to find in either party.”

Alvin was proud of his classmates and his generation. And of the people he served with during the War. David Rockefeller, whom he met at Harvard, served with him on the original Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian Board, and Alvin served on the board of Friends of the Earth with others from this generation that had beat back the forces of Fascism and Imperialism and were trying to bring that energy to domestic problems in America.

Alvin and his generation had a good long fight, but by 1995 he was expressing discouragement as the corporations and the wealthy seemed to be bringing the country back to where he had picked it up as a young convert to Roosevelt’s New Deal. For him, the lessons the country had learned through the Depression, the New Deal, and World War 2 were being lost—especially by the new corporate and political class.

“When the Republicans say today the American People want the government off their backs, they’re lying. What they’re really saying is the corporate giants, the CEOs of this country, want the government off their backs. Sure, so they can abuse the rest of us…. The whole thing is being delivered into the hands of the cartels and a smaller number of people.”

Words that could be a quote from one of today’s occupiers!

Although there was deep political sadness in Alvin those last years, he found some reason for optimism. First the resilience of the American people, who had come back from a terrible Civil War and made it through the Depression.

And secondly, the continuing presence of the American Indian. Indians, Alvin often said, can still think for the tribe. I believe his greatest wish, and maybe even a deep final faith, held that the country would find its way back to Indian ideas of sustainability, and of living with the earth and with each other in closer harmony...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

At the edge of the rez

My friend Pam Steele’s first novel, Greasewood Creek, will come out from Counterpoint Press in November. I just finished reading a galley copy, and it is a fine book, set at the edge of the rez in eastern Oregon in recent times. But more about Pam and Greasewood Creek in a moment.

Reading it reminded me of Alvin Josephy and the beginnings of Fishtrap. In 1986 and 87, Alvin was lamenting the loss of a series of interdisciplinary seminars and conferences in Sun Valley put on by the Institute of the American West? It was there that he met Bill Kittredge and Annick Smith, the fine Indian novelist Tom King, and a raft of poets, novelists, and moviemakers who were making new sense of the West.

Now, as I go through his books and the books and manuscripts sent to him by friends and people looking for blurbs and critiques, I realize that Alvin had a long history with fiction writers, poets, and movie makers. He had written a few radio and movie scripts himself, had an unpublished and unsubmitted WW II novel on the shelf, and had a long history with writers of all sorts, but importantly Indian writers like Scot Momaday and Leslie Silko. Throw in post-retirement winters in the Southwest consorting with Jack Loeffler, Drum Hadley, Ed Abbey and company, and you start to get the flavor of Alvin’s intellectual milieu.

In those early Fishtrap years he was concerned with the misinformation about the American West among East Coast publishers (the theme of the first Fishtrap Gathering was “Western Writing, Eastern Publishing”), and the narrow range of attention among academic historians. I(ndian elders and amateur historians—history buffs, he called them—were keeping the real stories of the West alive, and novelists were turning them into credible stories for contemporary audiences. They were creating and re-creating the West that was and is a West made up of men, women, and children, Indians, Scotsmen, and Irishmen, French trappers and their M├ętis heirs, Black cowboys, Chinese miners, and Japanese farmers.

The East—and most Americans—thought cowboys were white and “Indian” meant Sioux on a horse somewhere on the Midwest plains. They knew nothing of the range of Indian culture and agriculture, and had no notion that the horse had found its way into North American Indian life in the seventeenth century, late by historical standards. And the Sioux had not always lived on the plains.

Until the 1970s and 80s, when books of settlers’ diaries were published, and civil rights movements gave colored voices credence, Western women’s voices and Indian voices—other than treaty words often dictated by white men, had been absent. The Irish miners in Butte, Japanese farmers in Hood River, Chinese laborers on railroads, Finnish fishermen in Astoria, were mute. History concentrated on Indian wars and range wars, treaties, gold rushes, and territorial and state governments—the goings on of white men. (The Negro Cowboy, published in the 60s, claimed that African Americans had been erased from the West by Manifest Destiny and Anglo-American superiority notions.) Sacagawea and Charbanneau were the exceptions that showed the rule—and we know little of their real lives.

Fishtrap followed, joined, and promoted the new writers, often novelists—Ivan Doig, Molly Gloss, Craig Lesley, David James Duncan We brought new, more inclusive historians, Richard White, Patti Limerick, Sue Armitage, Charles Wilkinson, Erasmo Gamboa. And Indians. Writers like James Welch, Linda Hogan, and Debra Earlring, and elders from the Nez Perce, Umatilla, and Colville reservations.

Back to Pam Steele, a women from West Virginia who came to Wallowa County as a small child with a mine-sick father seeking health in clean air and joining a pod of relatives and Appalachian neighbors who had made the journey a generation earlier. He died, and Pam rode with his coffin on a train back across the country, then returned to West as an adult.

Greasewood Creek's protaginists are hard scrabble people from Appalachia and their heirs mucking out a living in harsh country at the edge of Oregon reservations. Whites and Indians interact, even intermarry, and it is as natural and hard as we who live in these Western places know it is. Work, alcohol, reputation, family ties, and family tragedies are woven into stories that engage, that make us cheer for one, cry with another, and occasionally pull out a laugh.

And the prose is poetry—Pam’s first book, Paper Bird, was a nominee for the Oregon Book Award in poetry. I was reminded of Molly Gloss, whose groundbreaking Jump Off Creek gave voice to forgotten single women homesteaders. Pam’s women are a few generations removed, but they still chop wood, feed cows, and live stories as complicated and important as those of fathers, husbands, and sons.

Alvin and Betty Josephy would have loved it.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mohave Indian Band

So after the last post friend Bill Yakes sent this photo of the Mojave Indian Band, circa 1915. Bill's grandfather was in Needles taking pics at the time, though this is not one of his.

Here are some details Bill picked up about the band:

-- the marching band was established in 1906 by "Professor Albert J. Eller,
who taught music at the Fort Mojave Indian Boarding School." It later "fell
under the directions of both Ned White and Jack Jones [both Mojaves] at
separate times between 1910 and 1952."

-- they played at the dedication of Hoover Dam (1930) and the reception for
Gov. Earl Warren (1950), as well as numerous other occasions.

-- There is a photo dated 1924 of "Jack's Mojave Jazz Band". I assume this
was Jack Jones.

-- The band was also known as the C. A. Simon's Indian Band "in the early
years, played every Saturday evening for over 25 years on Front Street in
Needles, California, for Liberty Theatre owner C. A. Simon."

NOW. Does anyone else have stories of Indian bands in early nineteenth century? Does anyone know how much Carlisle had to do with training Indian musicians, or if there was some overall program that put music into Indian schools?

Would be good to use this blog as a place to trade research notes.

best for today,

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Josiah Red Wolf: Nez Perce War vet--and musician

I was digging through the small—and often most interesting—pieces of literature that Alvin collected along the way to his books and work as an advocate for Indians and the earth. Among the conference reports, ethnographic studies, newspaper clippings, and student papers was an article from Westways magazine, September 1977 by M. Woodbridge Williams, “Legacy of Survival.” The piece recounts a 1970 meeting with Josiah Red Wolf, at that time the lone survivor of the Nez Perce War. (When Alvin began his research in the early 50s, there were three: Red Wolf, Albert Moore, and Sam Tilden.)

Angus Wilson, one-time tribal chair and a good friend of Alvin’s, accompanied Woodbridge. Josiah was 98 at the time, but he and Wilson soon had an animated conversation going in Nez Perce—Wilson had to get him off an agitated rant on the treaties.

Red Wolf had been just five years old during the War, had spent a year at Leavenworth and five in Indian Territory. He may have been among the first 29—all widows and orphans—to return to Lapwai, under the care of James Rubin.

From Lapwai he went to the Chilico Indian School in Oklahoma, and from there, in 1890, to the Carlisle Institute for Indians in Pennsylvania. At Carlisle he learned the cobbler’s trade, and he learned to play the saxophone and cornet. In fact—no small irony here—he marched with the Carlisle school band in a Columbus Day parade in New York City.

Red Wolf eventually came back west,”became a cobbler for the North Idaho Indian Agency and also directed a prize winning band.” He married in 1896, farmed in the Stites area, and played in an orchestra for Saturday night dances.

All this music sent me in two directions. First, I have talked at length over the years with Anne Richardson and her husband, Dennis Nyback, about early jazz and blues singers. Dennis has written about a woman named Lee Morse, who grew up in Kooskia, Idaho, and who he thinks is the first recorded woman jazz singer. Morse went to New York and Broadway in 1923. Richardson and Nyback want to know where and how she started singing jazz in Kooskia in the early 1920s. Player pianos? Maybe?

And Indian dance bands. I happen to have a picture of “Chief White and his Five Redskins” from Lapwai, Idaho on the wall here at Fishtrap. I don’t remember how it got here, but the band is on a flatbed truck, circa 1920. I have heard other stories of Indian dance bands in the early part of the twentieth century. (Beth Piatote, who was our Fishtrap writer in residence a dozen years ago or more, is enrolled at Colville where her Nez Perce grandfather or great-grandfather left the reservation to play music in 1919!)

Could it all have started at Carlisle, with Indians from across the country pulled and pushed to Pennsylvania, taught to be seamstresses and cobblers, but allowed music and then returned—some of them; many never made it back to their home reservations—to put together dance bands which played the hippest white music their white neighbors—who had not been to New York or Pennsylvania themselves—had ever heard? Chief White looks to be a novelty act from the picture, but if the band played “every Saturday night” they had to be good musicians. I wonder how many of these Indian bands there were across the country.

And whether the Nez Perce and Idaho gave Lee Morse, the “first female jazz singer,” back to New York! Nyback is still doing his research.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Alvin Josephy, Cornplanter, and the Kinzua Dam

Sorry for the long time between Josephy Library blog postings. Now that kids are back in school, I plan to get back with some kind of regularity!

Did anyone hear the recent NPR interview with the Seneca Nation’s new president, Robert Odawi Porter? I had been digging through Josephy speeches and writings looking towards an anthology of his work that is still relevant today. And looking especially at articles and speeches that had to do with environmental issues. Alvin came to these concerns through Indians, of course. I remember him saying that he first learned that Peabody Coal was strip mining coal and wreaking havoc on Hopi and Navajo lands in the southwest—and went on to see the havoc that the strip mining and coal fire emissions were wreaking on everyone in the Southwest.

But back to the Seneca. The NPR interview sent me to Alvin’s December 1968 piece in American Heritage Magazine, “Cornplanter Can You Swim,” republished in Now That the Buffalo’s Gone in 1982. After two decades of Indian opposition, the Kinzua Dam had been built in 1965. Villages had been condemned, houses had been burned, and the remains of 300 Seneca Indians, including Chief Cornplanter—Alvin had a great talent with titles—had been moved by the Army Corps of Engineers to higher ground so that thousands of acres of Indian Lands could be inundated by the Alleghany Reservoir. The Corps was also running over, or abrogating, the oldest active treaty agreed to by the United States of America, one signed by Cornplanter and 58 other Seneca sachems and chiefs in 1794!

Fast forward to 2011, and a new Seneca Chief with a Harvard law degree, to a Seneca nation made wealthy by three casinos and a thriving tobacco business, and then to 2015, when a 50 year lease on the Kinzua Dam expires (the dam provides power to Pittsburgh!). Chief—or President—Porter thinks the Senecas should run the dam, and he and his tribe are marshalling their legal forces to make the case. I don’t know whether Alvin’s early work will be part of the case—but maybe….

And here is the link to the NPR interview. Googling Kinzua Dam and Seneca will get you much more.

p.s. For the Southwest, check “Murder of the Southwest,” Audubon Magazine, July 1971, and “The Hopi Way,” American Heritage Magazine, February 1973.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Learning--and teaching--Indian history

“The realization has finally begun to dawn that American society as a whole has suffered from ‘forked tongue’ history books… Year after year, the distortions, misrepresentations, and failure to tell the whole historical story foster erroneous and stereotyped thinking about Indians, and lead to still further misrepresentations, prejudice and contempt.”
Alvin Josephy, Learning Magazine, 1973

“…for the most part these revelations—the great antiquity, size, and sophistication of Indian societies—are new to the public… Why don’t intelligent non-specialists, the sort of people who know a bit about stem cells and read contemporary literature, already know something about how researchers think of the Americas before Columbus?... Why isn’t this material already in high school textbooks?”
Charles Mann, Afterword to 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus, 2006

In Charles Mann's brilliant 2005 book, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus, he scans the results of hundreds of recent ethnographic, linguistic, archeological, anthropological, and biological studies. He calls and visits noted field scientists, travels with them along the Amazon and atop the Andes, and paints vivid pictures of what we now know about the pre-Columbian Americas. There are stories of monumental architecture, glyph writing systems, complicated leadership patterns, and information about the size, depth, and breadth of major agricultural settlements and civilizations. Importantly, there are many stories about the extent to which indigenous peoples managed their environments. They used fire, built soil, and found and adapted plants--corn, squash, legumes, etc.--to a wide range of climatic conditions--Mesoamerican corn taken all the way to northeastern North America, for example. .In an afterword to the paperback edition, Mann laments the fact that this knowledge—of digs, studies, discoveries—and new interpretations of pre-Columbian history have not penetrated textbooks and popular culture. At one university appearance, an American history professor innocently asks Mann where he can find all of this information. Mann is happy that he asks, but sad that the historian fails to realize that his answers are in the room with him—the archeologist in the next building, the anthropologist down the hall.

In the past, Mann says, it would have been easy to blame institutional racism for our limited and distorted views of the ancient Americas, but in an era of ethnic and gender studies, this seems unlikely. The “culprit,” he conjectures, is disciplinary boundaries. Charles Mann is a journalist, not beholden to any one academic discipline and anxious to learn from all of them. In this he is a direct descendent of Alvin Josephy, who was also a journalist, who cited linguistic and archeological studies as leading tools for learning about the past in his award winning 1968 book, The Indian Heritage of America. In my mind, Mann’s 1491 reads like its sequel.

Mann, and Josephy before him, says that we—most Americans—have settled on an archetypical North American Indian. He is a Plains Indian on a horse—though horses arrived very late in the history of human habitation of the continents. And hunting and gathering were the economies of some but not all indigenous western hemisphere civilizations. And he has disappeared, vanished into myth and story. Or he—and she—should have got on with it and become totally assimilated by now.

Mann, like Josephy before him, thinks that Indian history reaches back to antiquity, but lives in the present. And that Indian cultures—especially the ways they have and still do deal with agriculture, societal organization, and the “two-leggeds” place and roles in the whole of the world—have much to teach us today.

# # #

Monday, May 16, 2011

Amateur Historians

Alvin Josephy loved amateur historians. When I opened the Bookloft in Enterprise in 1976, he was still working full time at American Heritage in New York City, writing his big history books and newspaper and magazine articles in the midnight hours. He and his wife, Betty, would come west each summer, she for the summer, he for a few weeks before he went back to the job.

And the Bookloft was always one of his first stops. He would comb the western and local history shelves for new books like 35 Years on Smith Mountain and Hells Canyon of Snake River, make a big stack of them at the counter, and ask about more. Were there new novels, books or pamphlets, diaries, books of letters, anything on the Nez Perce, fishing the Columbia, on Lewis and Clark and the Indians.

He would talk about academic historians missing out on the West because they confined themselves too much to official documents—treaties, proclamations, occasionally the newspaper article, although journalism was suspect. And Indians didn’t have much written history of their own. There were the treaties and the accounts of military officers in campaigns against them, but their own stories, carried from generation to generation by families and tribal storytellers, were invisible to most academic historians.

Stories of women and accounts of the Chinese and Japanese, the people whose written records were in different languages and scripts, were likewise invisible or hard to find in standard texts—although in the 70s, the women’s movement and women historians like Sue Armitage at Washington State University were finding and publishing women’s diaries and letters. But, in the 1970s and 80s, most of these things were still mostly found in small, local, often self-published editions, the things Alvin had made a habit of collecting since he heard and was captivated by the Nez Perce story while a journalist at Time Magazine.

According to him, amateurs kept the stories of the West alive. Here in the Wallowas, “Pioneer Society” stalwart Harley Horner assembled a “History of Wallowa County” in big scrapbooks in alphabetical order by names and places, with letters, news accounts, and his own reportage pasted in. When Grace Butterfield, whose father was a newspaper man, moved to town, she worked with Horner and transcribed his scrapbooks into a typed document that has had an amazing journey of its own. Fortunately, the "Horner papers" are now back in the Wallowa County Museum--but that is another story!

When Alvin wrote his book on the Nez Perce, Grace differed on some local matters, and Alvin encouraged her to get the details straight. She did, in The Wallowa Country: 1866-76, a fine locally published book about the ten years of White settlement leading up to the Nez Perce War.

Later, Josephy worked with Grace and her Nez Perce husband, Harry Bartlett, to get the true history of the Appaloosa horse to the public. Alvin wrote a piece and helped publish one by Harry and Grace about the spotted horses in the Brand Book a magazine published by a group of artists, writers, librarians, and aficionados of the West who called themselves “Westerners.” This New York posse would meet monthly for dinner and discussion of Billy the Kid, General Custer, and, as Alvin once wrote, “which side of the river Lewis and Clark traveled on.” Famed writer Mari Sandoz was a member of the New York posse, and there were brother or sister posses in Chicago, Denver, London, and Los Angeles.

I don’t believe any of the articles in these magazines were written for PhD theses—but there their contents must have been used by many later candidates for the degree.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Who was Gwen Coffin?

Gwen Coffin grew up poor in Colorado, made his way through college and law school in Chicago, married a teacher named Gladys, and, in 1941, moved to Wallowa County to buy a newspaper and practice law. He never got around to the law practice, though he did make some law while serving briefly in the Oregon Legislature. He was still going newspaper strong at the Wallowa County Chieftain when I got here in 1971, taking on Johnson and Nixon and the Vietnam War, promoting conservation and wilderness.

Oh—and Gwen was the man Alvin Josephy called, and the Coffin House in Enterprise was the house that Alvin came to on his first trip to see Joseph’s Nez Perce homeland. They ate lunch and Gwen gave Alvin his first tour of Wallowa County. That would have been mid-1950s, shortly after Alvin came upon the Nez Perce story that changed his life--and in turn has changed many others.

Fishtrap lives in the house now. It was purchased with generous help from the Coffin daughters, Nancy Ormandy and Gail Swart, who grew up in it and like all the things that tied their parents and this house to writing and living in Wallowa County (Gladys had become a Fishtrap regular in her 80s!)

This editorial, which appeared in the April 8, 1943 edition of Gwen’s Chieftain, at the height of the Second World War and just 48 years ago next week, says a lot about Gwen Coffin. He supported the war efforts in Europe and the Pacific, but, as you will see, he questioned the conduct of business and government at home....

April 8, 1943

When historians sit down to write the history of the present war we venture a guess that the government’s treatment of the Japanese in this country will come in for some pretty severe criticism. There is very little to be said in favor of what has been done so far.

In the hysteria of the first few weeks after Pearl Harbor the army decided that the presence of thousands of Japanese in the Pacific coast region constituted a threat to the safety of the country and a policy of wholesale deportations to concentration camps was decided upon. No effort was made to determine who were loyal Japanese and who were disloyal or potentially so. All were given short notice to dispose of their homes and their businesses preparatory to being moved to hastily improvised camps where thousands were crowded into barracks with few facilities for maintaining life on anything like a normal basis.

The whole business is foreign to our conception of fair play and orderly process. Had the procedure adopted been necessary the picture of families being torn from their homes and mode of life and sent to distant internment camps would not have been quite so pathetic. But it is highly doubtful whether the policy was ever really necessary.

We have not felt obliged to send German and Italian nationals to concentration camps in wholesale batches, although it would e exceedingly difficult to make out anything like a convincing argument in favor of a more lenient policy toward these people than toward the Japanese. There are no doubt disloyal and traitorous Japanese in this country but probably they represent no greater a proportion of the total Jap population of the U.S. than the proportion of disloyal Italians and Germans in the total population of those tow national groups. It should have been possible to have segregated the Japanese known to be loyal to this country from those who were known to be disloyal or about whom there might be doubts. The loyal Japanese should have been given every chance to contribute toward the successful prosecution of the war instead of being immediately branded as outcasts and thrown in with the know traitors and shipped off to detention camps.

Besides being an undemocratic process the whole business is unsound economically a Senator Chandler of Kentucky has decided in introducing a bill in Congress calling for the release of loyal Japanese form detention camps so that they may return to useful occupations furthering the war effort and cease to be charity wards of the Untied Sates government. Senator Chandler estimates that more than $50,000,000 a year would be saved if this segregation were made. Much of the resentment on the West Coast toward the Japanese was not the outgrowth of the war but arose during peacetime as the Japanese achieved some success and prominence in their pursuits of agriculture and trade. Many employers preferred to see the Japanese remain in the ranks of low paid wage earners. Others were resentful at the sight of Japanese prospering better than many Americans.

It is foreign to our conceptions of democracy, however, to distinguish between peoples on the basis of color or nationality. There should be only one test for the right to share in the opportunities which this country provides and that is the test of belief in our democratic ideals and government, and a willingness to work with other Americans to further those ideals and to support this government.

Gwen Coffin, editor and publisher, Wallowa County Chieftain

(1986 photo of Gwen Coffin, Senator Bob Packwood, and Wallowa County Chamber President Gerry Perrin at Toma's Restaraunt in Enterprise.)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How do we keep learning from Alvin?

Alvin Josephy died in 2005. I read something that he wrote—or that was written to or about him—almost every day. And I am continually amazed by what he said and when and where he said it.

In Life Magazine in 1971, Josephy wrote that the US government interpreters were telling visitors at the Custer Battlefield that Custer was a hero and the Indians were savages; in the New York Times Sunday Magazine in 1973, just weeks after the FBI-Indian confrontation at Wounded Knee, he said that the Indians were justified, and published photos of Custer’s troops being buried with high ceremony and Sioux Indian survivors of the battle being slaughtered and buried in a mass grave. In 1992 he reminded—in speeches and a book, America in 1492—that Columbus came to a land of some 75 or 90 million people, over 2000 mutually unintelligible languages, and cities larger than any in Europe at the time. And that the learned clerics and academicians in Spain began an immediate “solemn intellectual discourse” concerning the Native peoples of the “so-called New World,” to determine whether its inhabitants were “human” or “sub-human” beings.

I wonder every day how we keep Alvin’s work and legacy alive—more importantly, how we use it to inform contemporary conversations about history, government, Indian affairs, and environmental issues that are on the table today.

The problem is that Alvin was a scrupulous researcher who used the latest research in archeology, ethnography, linguistics, etc. Many of his journalism pieces reflect the best knowledge of the time, which might not be up to date today (DNA was just coming on as Alvin’s career wound down). His books still attract an audience—but there are new writers saying similar things today. Why go back and read what Alvin had to say?

I think it has to do with vision—with a vision of US History and Indian history and how they were intertwined and distorted by the lack of acknowledgement that Indians HAD a history before Euro-Americans. It has to do with honoring personal interview, stories and legends, the pieces of culture that were discarded, or were pushed out of the “history” bin and into the “natural history” bin (along with dinosaurs and bugs, as Alvin said). It has to do with what he called “Eurocentrism” which devalues indigenous knowledge and non-Judeo-Christian religious traditions.

In the “Oklahoma Lecture in the Humanities” presented in Tulsa in 1992, Alvin quotes a textbook, American History: A Survey, published by his publisher, Knopf, in 1987! “For thousands of centuries, centuries in which the human faces were evolving, forming communities, and building the beginnings of national civilizations in Africa, Asia, and Europe—the continents we know as the Americas stood empty of mankind and its works…The story of this new world… is a story of the creation of civilization where none existed.”

He reminded his audience that the learned historians were not alone, that few Americans knew about American Indians’ contributions of food, language, and law to the world, and that most Americans still thought that American Indians were all pretty much the same—spoke one generic language, had one religion, and had had one economy, stereotypically that of the post horse plains Indians. They didn’t—and I would add that we still don’t—know where the Cherokees and Navajos and Blackfeet live, and how their pre-Columbian migrations and post US national government wars and treaties got them there.

This speech was given in 1992. Alvin’s words, which can I think drive us still, are that “For the Quincentenary to have more than surface meaning, finally, for ourselves and our children’s children, we ought to recognize and understand, also, not alone what Indians have contributed to the world, but what they could have contributed if they had been allowed to do so, and what they can, and may still, contribute. All in all it is a much bigger assignment than merely acknowledging that Indians, rather than Columbus, discovered America.”

Alvin Josephy is a burr in our historic hides. I want to make sure that he continues to rub.

(photo; Jonathan Nicholas and Alvin Josephy, probably 1989, at Summer Fishtrap at Wallowa Lake Methodist Camp)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A reflection on Winona LaDuke’s visit to Fishtrap

Small world—and invisible Indians

Winona LaDuke was at Winter Fishtrap this weekend. She is an enrolled member of the Mississippi Band of Anishinaabeg on the White Earth Reservation in Northern Minnesota and a global activist on behalf of Indian rights and sustainable natural resource use.

Winona is not bitter or self-pitying, but straight forward, proud, realistic, rational, and spiritual all-together. Seven of the eight million dollars spent on food on her reservation go immediately off-reservation, she said. Some huge percentage of electrical energy is spent in the mining and transportation of fuels and the transmission across far distances. On her reservation they will grow and produce more of their own food; they will build wind turbines and develop wind energy.

People hovered after her talk. I approached slowly and introduced myself as having been born and partially raised in Fosston, Minnesota, at the edge of the White Earth Reservation. “My father was born in Fosston, in 1929,” she said. (He later went to California where he was an Indian in the movies—“an extra $25 if you fell off your horse”—and where Winona was born.). I said that an uncle had a small fishing resort called the “Hideout” on Island Lake right after the War. “That would have been off county road #4,” she said.

There were no Indian kids in school—my guess was that they went to small country schools on the reservation. “Probably until eighth grade,” she thought, as that was as far as her father had gone. Only now I think that some of the Indian kids must have been hustled off to boarding schools in other places. I didn’t think to ask her about boarding schools.

Indians were invisible to us. We didn’t know any Indians. On county road #4 we saw a few shacks and big cars. We thought that when Indians got money they bought Cadillacs and got drunk. We didn’t know about the kids, though our parents pitied them.

Then I remembered trips to Itasca State Park, the headwaters of the Mississippi River—“that’s on the Reservation,” Winona chimed—and that for a quarter I had my picture taken sitting on an Indian chief’s lap (why do I remember the quarter?). I don’t know what happened to the picture, but I remember that the Indian had a large feathered headdress and wore buckskin. “That was probably my grandfather,” said Winona.

This is all sixty years ago, and it pains me to write it. I’ve gone to good schools and traveled far, lived for 40 years in Nez Perce country in Oregon—land the Indians were driven from with broken treaties and threats of war. I spend some of my time now going through the books and articles written by the late Alvin Josephy, my mentor still.

Americans have always tried to do away with Indians, Alvin said. We killed them first with diseases, wars, and broken treaties. And for the last hundred years have worked hard at killing “Indianness,” the Indian in them. This has been called assimilation, integration, termination.

Oh, we love them too—love what they were or we imagined them to have been. Alvin called these ideas “Nobel Savage” and “Vanishing Indian.” Indians were idealized by Rousseau and other European intellectuals, and captured in ethnographic studies of language and culture as the same languages, dances, and songs were outlawed on the reservations. They were photographed, most famously by Edward Sheriff Curtis, in regalia they no longer wore. He would pay them a few dollars for changing from regular clothes—often rags—into regalia.

Most importantly, Alvin said, they have often been “omitted” from history. The many languages—over 2000 mutually unintelligible at time of European contact, diverse cultures, arts and artifacts that display skills in engineering, math, and trade, Indian contributions to world agriculture from potato to tomato, and the very way they strove—and strive still—for harmony within the natural world have for the most part been absent from histories and textbooks.

Maybe the books are better now, but I wonder how far we have really come from the days of Winona’s father and grandfather and me in northern Minnesota, when Indians were Tonto on the radio, a photo chief at a state park, and invisible where they lived....

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Paul VanDevelder, Salmon, Josephy, "dominionists,"...

Al Josephy shot me an email last week with a link to an op ed piece in the Oregonian by Paul VanDevelder. It was called “The reckoning: A looming decision on endangered salmon will set the stage for momentous battles over the future.”

“Sometime this spring,” it begins, “a federal district court judge in Portland will render a decision based on the federal Endangered Species Act that will determine the fate of two dozen endangered salmon stocks that spawn in rivers from Sacramento to British Columbia....

“Judge James A. Redden's decision promises to be as momentous as any court-ordered environmental remedy in our lifetimes, the Dred Scott of environmental law. Of the many battles waged in the wake of the Endangered Species Act, no other beast, fish or fowl has created a more politically charged -- or more expensive -- fight than West Coast salmon.”

VanDevelder goes on to give a concise blow by blow of Salmon politics, which I thought was good. So I found his web site and wrote to him, telling him so and apologizing for not knowing his books–Coyote Warrior: One Man, Three Tribes, and the Trial That Forged a Nation, and Savages & Scoundrels: The Untold Story of America's Road to Empire Through Indian Territory. I told him that I am working with Alvin Josephy’s books and legacy and that I am increasingly struck by Alvin’s finding the path to environmental issues and concerns through Indians.

And that I had just read a speech Alvin made in Oklahoma in 1992, one of many times he commented on Columbus and the 500 years since his arrival, in which he talks about euro-centrism and “dominion” over the rest of creation that Columbus and his followers brought to the Americas. (Paul refers continually to “dominionist” views in his op ed piece.)

Paul immediately shot back “You just identified the fork in the road that changed my life.” He said that Sierra Magazine had asked him to do a story on Indians and Environment in 1993, that Alvin had been an important influence in his early writing career, and that “Alvin would have LOVED Savages...in many ways, it’s a story he told in his own way many times. That said, I do think there's a lot of new stuff in there...” So the books will soon be in the Josephy Library, and I am going to read them. Oh– Savages and Scoundrels has just been nominated for an Oregon Book Award!

The exchange continues–with Paul having lived in Mexico City and having a godfather who was the prosecutor in the Trotsky murder case (Alvin’s interview with Trotsky in 1937 was just months before the assassination) and some mutual friends named Jackson.. It is a small world.

Here's the Oregonian piece:


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Josephy, Indians, and the Environment

This is from the transcript of an interview that Jack Loeffler did with Alvin in August 1995, File 3, page 37, 38, 40 in the Josephy Library at Fishtrap archives.

Several times in the interview Alvin refers to subjects that he will or will not address in his memoir (A Walk Toward Oregon, published in 2000). Here he describes his conversion from being a "pro-development guy," who wanted to see the West--the "other half of the country"-- developed as the East had been, to seeing the country in an ecologically sounder and more sustainable way. You have to read A Walk Toward Oregon and know something of his extensive work on Indians to get the whole picture, but here is the shorthand: companies and government agencies were screwing the Indians--and oh, they were screwing a lot of other people too in the name of development and profit. At least some environmentalists were taking a longer view of things, did not have private selfish motives in it. So I will join the fight....

And he did. The first piece one on the Seneca and the Kinzua Dam ("Cornplanter, can you swim?" American Heritage Magazine, 1968), and then on to the Four Corners in the Southwest, and to the Garrison Diversion Project in the Dakotas. Here, in the interview with Loeffler, he is reflecting on it all, on his personal journey in Indian Country and post WW II America, as he begins writing the memoir.

"...this is why I've devoted so much of my life, once I began to make the turn to redeem myself so to speak from having been a pro-development guy, writing about it and urging it in the pages of Time magazine and the radio and all the rest, various things began to happen to turn me around to see the light. And they all really had to do with Indians. I began to meet and know Indians and then see how they were being screwed and how the whites were putting their culture higher than that of the Indians and really what they were doing is saying the Indian must go or Indianness must go. We're not out to kill you anymore. We're out to kill your Indianness...

"I saw Indians being victimized by development projects; large scale things happening. It wasn't one episode or one incident that changed me. I saw for instance what the army engineers were doing to the Iroquois, the Senecas, in building Kinzua back in western New York state in 1960 and '61 and breaking the oldest existing treaty in the United States. Historically I knew about that. It was an historic episode. Morally and ethically it was revolting to me what went on, and I went up to do a story on it, to find out everything going on. It was worse than I thought. I was finding real estate people who were conniving against the Indians with the Army Engineers, and the way the BIA was treating the Indians and so forth....

"I got to know Udall and he sent me off to represent him in a number of things. I'm going to go into a lot of this in the book. This is really the theme of my book: how I changed. It didn't take me too long, because by the time you [Jack Loeffler, who worked with Alvin on Hopi and coal issues in the Southwest] and I met I was pretty much already on the side of those who were trying to protect the environment. Why? Because there was justice there and decency. You weren't rooking people. The companies were rooking people. I'll never forget going down to New Oraibi, sitting in Banyacya's home with that Peabody Coal Company vice president that I yanked along. Remember he had his plane and flew me over there to Black Mesa? And then we went to Tom's house and met a bunch of Hopis. There was (sic) a couple of blind old men and there was a young—Carlotta Shattuck, I think her name was—crying and so forth. It shook up this guy from St. Louis, vice president for public relations or something.

"When we left and drove back to where his plane was, he said to me, and this is in the lead of my story, 'We have one hell of a community relations job to do here.' That was the way he viewed it, you see, as a corporate thing. In other words, really we've got to fool the people. We've got to find a way to get them on our side here and we can't do it honestly. We've got to find the devices because we've got to have that coal mine whether they want it or not."


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

a recollection from Tom Hutchison

Speaking of Alvin...

I think few people knew of his affection for Hawai'ian music. When I had the bookstore (that brief interlude!), Kathy would bring him into town from the ranch, drop him at the store and take off. I'd play slack key guitar and he'd tell stories in that inimitable manner: charming and self-effacing. He was never a "character" in these anecdotes; he was simply a witness to events that were sometimes earthshaking, always fascinating. I would put a sign on the door- "Back In One Hour." After an hour, I'd change the sign-"Back in Half Hour." And keep changing it accordingly. Finally, Alvin said,"Why don't you make it read 'Might Be Back'?" I said, "Oh yeah. Thanks." Wrote that on the door, turned and said,"Now where were we?"


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Josephy, Thorndike, American Heritage, & the business of memoir

Rick Bombaci stopped by to bring me a Sun Magazine, August 2010, with an article by John Thorndike about caring for his aging father, Joe Thorndike. Rick mentioned that Joe must have overlapped with Alvin, as Thorndike senior edited the Harvard Crimson in 1934, worked for Time, Life, etc. I thought I remembered the name, and on checking, he is of course mentioned in Alvin's A Walk Toward Oregon:

"My old Harvard friend Jim Parton, who had returned to New York after liquidating the daily newspaper he had tried to start in Los Angeles for Henry Luce, weaned me away from Time and over to his newest--and, this time, sensationally successful--venture, the American Heritage Publishing Company. Its major product, American Heritage magazine, dedicated to popularizing American history by good writing as well as sound scholarship, had been founded after the war by a group of eminent historians, led by... Allan Nevins. but had floundered financially until Parton and two friends with whom he was running a custom publishing business--Joseph Thorndike, a former managing editor of Life magazine, whom I had known on the Crimson at Harvard, and Oliver Jensen, a former Life text editor--bought and restyled it."

Parton's first overtures were turned down, but Alvin began writing for their magazine--the pieces that led to Patriot Chiefs appeared in AH first--and in 1960 did go to American Heritage's book division to produce a large illustrated history of American Indians. He stayed for 19 years, retiring in 1979 as Vice President and Editor in Chief.

In my quick look, I didn't find anything else on Thondike in Alvin's book, but reading the son's Sun piece brought A Walk Toward Oregon to mind in many ways. Back to Joe Thorndike: He was "managing editor, then president, of the Crimson,.... In 1934 he took a job at Time under Henry Luce, and twelve years later, at thirty-thee, he became Life's third managing editor. He founded a pair of hardcover magazines, American Heritage and Horizon, edited dozens of books and wrote three himself, the last when he was almost 80." I learned from googling his biography that Thorndike was a journalist in Europe and North Africa during WW II. And am sure that he and Alvin worked together on many projects at American Heritage--try googling Alvin along with American Heritage and you can go on forever!

The parallels in life and career are many. Thorndike and Josephy both went to Harvard, both worked as journalists during the War, both worked for Luce, and then ended up at American Heritage. They were also close in age--Thorndike was born in 1917; Alvin in 1915, and they were lifelong journalists who found it hard to write in the first person. I remember Alvin telling me how hard it was to do that as he wrote Walk--and, unfortunately, I did not read The Long and the Short and the Tall, his personal account of Marines in the Pacific, while he was alive, so could not counter that "you used first person then!"

In the Sun piece, Thorndike's son cares for his father and tries to get personal stories out of him as dementia advances, lamenting that "All his life my father has talked easily and eloquently about history, economics, art, archeology, literature, and politics. What he has never talked about are his private thoughts and emotions." The son wants such talk, and doesn't get it.

Reading A Walk Towards Oregon, we learn about Alvin's amazing cruise through the major events of the 20th century. We learn about his politics, and his passionate concern for Indian rights. But he--and many in his generation--were much more guarded about strictly personal matters. Compare that with many recent memoirs, which make their hay on private traumas and exploits, rather than on being a part of larger history.

(On Tuesday, January 11, at noon at Fishtrap, we will have a brown bag discussion of A Walk Toward Oregon. Open to all!)