Thursday, December 19, 2013


For many—maybe most of its human inhabitants, the world is and always has been a hard place. For most, hope is the fuel that helps life go on. Hope for some kind of change that things will get better for us—or at least for our children, hope that tomorrow the sun will shine and the rain-earthquake-tsunami-drought-war will stop. And, especially at this time of year, hope that there will be “peace on earth”—and for many, hope in another life that transcends this hard one.

I have been reminded of the importance of hope while watching Kennedy footage on the fiftieth anniversary of his assassination, and reminded again with the passing of Nelson Mandela and its attendant ceremony.

As Kennedy came to office the Cold War kept families in Europe separated and American children diving under desks with the fear of a nuclear attack, new African nations struggled, poverty was wide-spread in South America, the Southern states in our own country were deeply segregated, and black Americans throughout were economically and educationally poorer than their white neighbors.

Kennedy said that working together we could heal divisions, provide education and justice to more, and smooth the hard edges of life for many. A son of privilege, he said that privilege provided the opportunity for service. In 1965, two years after his death, I went to Turkey as a peach-fuzzed Peace Corps Volunteer with a pocketful of Kennedy half dollars. Village Turks and government officials accepted them with tears in their eyes and Kennedy stories, Kennedy hopes they remembered. (Maybe we could still do something with the hopes, I said.)

In South Africa, the Apartheid regime headed a white-dominated society where the large black and “colored” populations were at the back of every white-headed line. Nelson Mandela, who came of age as apartheid hardened (it was only legislatively institutionalized in 1948), went from pastoral childhood to peaceful and then military protester. He was imprisoned in 1962 and released in 1990 to a world that had waited and hoped with him for over 27 years.

The time of Mandela’s imprisonment saw brutal dictatorships in many African nations, a long and dreadful war in Vietnam, genocide in Cambodia, and the rise of oligarchies and plutocracies across the world. But Mandela waited as American students shamed their universities into disinvesting in South Africa and a world movement rose against apartheid. The regime was forced into negotiations with Mandela’s party, the African National Congress, and with Mandela himself, who would accept release only without conditions in hopes of freedom for his black and white countrymen.

And then, as many predicted and feared a bloodbath, Mandela presided over reconciliation. And as African dictators shuffled and jockeyed to remain in power, he stepped down after one term, sending his country a step further on the road to a fair functioning democracy.

Today they struggle, but struggle on that road, and the world celebrates their George Washington.
Today, a new Pope denounces extremes of wealth and privilege and announces his affiliation with the world-wide poor. Hope springs in millions, maybe billions.

Today, women build on the legacy of the ‘70s and the passing of Title IX, the landmark legislation that says that when federal dollars are involved, men and women must have equal access. We think of sports, but I think of the new head of General Motors, the number of women doctors we have in Wallowa County, and the local ranchers and hands wearing cowgirl boots. Girls’ basketball too!

Last week, a new young male nurse at our hospital who has traveled the world tells me he thinks that we need some kind of universal conscription, that everyone should do something for their country. For many in our fine new hospital, the work is an opportunity to live in this place and to serve—choices they have made over manna.

Yes, the minimum wage alarmists are at it again—raises will cripple the economy—but they are countered by millions who say that $15 dollars per hour is the cusp of a real living wage. Even as the number of billionaires has jumped dramatically in the last decades, this new message gains momentum. Free marketers can’t answer the sweat shops and the excesses of wealth.

Today, Nez Perce Fisheries has salmon running again in the Lostine River, and Wallowa Resources and a group of agency partners is reaching back to Nez Perce practices in rebuilding healthy forests. The conversations among disciplines and cultures and the listening are probably more important than the specific resource.

The world is still a hard place for many—maybe most, but hope lives on and invites us to celebrate its heroes—the Kennedys and Mandelas, notice its presence, and practice it ourselves.

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Friday, November 29, 2013

The end of November

It is the end of November in my 72nd year and my mind churns.

I guess for many of us of a certain age November will always be associated with John Kennedy’s death. Yes, I remember the day, remember riding my bike to class at UC Riverside, putting it in a rack and walking across campus and coming on a distraught Dr. Dennis Strong, waving his hands, tears streaming down his face, shouting that they had shot the President.

Although a couple of UCR students I knew checked out almost immediately and joined the Peace Corps, it took me almost two years to do the same. We went to Turkey with Kennedy half-dollars stuffed in our bags, tokens we would hand out to friends we made. And, like Volunteers across the world, I found newspaper and magazine pictures of JFK, in my country alongside photos of Ataturk, in small villages across the land.

This November, teaching a class on ecosystems and tribes in nearby La Grande to Oregon State University ag and natural resource students, trying to get them to relook at what was here before our European ancestors arrived, I told them that new world potatoes probably saved my Norwegian ancestors from starvation and that Indians, people of the salmon who lived and worked what we now call the Pacific Northwest, were here with sophisticated societies and economies long before trappers, missionaries, explorers, and settlers came to change and replace them. I reminded them that historical perspectives change slowly, and that they had probably participated in the same fourth grade Thanksgiving pageants that I had watched and played in 60 years ago, that no one had encouraged us then to wonder where the corn and squash and beans that the Indians shared came from—and for that matter, how Squanto had learned enough English to tutor them in agriculture. Our history—and our stereotypes of hunter-gatherer Indians—have been handed to us flawed.

But there is change. A few days ago a group of Joseph fifth and sixth graders came to the Josephy Center to see the Indian art exhibit and the library. We talked about the Nez Perce and how they got their name. I told them about Indians from the coast, the far north and the inland high desert congregating at Celilo to fish and trade goods and stories. I said that when they got the horse, the Nez Perce had gone over the mountains to hunt buffalo. “Where did the Indians get horses?” I asked, and a bright-eyed fifth grader, hand bouncing in the air, said “I know, I know—the Columbian Exchange.”

I try to tell my grandchildren, who are in 7th and 9th grades, about Kennedy and how he tried to change the world—and in some ways did so—and how he changed my life. We have a campaign poster that I have hauled with me from 1960, my freshman year of college at Denver University, that promises “Leadership for the Sixties.” Their eyes glaze. I take them to the community Thanksgiving feed to help serve. As they feared, it’s mostly old people. They’re miffed—but they buck up and do a good job of it.  

Kennedy didn’t get many years—and watching it all again it seems that he knew that the work was big and his time was short. He wrote the foreword to the American Heritage Book of Indians (which Alvin Josephy edited; JFK on Indians for previous post) and showed an understanding of that history—we can wonder how Indian policy might have changed.

I am brought to his book, Profiles in Courage, and Alvin’s book, The Patriot Chiefs. Both men believed in the importance of individuals in their times. Alvin was a historian with an urge toward action; JFK an actor with a sense of history. My mind goes from Kennedy to Tecumseh, one of Alvin’s Patriot Chiefs, an Indian leader who dreamed a pan-Indian stand against the European invasion. He failed, but is with us still in the genes of Indians still fighting for sovereignty, still struggling for a place in their native land.

Dreams stay with us; Tecumseh and Kennedy are with us.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

History counts

It’s an old saw—you learn by teaching. This fall I am teaching a class for the Oregon State University Ag program on the Eastern Oregon U campus in La Grande. The class is “Ecosystems and Pacific Northwest Tribes.”  We looked briefly at the pre-Columbian Americas and the impacts of contact—the “Columbian Exchange”—and then moved on to the pre-contact Northwest (realizing that such a designation is loaded with post-contact geography), the impacts of the fur trade, missionaries, treaties, and settlers, and finally now, are looking at how the region’s ecosystems are working today.

We read a few chapters of Charles Mann’s 1491, a wonderful essay, “People of the Salmon,” by Richard Daugherty in Josephy’s America in 1492, and bits and pieces on the fur trade, treaties, missionaries, and Oregon tribes. This week our reading was the Klamath chapter from First Oregonians, and our guest speaker was Jeff Oveson, long-time executive director of Grande Ronde Model Watershed.  

As I re-read the short version of the Klamath-Modoc story and thought about a recent rebroadcast of the “Oregon Experience” program on the Modoc War ( it struck me that the Klamath and associated tribes (Modoc and Yahooskin are joined on the reservation) experience of white contact had hit the nadirs of government Indian policy in case after case—loss of land and resources, treaty, war, and assimilation through schools, allotment, termination, and urbanization. Controversy and strife haunt the region still, and Indian-white, Indian-government, and white-government relations are tenuous and controversial.

The Nez Perce story, also a sad one, also follows the patterns and hazards of contact—disease, loss of land, settlement, allotment. But the Nez Perce—I now speak of families dispersed on three reservations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho—were spared termination. And going back further, the Nez Perce came out of the 1855 treaty negotiations with heads held highest of all inland tribes. They retained most of their ancestral lands and were the only people to emerge with a reservation of their own—one not shared with other, confederated, tribes.

Yes, land was taken away in the “Liars Treaty” of 1863, and negotiations with President Grant, promising to rescind part of that treaty and give back some Wallowa land, failed. Yes, there was a war that drove Nez Perce from the Wallowa and from other ancestral lands. And yes, lands were allotted and much tribal land was lost with the Dawes Act.

But the Nez Perce, known in Governor Stevens time as a strong tribe with skilled negotiator chiefs, acknowledged and often celebrated for their arduous and skillfully managed fighting retreat toward Canada in the Nez Perce War, and successful, with Chief Joseph’s skilled diplomacy, in returning from Indian Territory to the Northwest less than a decade after the 1877 War, as much as any tribal people, always saw themselves as peers in relationships with whites and white governments.

J.T. Willizams, Nez Perce Fisheries
I see this today in the faces and actions of Nez Perce tribal leaders, Nez Perce Fisheries personnel, and in those of their cousins on the Umatilla. I ask Jeff about working with tribal fisheries—Nez Perce and Umatilla—and he concurs. Tribal workers in our part of the country are confident, skilled, and see themselves as and are seen as partners in working with the region’s natural resources.

History counts.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Congress catching up with the Indians

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the photographer John Fouch and his pictures of Plains Indians and Chief Joseph and other Nez Perces at Fort Keogh in Montana in the late 1870s—and I promised more. Today’s news from the Senate—the 61-30 vote for cloture on the “Employment Nondiscrimination Act,” also known as ENDA—seems like the right occasion to consider another Fouch image. 

ENDA would make it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Fouch’s relevant photo is of “Squaw Jim” and a companion—maybe his wife. They are Crow Indians and the time is the late 1870s. 

The literature refers to cross gender Indian people as “Berdache,” a French word derived from a Persian word referring to male-male attraction. This from the “Encyclopedia of the Great Plains”:

"In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, French explorers, traders, and missionaries in the Mississippi Valley occasionally encountered Native Americans who could be classified neither as men nor women. They called such individuals berdaches…. In fact, Plains Indian berdaches are best described as occupying an alternative or third gender role, in which traits of men and women are combined with those unique to berdache status. Male berdaches did women's work, cross-dressed or combined male and female clothing, and formed relationships with non-berdache men.

"Plains Indian women often engaged in hunting and warfare, but a female role equivalent to that of male berdaches, although common west of the Rockies, has been documented in the Plains only among the Cheyennes (the hetaneman). Even so, some Plains Indian women became notable warriors and leaders and behaved much like berdaches. In the early nineteenth century, Running Eagle of the Piegans wore male clothing on war parties, while Woman Chief of the Crows had four wives."

The entire interesting entry is at

In other places Indians are referred to as “two-spirited,” and in fact contemporary Indians promoting respect and equality for gay, lesbian, and trans-gender tribal members now prefer “two spirit” to Berdache, which is culturally loaded.

The loading was done by Christian missionaries, who could not accept Indians that challenged their ideas of gender boundaries, and were in fact often accorded respect for special access to spiritual worlds provided by their dual-gender, dual-spirit personas. Walter Williams, who has written extensively on the subject, explained things this way in The Guardian:

Rather than emphasizing the homosexuality of these persons, however, many Native Americans focused on their spiritual gifts. American Indian traditionalists, even today, tend to see a person's basic character as a reflection of their spirit. Since everything that exists is thought to come from the spirit world, androgynous or transgender persons are seen as doubly blessed, having both the spirit of a man and the spirit of a woman. Thus, they are honoured for having two spirits, and are seen as more spiritually gifted than the typical masculine male or feminine female.

I expect that many tribes and tribal members have gone on with old beliefs and practices, and two-spirited Indians have continued to enjoy respect and “normalcy” in many if not most cases in the years from Fouch and his 1870s photos until now. And I think it is interesting that the mainstream American public and our politicians, who sometimes lead but most often struggle to follow their vocal supporters, and who just a few years ago were busy promulgating a “Defense of Marriage Act,” and considered the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy “liberalizing” to our military, are coming to the conclusion that “two spirited” people should be treated equally in the workplace.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Early photos of Chief Joseph

Goff photo used by Bartlett
Ann Hayes, the late Grace Bartlett’s daughter, came by with a folder full of photos and clippings from her mother’s papers (which are being cataloged by Shannon Maslach). We were looking for originals –or at least good prints—of photos used in Grace’s small booklet on the Wallowas.  Ann wants to reprint, and we want to improve the quality of the photos.

Among the material was information on some of the early photos of Chief Joseph. The one Grace used in her booklet, which she reproduced “courtesy of Mrs. L.R. Hamblen of Spokane,” is in fact one of the earliest photos of Joseph, and although there was for some time controversy about the photographer, there seems to be general agreement now that it was Orlando Goff.

But there was another bit of information in Grace’s files about another photographer, John Fouch, who had set up a photo shop at Fort Keogh MT shortly before the arrival of the Nez Perce prisoners. Two photos of Chief Joseph and reference to an article in American Heritage popped up on the internet. The American Heritage article, from November of 1992, was written by a collector named James Brust, who had found a stereoscopic photo of the Custer Battlefield, tracked it to Fouch, then tracked Fouch to living relatives, and turned up a set of photos of Indians taken in the late 1870s. 

Fouch photo on Nerburn book
I had seen one of the photos before, on the cover of the paperback edition of Kent Nerburn’s book, Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce. It’s a haunting photo, Joseph with sad but still strong eyes, fur wrapped around his braids, a shirt that is identified elsewhere as Crow—either a previous gift or one loaned to him for the photo, and hair brushed up in traditional Nez Perce style, showing white in the photo. Was it colored? Or is this a trick of the photo?

Interestingly, there is no attribution of the photo in the book. Was this an oversight—or done intentionally? It appears on the Smithsonian web site that Brust holds a copy—maybe the only copy—of the original, but has sent copies of the Fouch photos he found to the Smithsonian. 

I am not about to chase after the details regarding theses early photos of Joseph. For me it is important to note that they are probably the first photos of him, and that they were taken soon after the surrender, when he was still in his thirties. The more common photos of Joseph were taken much later—E.S. Curtis in 1900 I believe—after he had fought and grieved for the Wallowa Homeland for almost a quarter century. 

Fouch photo