Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Following Indians in 2015

Alvin Josephy passed almost a decade ago, but I visit his writing and thinking almost daily. I think about the questions I didn’t ask, the conversations that could have been longer, and tying it all to today. Mostly, I think “Alvin, you are right on.”

Over some time in the 1990s and early 2000s, Alvin was interviewed by friend and Southwest writer, activist, and radio producer Jack Loeffler, and in one of those interviews Alvin reminded Jack and radio listeners that there are many “traditional” American values—think neighborliness, tolerance, and equal opportunity. Few would argue with any of these, but Alvin said that we have largely forgotten them in the frenzied pursuit of and insistence on one value, “competition.”

From the NFL to “American Idol,” high school GPAs and SAT scores to job promotions and juried art shows, we are surrounded by and deeply immersed in competition. Held in check by fair play and good neighborliness, “friendly” competition is benign, maybe even good. But stripped of the others, running amok, it is poison.

It is Kenneth Lay accumulating wealth and political power, manipulating gas markets, bilking investors, selling his Enron shares high while encouraging employees to keep buying them as their value dropped, and, in his fall, taking down other companies and ruining retirements for thousands of Enron employees. Convicted of fraud, Lay died at 64 of a supposed heart attack while awaiting sentencing at a Colorado ski resort.

When competition is the final measure, friendship, ethics, and citizenship are all out the window, and fame and money reign—how else to measure a movie actor against a CEO, a homerun hitter, or a social program originator. How easy to understand Lay, Lance Armstrong and Mark Maguire and a host of other cheaters. And how strenuously the cheaters fight off guilt—in the end, it seems Kenneth Lay felt little guilt for the people he’d cheated; he might have felt bad about getting caught.

But, heading into the New Year, I don’t feel so clean myself. Knowing all we know about professional and big college football, I find myself following the Oregon Ducks and the Seattle Seahawks. We know that players get hurt—sometimes seriously hurt, and sometimes, we are learning, the hurt plays out years later, in ALS, Parkinson’s, dementia, and destructive rage. Junior Seau grew up where I did, in Oceanside, California, and mutual friends say his suicide was not part of his original personality. Friend Terry Crenshaw died with ALS in his fifties—did his years of football contribute?

But we watch…. and we get emotionally tied up with teams and players. We join with other fans in cheers and dress and reactions to the game. We share in the fame—entire cities and states and regions share in the fame. We want our guy—Russell Wilson in Seattle—to best the bigger guys with bigger salaries from Eastern and Midwestern powerhouses. We win the Heisman Trophy for best college football player with Marcus Mariota, and will be cheering with each other in front of a big screen TV on New Years Day for Marcus and his Ducks to destroy Florida State.

Pure Gladiator. There is something primal in these emotions that push competition to the limits and allow fans and bystanders to glory in others’ achievements. But, like many values and virtues, the importance accorded this one waxes and wanes—teamwork, order, spirituality, equality, come along and show their stuff. The Coliseum is replaced by the cathedral or parliament, the printing press, agricultural improvement, art and science. Society, culture, and the public gain on the individual.

Again, Alvin Josephy put it succinctly. Indians, he said, are the only Americans still capable of “group think,” of thinking for the tribe. He told me that in relation to the drug and alcohol problem, which he thought would be solved first on reservations.

There are certainly millions of Americans who want to see the drug problem solved, who want better wages and more equitable treatment for low income neighbors, want health care for all and a world full of wonder and natural resources for their grandchildren. But these things can’t really happen until competition is harnessed, put back in a place where it is reasonable rather than defining, and lives comfortably alongside other values.

I don’t know where this starts. Competitive forces are pushing for national college playoff games and we look for “winners” in complex diplomatic and combat situations across the globe. I would like to think that my own better nature—and that of millions of others—will eventually turn away from the gladiators and join the Indians. How to get there? Follow the Indians?


Maybe this year, in 2015.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Year end summary--and plea!

Hello friends,

We’ve been at it for a bit over two years now at the Josephy Center. The Center has a vigorous program of events and exhibits, and the Library, in addition to its archival work and dealing with students, writers, and researchers, is very involved with overall programs. Last year we featured Josephy tapes and stories in a “Remembering World War II” exhibit, and this spring we will pay more attention to Alvin—and his career at Time and American Heritage—with a May exhibit built around the “50s” and a collaborative art exhibit with the Nez Perce National Historic Park on the occasion of their fiftieth anniversary (Alvin was involved in the Park establishment too).  May will mark Alvin’s Centenary—he was born in 1915! We are soliciting Alvin—and Betty—stories for archives, and possibly for some kind of book. We have scheduled Jaime Pinkham for a joint Josephy Center—Fishtrap “Josephy Lecture” in June. Jaime will address natural resource issues through tribal eyes. The Josephy Center thrives!

The Library has books on the shelves, papers in boxes (with some cataloging going on right now), and we are about to create a small standing exhibit built around the Nez Perce story and Alvin’s work as historian and activist. Just this week I am in an interesting email conversation with a Nez Perce tribal member doing research on historical grieving processes of her tribe. Visitors have included a descendent of C.E.S. Wood, and a Road Scholar crew. We have an intern coming in January. Things at the Library itself are busy.

All of this to bring you up to date on goings on here—and to ask for your continuing support. Many of you have received the annual giving letter from Executive Director Cheryl Coughlan. Please respond as you can if you have not already done so. And for those of you who are only electronically connected through this email list and the Library Blog activities, I invite you to join the party.  You can drop a check in the mail to Josephy Center/ PO Box 949/ Joseph, Oregon 97846, or you can make a quick trip to our web site donation page—http://josephy.org/support-the-josephy-center-for-arts-and-culture/.

In either case, do what you can—and have a wonderful holiday season!
rich

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving; happy history

I wrote this piece a few months ago as my Chieftain newspaper column--but it is really a Thanksgiving item. So apologies if you saw it then, and Happy Thanksgiving--and Turkey and Corn and Squash--in any case!

Remember that third or fourth grade Thanksgiving pageant? The big feast with Indians providing most of the food? And maybe the scene before the feast or after, with Squanto teaching the Pilgrims how to plant; he squatted, surrounded by Pilgrims, and put a fish in a hole and planted corn and beans and squash.

I don’t remember learning how Squanto—more properly “Tisguantum”—was captured and taken to England, abducted and sent to Spain, made his way back to Newfoundland and then to his Patuxet tribal homeland, only to find his tribe had been decimated by European disease.

I don’t remember anyone asking or explaining how Squanto met the Puritains, and how the Indians got corn and squash and beans. Had we been encouraged to do so, we might have arrived at the work of Alvin Josephy and Alfred Crosby.

Crosby, who taught history at Washington State and then at the University of Texas, said that he got “tired of muttering on about Washington and Jefferson,” and when he really looked at American history, he “kept running into smallpox,” a disease that arrived with the Europeans and killed more indigenous Americans than did guns. Crosby then wondered what else had come with Columbus, and what from the “new world” had traveled back to Europe, Asia, and, eventually, Africa. Old to new: horses, cows, sheep, pigs, wheat, guns, smallpox, measles, flu, earthworms. New to old: tobacco, corn, chocolate, rubber, manioc, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers. And, although slavery and gold were around in both hemispheres, the trade in them increased rapidly in Columbus’s wake. It was all part of what Crosby called the “Columbian Exchange,” and it changed the world. He wrote the book in 1972, and now you can take college classes in it!

If our onetime neighbor and my mentor, Alvin Josephy, were still around, I would ask him about Crosby, and try to bring the two of them together—maybe have an event at the new Josephy Center! Alvin left a couple of thousand books and history journals for us to build a “Library of Western History and Culture” in Wallowa County. What I didn’t understand eight and ten years ago was that he also left a way of looking at history. The Europeans who touched the Americas with Columbus in 1492 brought diseases, animals, and technology—most importantly, guns. But Josephy said that the most destructive thing that they brought was a way of looking at the world, a way that put European religious and cultural values at the top of a historical pyramid—and “heathens” and their values in the newly “discovered” lands of the Americas as primitive, discovered so that they could be destroyed or transformed to make way for advancing Anglo-American civilization.

In fact, as Josephy demonstrated in the award winning Indian Heritage of America (in 1968, a few years ahead of Crosby’s Columbian Exchange), the Americas were every bit as rich and complex with civilizations as was the old world. The Mayas and Mississippians had had cities larger than anything in Europe in their time. Peoples and languages had moved, filled and transformed two continents long before Columbus “discovered” them. Corn and beans had been tamed, refined, and moved from Central America to the harsher climates of the northeast Atlantic coast. Extensive trade networks had moved obsidian, abalone shells, and gold as well as agricultural products across the continent and its hundreds of tribes and civilizations.

It wasn’t all pretty. Some hunter gatherers were always on the edge. Some complex civilizations had religions and class structures that embraced slavery—and even human sacrifice. But the Americas were not Sioux Indians riding horses across the plains—the stereotype that most of us grew up with and that is still promoted around the world. The Sioux didn’t start on the plains, and got their horses from Europeans!

If you think about corn and beans traveling the world, about the trade routes that shuffled tobacco and potatoes, gold and slaves, from continent to continent in the decades after Columbus, and if you think about Maya, Inca, Roman, and Greek ruins, and if you think about current efforts to restore salmon and figure out ways for different languages and religions to live side by side, the history to dwell on and learn from is a much bigger thing than what I learned in a class required of all college freshman in 1960: “Western Civilization.” Even the word, “western,” which referred to Greeks, Romans, maybe some Huns and Mongols, Germans, Scots, Irish, and other fair “Europeans,” but omitted Mayans and Incans, Aztecs and Mississippians and other peoples of the “western” hemisphere, seems now ironic at best.


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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Tomatoes and trains

Students in my OSU class in La Grande were asked to from groups of two or three, pick a crop or animal now grown commercially in the Northwest, and make short oral presentations explaining their subjects’ botanical or biological and geographical roots, and then follow them to the present. This is all part of the discussion of the Columbian Exchange and establishing in their minds the idea that farming and agriculture did not just originate in the Tigris-Euphrates, but also in what is now Peru and Mexico, Guatemala and Brazil. (And Asia and Africa for that matter.) Over half of all “world crops” originated in this hemisphere—think maize, tobacco, rubber, manioc, potato, and tomato!

So one group picked the tomato, and in the course of their presentation showed a slide with present-day world production. I think the US ranks third—I have already forgotten one and two, but Turkey is number four.

Which reminded me that in 1970, when I was on the Peace Corps staff in Turkey, I met someone from Heinz or Del Monte who was contracting tomato plantations in Turkey. I remember asking “why Turkey?” And learning that the commercial section of the US Embassy had sophisticated soil, climate, and growing condition information on Turkey—better than anything the Turks themselves had. Heinz—and/or Del Monte—stayed in regular touch with the ag and commercial sections of the State Department and their minions across the world, and here they were growing tomatoes in Turkey.

It so happens that the theme for the next class session—which was yesterday—was Isaac Stevens and the Treaty Period. We have attempted to “discover” what the entire region was like pre-contact, and then are following subsequent disruptions to the ecosystem—or ecosystems. The disruption catalog includes the horse, diseases, fur trapping, missionizing, and, currently, treaties and wars. We still have fish wheels and dams, tractors and irrigation systems to look at in the next few weeks.

Isaac Stevens is a very interesting character: first in his class at West Point; experience with Army Corps of Engineers and in the Mexican-American War; and campaigner for President Franklin Pierce. At age 37, due most probably to his political involvement, he was named Governor and Indian Agent for Washington Territory. But this was not enough for Stevens. He wrote and lobbied for a third plum, the survey of the northern route for a transcontinental railroad.

Explorers had found no easy “northwest passage” by water, and Congress, deciding that rail transportation was the ride of the future, had, in 1853 and 1854 directed the War Department to explore and survey four Railroad Routes from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, the northern route roughly between the 47th and 49th parallels.

My guess is that prior to the Civil War, there was no way Southern legislators would approve anything other than a southern route—the potential for additional free states was too great.

But at the time, Stevens was smitten with the idea of being the man who filled the Puget Sound with people and linked the nation east and west. His treaty making makes more sense in this light—combine and clean up the tribal situation on the West side of the Cascades, and leave room for a rail route to the north on the East side of the Cascades. And negotiate with those pesky Blackfeet so that the route won’t fall in the middle of Indian conflict.

So what does this have to do with tomatoes? Well, we happen to have Volume VI of the survey, published in 1857. This volume explored and surveyed an end route, one that would connect the Sacramento Valley in California with the Columbia River. The book is beautiful, with plates—some in color—of birds, fish, mammals, trees, and plants along the route, and it is practical, with geographical and geological information, distances, altitudes, longitudes and latitudes.

It is all that railroad entrepreneurs would need—along with rights to land—to build a railroad.  So the aha here—going back to tomatoes in Turkey—is that our government has always and forever, from Lewis and Clark to the internet, Leland Stanford to Bill Gates, done the groundbreaking work that paves the way for the private sector. 

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Friday, October 17, 2014

What I forgot to say!

So last week I gave a little talk at the Hells Canyon Preservation Council’s Portland fundraising event on the Nez Perce in the Wallowa Country. Board Chair Pete Sandrock told me I had 30 minutes—and that he was a tough timekeeper!

There is no way to summarize the Nez Perce story in a half hour, so the job was to pick out some high points and connect them well enough so that newcomers to the subject would get something to whet appetites, and people with some knowledge of the business might get something new.

On the way home I kept thinking of high points I’d missed—and determined to send a message out apologizing and righting my wrongs. Alas, a week has gone by, and many of the “urgent” corrections have faded, but there are still a couple….

Alvin Josephy at war
Number one, I meant to mention how important I think Alvin Josephy’s wartime experience as a journalist in the Pacific was to how he met and handled the Nez Perce story. He was only a few years away from horrendous experiences on Guam and Iwo Jima when Time Magazine sent him to Idaho and he first learned about the Nez Perce. He knew about war first hand, and he knew to trust the warriors’ accounts of things (and not rely on the generals and politicians). Previous, pre-war experience in radio journalism had honed his ear. As Indian historian Ciff Trafzer says, Alvin Josephy knew how to listen.

So two things came together immediately for Alvin. First, he saw that the Nez Perce Story was a “great American Epic,” a noble people and a fighting and tactically brilliant retreat and near escape to Canada and an alliance with the legendary Sitting Bull. Second, most of the available material on the tribe and on the War was from the White man’s point of view. But there were Indians’ accounts out there in the records of a courageous and eccentric Indian friend named Lucullus McWhorter, who walked the fighting retreat trail with Indian participants and wrote down their accounts; and in family memories and the words of four veterans of the War still alive.

Alvin of course determined to tell the bigger story of the Northwest and the Nez Perce, which took him back to Hudson’s Bay Company records, to the reservation at Colville where many descendants of the non-treaty Nez Perce still lived in exile, and to original accounts scribbled by fur traders, sketched at the Walla Walla treaty council by Gustav Sohon; notes, letters, and maps hidden and obscured in libraries and state historical societies across the country.


I think Alvin Josephy’s experiences in World War II are a big part of what he saw and how he proceeded with the Nez Perce story.

Number two. I know that I touched briefly on the discovery of gold on the Nez Perce Reservation in 1861, and the subsequent flood of white miners—some 18,000 had crowded onto the rez by 1862. I talked about the importance of the concurrent Civil War—Lincoln needed the gold and the country was still pressing irrevocably West during the great conflict. What I skimmed over was the War’s aftermath, when President Grant, listening to some of the liberal critics of how Indians had been treated during the War, turned over the administration of Indian reservations to the churches (in what Josephy says was the biggest abrogation of the line between church and state in our history). The Nez Perce Reservation was given to the Presbyterians to administer as part of Grant’s “Peace Policy.” (The Presbyterians become important in later Nez Perce history as well, but that is for another day.)

Fortunately, Presbyterian Agent Montieth was sympathetic and worked on the Indians’ behalf. President Grant eventually, in 1873, signed an executive order designating roughly half of the Wallowa country to the “roaming Nez Perce.” Assessments were made to make ready for buying out the white settlers’ improvements, but by 1875 there were too many settlers, there was too much in the balance, and Grant rescinded the 1873 offer.

What I am sure that I failed to mention is that one of the screwy bits of history, and certainly a killer of any serious effort to give Wallowa land to Indians, is that Grant’s reservation gave the Indians the half of the Wallowa Country that had been settled by whites—roughly the north half of current Wallowa County, including the lower valley and town of Wallowa! The whites would get land that they largely had not settled.

Historian Grace Bartlett examined this closely, and determined that it was most likely “bureaucratic error,” mix-ups in communication between the field and the head office.

History has turned on less.


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