Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Ancient One

That is what Tribal people called the skeletal remains that white anthropologists dubbed “Kennewick Man” when he was unearthed along the Columbia in 1996, and quick carbon dating suggested he was 7,500—9,000 years in the ground. They argued that the remains were theirs, and that they should be allowed to rebury them properly.

Some scientists argued otherwise—the archaeologist James Chatters initially described the skull as Caucasian, and produced a reconstruction of his face suggesting that Kennewick Man looked a bit like the actor Patrick Stewart. The scientists mounted a vigorous campaign for more testing and against the Indians favoring reburial. (To be fair, Chatters subsequently changed his mind on the Caucasian idea.)

It all helped fuel a movement suggesting that Indians—Native Americans with Asian genetic connections who had crossed the land bridge tens of thousands of years ago—might not have been alone here. Or even first? Advocates of the “Solutrean hypothesis” held that during the Ice Age anatomically modern humans from Europe crossed via an ice bridge or over open water to North America, and the Solutrean high hunting culture of present-day Europe (roughly 20,000 years ago) became known as the Clovis culture in North America.

Others have argued about later, but still early arrivals of European peoples. Kennewick man was a marker in the scientific quiver of all such early European influence advocates, and eventually the courts backed the non-Tribals, and the Ancient One was measured and shared, to some extent, across the scientific world.

On Thursday, 21 years later, Danish scientists published an analysis of DNA obtained from the skeleton. Kennewick Man’s genome clearly does not belong to a European, the scientists said:

“It’s very clear that Kennewick Man is most closely related to contemporary Native Americans,” said Eske Willerslev, a geneticist at the University of Copenhagen and lead author of the study, which was published in the journal Nature: (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vnfv/ncurrent/full/nature14625.html).
According to the team of Danish scientists, who examined DNA from across the world, the Ancient one apparently has a close relationship with the Colvilles in north central Washington State.

So the Indians were right, they have the closest relationship to the Ancient One, and I imagine that a ceremonial reburial will eventually happen somewhere in the Northwest.  But what does the whole episode tell us about advocacy and science in the service of certain belief patterns.

I’ve wondered from the beginning how much we can tell about a skeleton by the shape of a skull? Think about the variation in skull shape among your neighbors and friends, maybe even within your own extended family. I immediately thought about that period when nineteenth century “scientists” thought that skull shape said something about personality—phrenology, wasn’t it? Apparently some in the scientific community came to a similar conclusion before the Danish DNA analysis.  It might have been why Chatters abandoned the Caucasian skull hypothesis.

But given that, what drives science—and lay students—to look for a European explanation for New World development? It is now pretty certain that outliers from Europe have made landfall from time to time over the eons. We know that the Norse found Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland over 1000 years ago,, during the Great Warming, built communities, and then were frozen out of the last two by the little ice age.

But all evidence is that the major developments in what would become known as North and South America—the mound cities and Mississippian Culture, the Mayans, Aztec, pre-Inca and Inca cultures, the domestication of over half of the world’s major agricultural products, Tlingit art, and Makah whaling owed nothing to Europe and Europeans. Whatever Asian migrations and interactions of different migrations occurred, what developed here before 1492 was indigenous to those ancient peoples who share more DNA with Siberian nomads than they do with German burghers or English sailors.

As far as we know now, all human DNA weaves back to an African beginning. And following the journeys out of that continent and across the world is exciting stuff.  But I think we’ve had enough of putting white Europeans at the center of all important movements—we have as much to learn from the stories that the Ancient One passed on in his time and to his progeny, which might now be scattered across the two continents, mixed with other threads and carried in the thousands of stories of creation and migration that were here when Columbus first set foot at Hispanola.


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For the NYT account of the Danish scientists’ findings:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/19/science/new-dna-results-show-kennewick-man-was-native-american.html?emc=edit_th_20150619&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=66175474&_r=0



Monday, June 15, 2015

Celebrating the Nez Perce

A few hundred Nez Perce Indians called this Valley home for thousands of years. They called themselves Nimipu (“the people”) and identified with this place, their families, their band and its headmen (Young Joseph, Old Joseph, Wal-lam-wat-kain, and on and on) more than any larger tribal group. European horses and diseases got here before Europeans did, and then the fur traders, who probably had seen a couple of Indians in buffalo country with dentalia they had traded for at Celilo through their nostrums, and put the Nez Perce name on them. This all before 1805 and Lewis and Clark. The fur men, migrants themselves, many from France and Scotland, trapped, traded, traveled and married with Indians. They had posts in Spokane and made it to the Pacific just five or six years after the Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery.  Historian Grace Bartlett says there were a couple of Frenchmen living in the Wallowa Valley with Indian wives when the first settlers came in—that was all the way up in 1871, when all manner of people were rattling around what some call Salmon Country—the lands from the British Columbian coast to the Northern California coast, and from salt water to the Rockies.

Settlers came after fur men, missionaries, surveyors, treaty makers, and gold seekers. It’s a long complicated story—thousands of years long and the length of rivers and mountain ranges, and the Nez Perce National Historical Park collects the pieces and tells the story in places across four states—Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Montana. They’re headquartered in Spalding, Idaho (ironically, named after the early missionaries to the Nez Perce) and are celebrating 50 years of work. One of the ways they are celebrating is with a show of “gift art,” the beaded bags, cradleboards, flutes, and moccasins Indians made and still make for children, sisters, and friends. And, fortunately for us here in Wallowa County, the first showing of this work is at the Josephy Center on Main Street in the town of Joseph (named, of course, after the last Indian headman who lived here).

It came on May 30 and will be up until the June 28. On the opening day we celebrated with Indian singers and drummers and artists and interpreters telling us stories.  Happily, May would have marked the 100th birthday of Alvin M. Josephy Jr. the man who told the Nez Perce story in exquisite detail, told it with the background of horses, diseases, fur traders, “discoverers,” missionaries, treaty makers, gold strikes, the Civil War, etc., told it, as much as he could, through the eyes and voices of the people themselves. On May 31, we celebrated his centenary.

There were still three survivors of the War of 1877 alive when Alvin began his work, and he spoke with them. When the Nez Perce returned to the Northwest in 1884 from the place they still call the “hot country” (Leavenworth; Indian Territory), the young men and those closest to Joseph were sent to Colville, in Washington—there was still much fear of Indians in Idaho and Oregon. Alvin went to hear the stories in Colville too. And in 1965 he published The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest, still—fifty years later—the acknowledged starting point for book learning about the tribe and culture. 
The drummers stayed and played for the Josephy party. Gordy High Eagle, one of the drummers, had been a “camper” at the Josephy house in the earliest days of the Chief Joseph Summer Seminar, then known as the Day Camp. Indian kids came for several summers, and always stayed at the Josephys. Another camper, Albert Barros, is now on the tribal council in Idaho. He brought a proclamation from the Tribe honoring Alvin. Betty Josephy, Alvin’s wife, was honored too—Albert called her “mom.”

Bobbie Conner, who is now the director of the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute on the Umatilla Reservation and is of Cayuse and Nez Perce descent, spoke movingly of listening as a child as Alvin talked with her grandfather. She also spoke movingly of this Wallowa land, thanked those of us who live here for loving it and taking care of it, reminded us why her people tried so hard to hold onto it.

Which reminded me that Alvin once told me that the Nez Perce claim to the country still had some merit. Now, in the library of books he left us, and in the writings of Grace Bartlett, the local historian who put together a day-by-day account of the last days of Indians here, I consider this. In 1873, President Grant came to the same conclusion, that the Treaty of 1863 was invalid. He rescinded the treaty, and determined that the Nez Perce should have half of the Wallowa Country. His agents went so far as to assess the improvements on the land in anticipation of paying off the settlers (some $68,000 on fewer than 100 claims).  

It didn’t happen of course. Some settlers were dug in, there were Indian haters in nearby Union, and there was fear of Indians engendered by the Modoc troubles. Finally, fears rose to fever with Custer’s debacle in 1876, and the Nez Perce War followed in 1877.

That is a too short history story. To learn more, one could follow the Nez Perce National Historical Park sites along the trail—some 1200 miles—that took the Joseph Band and other non-treaties almost to Canada, where Sitting Bull is supposed to have waited for them.

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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Alvin Josephy, the Listening Man

Gordie High Eagle, Millie Zollman, Albert Barros 
On Sunday at the Josephy Center we honored Alvin with Nez Perce drums and talk and a new exhibit highlighting some of the milestones in his life. This all followed the opening of a splendid Nez Perce Art Show. The show, mounted in celebration of the Nez Perce National Historical Park’s Fiftieth Anniversary, features art that tribal members make for each other—the buckskin shirt, cornhusk bag, moccasins, beaded horse regalia and headdresses worn for ceremony and parade. It’s here for June, then goes to the History Center in Lewiston, Idaho.

The Josephy exhibit stays put!

And, it seems to me, the story it tells—and the honoring of him on Sunday made this explicit—is that Alvin Josephy was a “listener.”

Bobbie Conner, the director of the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute on the Umatilla Reservation, spoke emotionally about conversations between her grandfather and Alvin in the 50s and 60s. Alvin, she said, listened to Indians, and tried until the very end, especially with his work at the National Museum of the American Indian, to get  Indians to tell their own stories and the rest of us to listen to them. On his visit at the opening of Tamástslikt, she said, Alvin commented on it portraying the “Indian” side of the story. He hoped that the national museum would do the same.

Cliff Trafzer, who holds an endowed chair in Indian studies at my alma mater, UC Riverside, says much the same thing in the introduction to the history section of a Josephy Reader Marc Jaffe and I are working on. When white historians were busily restating what other white men—it was mostly men, although we must remember Alice Fletcher and a few others—had said about Indians, Josephy took the “radical” step of listening, of asking Indians for their stories, the stories passed down in families and at tribal gatherings, sometimes for millennia.

In Alvin’s last book, Lewis and Clark Through Indian Eyes, he asked Indians to do that, to tell their family and tribal stories about Lewis and Clark. We know the Captains’ and the Corpsmen’s stories pretty well by now, but no one, Alvin wrote in reviewing Stephen Ambrose’s  Undaunted Courage for the New York Times, had bothered to ask the Indians about their side of Lewis and Clark’s journey.

So he and fellow editor Marc Jaffe did ask them. And produced a delightful collection of the personal and the tribal. Once, shortly after publication of the book, one of the Indian essayists and storytellers asked me what I thought of it. I told her I loved her piece and liked most of the pieces in the book very much, but I did express a little disappointment in one author. She put her finger in my chest and told me in no uncertain terms that Alvin had asked Indians to tell their stories as they had been told and wanted them told in their families and tribes, not “the stories you white guys want to hear.”

I retreated. She had said it all.

On Sunday, young Alvin, or Alvin Josephy III, talked about his father’s early dream of becoming a journalist. In the memoir, A Walk Toward Oregon, Josephy says something about newsprint and ink “getting in his blood.” The early interviews—for his high school newspaper—of H.L. Mencken and others—exhilarated him, and must have given him courage to go off and get stories from President Cardenas and Leon Trotsky in Mexico, in 1937, when he was 22 years old!

And the listening and the courage carried him to WOR Radio, to Archibald McLeish’s war propaganda department, to the Marine Corps and Guam and Iwo Jima. It took him to Time Magazine and to the Nez Perce story. Alvin was touring Lewiston with the local bigwigs, and it included a stop at the Nez Perce tribal agency headquarters. The young man at the agency desk, Bill Stevens, on learning that Alvin was with Time Magazine, asked him if he knew the Nez Perce Story.

Alvin listened—and the line of his listening lead directly to our listening, over 60 years later, to the Nez Perce artists and drummers this weekend in Joseph, Oregon.

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