Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The passing of two friends

There is so much to say about my friend Ray Cook, the man who introduced me to Rupert Costo, the Jesuits, and Father Serra’s journey to sainthood. Ray passed away quietly in California, and, unfortunately, did not see the blog post he inspired—I think it would have made him smile, though the new Pope’s ignorance of California’s Indian genocide would only have disturbed him. Rest in Peace Ray. I am sure that the Indian woman you had to move to make way for a California highway long ago has forgiven you—and if not you built up a store of good deeds and left teachings on behalf of her brothers and sisters in your remaining years.

Ray reminded us that the peculiar relationship of Indians to land is fundamentally different from the notion that land is an “input” into economic equations, a “commodity” to be bought and sold. Being “of” the land is qualitatively different than being “from” a nation, state, farm-size or city-size chunk of ground. Thank you Ray.

John Jackson was a long-time friend of Alvin’s, and although we were not close friends, I remember fondly a meal with Alvin, John and his wife when we were touring with Alvin’s memoir. I might have this wrong, but I think that Alvin promoted publication of John’s first book, Children of the Fur Trade: Forgotten Metis of the Pacific Northwest with Mountain Press in Montana. Oregon State University now has it as a “Northwest Reprint,” a continuing reminder that descendants of European or Canadian fathers and Native American mothers (Johns’ own heritage was here), these mixed-blood settlers called “Metis,” were pivotal to the development of the Oregon Country, and have been generally neglected in its written history. Today we know them by the names they left on the land and the waters: The Dalles, Deschutes, Grand Ronde, Portneuf, Payette, but you’ll have to read John’s book to see the complex society of mixed bloods—the offspring of mostly French trappers and women from Western tribes, with dashes of Iroquois, Delaware, and Sandwich Islander—Hawaiian—in the mix, that comprise this “forgotten” element in our midst, descendants of the people who guided the first settlers and even the missionaries here, who now live on reservations, and, in some cases, in Northwest cities and suburbs mostly oblivious to their ancestry.

Because of John I’ve kept my own eye open for stories of the Metis, and announce to anyone who will listen that theirs might be a singular story of a melding of cultures in North America that created a new culture. Metis is a mixture of blood, language and religion, and one, I might add, that Canada now recognizes as a First Nation. But theirs is a Canadian story as sad as that of the stories of displaced tribes and leaders Joseph, Tecumseh, or Sitting Bull on this side of the border. It’s a story of Metis rebellion on the exit of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the transfer of land to the Canadian government. And then the execution of Metis leader Lois Rial, guilty, so they said, of “high treason” for claiming indigenous lands.

On our side of the border we’ve scarcely heard of Rial. We don’t much know David Thompson, who mapped the Columbia, or the Hudson’s Bay Company beyond John McLoughlin, Chief HBC factor at Vancouver, and, some say, the “father of Oregon.” “What does that mean,” we ask.

Thank you John for showing us these pieces of our Northwest past, and for reminding us that Canada is part of North America too, and that our history—the good, the bad, and the outrageously ugly, is a shared one.

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