Thursday, December 29, 2016

A white guy looks at Indian affairs; more lessons from Standing Rock

Fortunately, 2016 might be the year in which some significant portion of the general public sees that what is good for American Indians is good for all of us, that Indian affairs are American affairs. That, for me, is one lesson of the now well-told story of Standing Rock.

CBS News
(For months it was not well told; it took time and the joining of Indians from some 300 North American tribes, indigenous activists from other nations, and large contingents of American veterans and environmentalists to finally garner consistent major news media attention.)

Standing Rock is at the end of a chain of events that are embarrassing in the light of history, honesty, and the law. It began with promises made to Indians about sacred lands in the Black Hills in the nineteenth century—promises broken most famously by Custer; it went to the condemnation of Mandan Lands for the Corps of Engineers’ Garrison Dam, built in the 1940s and 50s, protested vigorously by Indian leader Martin Cross, and rectified—legally, at least—in the US Supreme Court by Martin’s son, Indian Warrior and lawyer Raymond Cross; and it comes to us today at Standing Rock and the Sioux insistence on treaty rights and clean water.

We hope that the awakening now to Indian rights will allow tribes across the country to reassess reservation lands and non-owned lands deemed “usual and accustomed” for hunting, fishing, gathering, and grazing. We hope that these lands will then be properly administered for tribal and public benefit—and not for the narrow economic interests of the few, or for the program interests of the Corps of Engineers or any other government agency.

Here’s a model: President Obama, at the insistence of and with the collaboration of several tribes, just this week designated the Bears Ears National Monument in Southeastern Utah under the Antiquities Act of 1906. Vice Chairman of the Hopi Tribe, Alfred Lomahquahu, said that  “The designation of the Bears Ears National Monument is a victory not just for Native Americans, but for all who love and whose lives are intertwined with this remarkable place." One can’t help but see the footprints of Standing Rock in Utah.

A friend who has been to Standing Rock explained two major lessons for him: The first was listening to elders. He said that successful environmental activists and military veterans—and not all were successful—learned that Standing Rock is not an environmentalist showcase, nor a veterans’ showcase, but a struggle to hold onto treaty rights and ensure clean water. And the course of action is set by tribal elders. DNA might confirm the connection of today’s Northwest Indians to the Ancient One (aka Kennewick Man) but tribal wisdom is the accumulation of 9,000 years of wisdom since his original burial. Today’s elders, my friend says, know that.

The second lesson he learned at Standing Rock is the power of intertribal cooperation. The support of tribes from across the continent, the contingents from Hawaii and other Pacific Islands, from Africa and the Caribbean, the joining together of all in common cause was, said my friend, sometimes a coming together of old enemies; it was a great coming together, maybe the greatest coming together of indigenous peoples ever! He was visibly affected by the power of it.

My friend didn’t count it a lesson, and he, being an enrolled tribal member and a military veteran, might not have realized the wonder in his own voice as he described the power of peaceful action. He and elders and we who are watching from the sidelines with hope and fear should realize that this is the world of Gandhi, King, and Mandela. The North Dakota troopers and politicians were the day’s Bull Conners and the politicians of apartheid. The Indians were and are the party of and teachers of peace.

And peace, like water, can begin with a small stream, make rivers and move mountains. In times of war and conflict from Chicago to Syria, the Kremlin to Congress, that could be the most important lesson of all.

# # #


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Lessons from Standing Rock

According to the NY Times, there have been over 30 film crews capturing the events at Standing Rock. Some of them have been there continuously for months; others have moved in quickly for a few weeks to get a story.

A friend who has been there says that the elders have taken charge, that film crews, young environmentalists, veterans—supporters of the Sioux water protectors who have come for whatever reasons—have all listened to local elders and found wisdom and humble roles for their own participation. Or they have moved on.

The issues at Standing Rock have to do with water, and with sovereignty. The calls by North Dakota politicians and government agency workers for abiding by the “rule of law” and respect for “private” property are ironic at best! The Army Corps of Engineers has high-handedly taken land from the Sioux and ignored or abrogated treaties with impunity in its march along the Missouri and its tributaries for decades.

From a recent article in the Washington Post: “Originally, according to the law passed by Congress in 1889, the tribe’s territorial boundary stopped at the low water level mark on the east bank [of Lake Oahe], giving it ownership of the water and river bed. After building the dam, the Army Corps seized strips of land on either side of the river. Those strips are the areas in dispute now, giving the Army Corps a central role in letting Energy Transfer Partners complete the line, or not.”

This long-standing assault on Indian treaty rights—and on Indian Sovereignty as defined by Justice Marshall in the 1830s!—has echoed across the country continuously from the first signings of treaties. Standing Rock is just the latest and currently biggest story, but other recent and ongoing disputes have involved the Garrison Dam, also in North Dakota, the Kinzua Dam in Pennsylvania, and Pyramid Lake in California.

It’s interesting to note that in all of these cases treaty rights and water are tied together. The big gifts from Standing Rock to the entire country might just be the attention to clean water and the involvement of the environmental community in the issue.  With hard work and a little luck, the environmental community that has awakened in the Dakotas might follow Indian eyes to the uranium polluted water on the Navajo Reservation and the water fights between tribes and commercial water bottling companies that dot the Western landscape.

“Cool, Clear Water,” as the Sons of the Pioneers sang it, will—or should—continue to be in the news beyond Indian Country as well. It turns out that Flint, Michigan is not the only place in our country with a lead in the water problem. CNN says that 5,300 water systems in the US are in violation of lead rules, and The Guardian claims 33 cities with Flint-like problems. One New Jersey news source claims that 11 of her cities have lead problems worse than Flint’s!

The elders at Standing Rock are teaching us the value of strong wills and just causes; against almost insurmountable odds, the Indians at Pyramid Lake taught all Nevadans to love their Lake again and celebrate the return of the Lahontan cutthroat trout. The Indians on the Umatilla teach us that the first of the “first foods” is water.

Let’s listen together in the New Year to the wisdom of Indian elders, and listen for and celebrate the sounds of cool, clear water.

# # #

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Standing Rock slips away

There’s no word from Standing Rock in the New York Times or on CNN today. Indians slip into the national news on occasion—and then, on most occasions, slip out as quickly.

Both CNN and MSNBC did report yesterday about an oil spill from another pipeline just three hours from Standing Rock. The spill happened more than a week ago, on December 5. According to CNN,

“State officials estimate 4,200 barrels of crude oil, or 176,000 gallons, have leaked from the Belle Fourche Pipeline in Billings County. Of that amount, 130,000 gallons of oil has flowed into Ash Coulee Creek, while the rest leaked onto a hillside, said Bill Suess, spill investigation program manager at the North Dakota Department of Health.”

Had it been in New York or Pennsylvania, the Times would have had someone on it, and it would not have slipped away from its reporters in just a day. In North Dakota and elsewhere in Indian Country, such national attention is fleeting.

The most recent reports I find in national news from Standing Rock give the government forces a chance to explain their actions. North Dakota’s Congressman Kevin Cramer has taken every opportunity, including an op-ed space in the Wall Street Journal, to criticize the protestors for disrespecting “private property rights,” and the Obama Administration for ignoring the “rule of law” for “political expediency.”

Indians, and especially the Sioux, could school the Congressman on the rule of law and political expediency! Here’s a brief statement from the National Archives:

Wounded Knee - 1890
"The Black Hills of Dakota are sacred to the Sioux Indians. In the 1868 treaty, signed at Fort Laramie and other military posts in Sioux country, the United States recognized the Black Hills as part of the Great Sioux Reservation, set aside for exclusive use by the Sioux people. In 1874, however, General George A. Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills accompanied by miners who were seeking gold. Once gold was found in the Black Hills, miners were soon moving into the Sioux hunting grounds and demanding protection from the United States Army. Soon, the Army was ordered to move against wandering bands of Sioux hunting on the range in accordance with their treaty rights. In 1876, Custer, leading an army detachment, encountered the encampment of Sioux and Cheyenne at the Little Bighorn River. Custer's detachment was annihilated, but the United States would continue its battle against the Sioux in the Black Hills until the government confiscated the land in 1877. To this day, ownership of the Black Hills remains the subject of a legal dispute between the U.S. government and the Sioux.”

I get a glimpse today of what Alvin Josephy must have felt like time and again as he tried to bring the Indian Story to the American public. Looking for his own books in bookstores, he often found them with the “dinosaurs and the insects.” “Indians don’t have history and biography,” he would say. “They have anthropology and ‘natural’ history.”

Which did not stop him from using all the tools at his disposal—his editorial perch at American Heritage; his relations with Knopf Publishing; his standing as an award winning Marine Corps journalist in the Pacific in WW 2—to bring real Indian history and biography, real Indian voices, to the American Public.

I realize that in many ways, now that I sit in my own perch at the Josephy Library, the Sioux were often involved in his truth telling. A long article he prepared for National Geographic did not, due to editorial changes, get published. And I am still looking for a book-length Sioux manuscript he once told me was still publishable. Nevertheless, how he followed events in Sioux Country and what he did publish is substantial:

There was the “Custer Myth” in Life Magazine in 1971, the story of a visit to the Little Big Hole Battlefield with some Indian friends during the time that Alvin served as a technical advisor for the film, “Little Big Man.” In 1971, Josephy pointed out, government interpreters at the National Park site were still calling Custer a hero and the Indians savages!

In 1973, just two years later, and only weeks after the Indian-FBI confrontation on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Alvin published “Wounded Knee and All That: What the Indians Really Want,” in the New York Times. He included a grizzly burial photo of the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee of over 300 Sioux—many, including women and children, were killed in their tipis by Hotchkiss machine gun fire.

And then, in 1990, on the 100th anniversary of the first Wounded Knee, he wrote its historical account for a book published by the Buffalo Bill Historical Center: Wounded Knee: Lest We Forget. I’d suggest that Congressman Kramer, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple, other government and pipeline officials, and especially environmental activists concerned about water and Indian treaty rights, read this brief account of how the Indians standing at Standing Rock came to be there.

Email me to get a pdf of this essay.

rich.wandschneider@gmail.com



Thursday, December 1, 2016

Giving Tuesday

Dear Friends,

I wrote this and sent it out to people on my “blog list,” a couple of days ago, but forgot to put it up on the blog itself, so that those of you who find these musings by other means can know a little more about current doings and future plans. If you would like email notification of new blog posts, send me an email at rich.wandschneider@gmail.com. In any case, thanks for reading, and best of holiday seasons to you…….

So I understand it is “Giving Tuesday” and the tugs on your giving budget are many. And I know that many of you on my blog list also get emails and/or mailings from the Josephy Center—the big house that holds the Josephy Library and hosts music, exhibits, lectures, art classes and workshops. If so, you got a recent fundraising letter, and this Tuesday missive will just be more specific with a library pitch. If you have already donated this fall—and I know many of you have—thank you again!  If you haven’t heard from us this fall, here is the Library pitch!

The Josephy Center for Arts and Culture is a four-year-old non-profit. It lives in a beautiful log building on Main Street in Joseph, Oregon (causing all amount of confusion: City of Joseph-Old Chief Joseph, Young Chief Joseph, Alvin Josephy). Library books (and soon journals) are cataloged on the SAGE Library System, hosted at Eastern Oregon University, linking over 60 Eastern Oregon libraries (https://catalog.sage.eou.edu).

The Josephy Library is rich in Indian and Western American history and culture, and is growing with donations from collectors and heirs of collectors. We don’t have everything, but we have almost everything that Alvin wrote or edited, and gems of books and articles about Nez Perce War survivors and fine art books featuring the signature artists of the Plains and Plateau tribes. I am buying gloves to handle the portfolio of photos by D. F. Barry of Plains Warriors, Chiefs, Scouts, and Frontiersmen, and putting John W. Powell’s 1891 categorization of North American Indian languages in an acid free box.

We’ll also add a small permanent Nez Perce exhibit, explaining briefly who lived here and how, to the Josephy exhibit built at the Library’s door in 2015. You can now see and read that exhibit on-line— http://josephy.org/library/alvin-josephy-exhibit/. Most of the money for the new exhibit is already raised, and we are talking with Nez Perce elders about its contents. It too will be on the second floor with the Library.

There are rare books and autographed books in the Library, but most of our books and journals should be moving across the land, into hands like yours so that we can all learn and know more about Indians and the country we share. That’s my goal for the next year: figure out a way to make most of this library circulating. I’m told that we can expect 50-100 interlibrary loan requests a month, and at least that many local checkouts. I’m told that we might be able to do it with another $15,000 in our Library budget.

That, in addition to my half-time salary (part of which is paid for by work on overall Josephy Center programming), a small book and journal budget, dues to SAGE, and miscellaneous expenses, will make the Library about a $45,000 item in the $220,000 Josephy Center budget.

You can donate on line-- https://josephy.org/support-the-josephy-center-for-arts-and-culture/ --or send a check to the Josephy Center/ PO Box 949/ Joseph, Oregon 97846. Again, if you have already made a fall donation to the Center, Thank You! We appreciate your gifts, look forward to your visits, and look forward to putting real—or digital—books and journals in your hands sometime soon.

Monday, November 28, 2016

American Indians, water, and the public good

Later, alternate title: “First Lessons From Standing Rock"

The late historian and activist on behalf of American Indians Alvin Josephy believed that Indians in America would solve the drug problem before others figured it out. “Indians,” he said “are still capable of ‘group think,’ of thinking for the tribe rather than focusing on the individual.” Josephy also believed that Indians still had things to tell, especially about the land, because they had lived on and with it for millennia.
from Huffington Post
Standing Rock is Group Think in capital letters. It has  attracted tribal members from Indian Nations across the country, white environmentalists, and veterans of all colors, who are now joining the water protectors in force in uniform. These veterans, schooled in tribal thinking (as illustrated in Sebastian Junger’s book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging), and realizing that Indians have and do serve in the American military in greater numbers than any other sector of American society, are there to support their comrades in the next foxhole and throw their weight against wrongs that have festered from the beginnings of nationhood.

White and black Americans who have always talked about their Cherokee grandmother or some other distant relative tied to the original immigrants—immigrants scientists now tell us came from Asia well over 14,000 years ago, probably not on the “land bridge” that we learned about if we learned anything of First Americans, but on water, along the Pacific Shoreline, hopscotching their ways to South America while settling the lands along the way—are joining the Dakota chorus. Whatever wrongs they have suffered and seen in their own lives are coming into this focus on government mistreatment of Indians and disregard for water, the principle of all life.

The environmental community, gloomy with election defeat and their own experiences—or stories they’ve heard—of contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, Portland, Oregon and other urban and seemingly safe places, gradually realizing that the Indians’ fight for water and fair treatment is their fight, have awoken to and in North Dakota.

Maybe there is also guilt over the lack of support of tribes in the 1950s, when the Corps of Engineers bulldozed the Three Affiliated Tribes, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, and built the Garrison Dam on this very same Missouri River and flooded over 90 % of the then prosperous Indians’ agricultural lands. Or in the 60s, when the Corps abrogated the our oldest treaty, the Treaty of Canandaigua, signed in 1794 by George Washington, that established land boundaries and declared “peace and friendship” between the United States of America and the tribes of the Haudenosaunee, the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, Cayuga and Tuscarora, to build the Kinzua Dam in Pennsylvania. Environmentalists are on board at Standing Rock.

The mainstream media that has been castigated for not covering Indian concerns is there and reporting. To be fair, we—the general public—have never expressed much interest in current Indian affairs, preferring our Indian stories to be about deeds and misdeeds in the past, before the nation was formed and the West was won. Representatives of the New York Times and television news were actually at Standing Rock in August. The few stories they slipped past editors concentrating on the Presidential campaign and the constant drumbeats of Native media outlets helped raise national awareness. It is now national news, with daily stories from large and small media outlets, social media, and continuing Indian country media. Some days it even cracks the New York Times top ten “trending” list.

It is ironic and fitting that the tools that government used to assimilate Indians—especially the boarding schools, which began in the late nineteenth century and survive in modified from to this day, and the termination and relocation policies of the 1950s, have served to introduce tribal peoples one to another across the entire country. These tools led to AIM in the 70s, and now help bring people from 300 Indian nations in North America and indigenous people from Hawaii and Central America to Standing Rock.

And it is fitting that this attention to water and sustainability come from the first immigrants. Yes, there were tribal mistakes—did the Mississippi Mound peoples disappear because of over use of resources and exaltation of the rich and powerful? How did climate change and wars over resources play out in the Southwest 600 and 700 years ago? But in general the Indians of North America pre-contact lived lighter on the land, acknowledged the need for constant renewal, and eschewed the privatization and exploitation of lands and rersources.

They, like growing numbers of all Americans, realized that water is the key to all life, and that there are times and places when putting private goods over the public good jeopardizes everything. Standing Rock is a symbol—and maybe a beginning.

# # #

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving--and pass the cranberries

“Wild” cranberries
“America was until this last generation a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation and it belongs to us."

That’s a quote from Richard Spencer, self-appointed spokesman for the “alt-right” in a gathering of some sort in Washington D. C. last week.

Right now, I am reading A Land So Strange: the Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca, an explorer-adventurer in the New World whose party of hundreds was put off course, shipwrecked, stranded, and lost somewhere near present day Florida in 1527. He, along with three others, were the sole survivors of an ordeal on the North American mainland that lasted over seven years and involved starvation, cannibalism, enslavement, and the first detailed descriptions of Indian societies along the Gulf of Mexico. Most likely, few early European arrivals were literate; fewer still had the gift and took the time to describe the New World. De Vaca remarked, for instance, on the size and physical prowess of the Indians--something that startled many Little Ice Age Europeans.

I jump from Spencer to Cabeza de Vaca not because the one is an avowed racist and the other not, or because Spencer speaks from a life of ease and privilege while de Vaca lived through excruciating hardship, but because of the total irony of Spencer’s “America was until this last generation a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity.”

America was, for the first 12,000 or 14,000 or 16,000 years—the dates keep getting pushed back—a land of Asian immigrants who had populated it from Arctic to near Antarctic and grown in numbers to some 60 or 70 or 80 million by the time the cycles of life and cultures in the place were interrupted by European diseases and culture with Columbus in 1492. This half of the world had developed over 2,500 languages, diverse religions and political systems; had domesticated corn, tobacco, rubber, squash, potato, chocolate, llamas and alpacas. Some of its societies developed writing, systems of mathematics and astronomy. There were skilled sailors, boat builders, whale hunters, fishermen, weavers, potters, wood carvers, artists and artisans.

Societies, cities, and empires had risen and fallen—pre-Inka to Inka, Mayan, Mississippi Mound-builders, plainsmen, coastal tribes—in a kind of dance with far-off and invisible partners in Europe, Asia, and Africa that were doing the same.

The conceit of Europeans in 1492 is that they were the true ones, had the true civilization, culture(s), and religion(s) that deserved to rule everything they found and surveyed. The parentheses are because Europeans ultimately could not agree on what was true, which caused different European nations and religions to war with each other in this new world.

De Vaca and the Spaniards believed that they were designated by God to colonize this new world and plunder its riches for themselves, their European sponsors, and their Church. Their misunderstandings and misdeeds preceded Mr. Spencer’s probable northern European ancestors by decades. But de Vaca in particular gained some appreciation for the marvelous ways that native peoples across hundreds of miles of Gulf Coast and the interior of what is now the Mexican-American border country had learned to manage their environment and carve out lives. And surely some of the northern Europeans, whose visitations on Virginia and New England resulted in similar hardship and eventual displacement, gained the same appreciation.

One wonders at the role of epidemic diseases in both cases, diseases that wiped out indigenous communities without immunities and convinced some of the conquerors—and undoubtedly some of the victims—that God was on their side.

From this distance it appears that some white Americans believe that still, believe that they are the true and only lawful heirs to the work of God and the hard labor of European settlers and later white immigrants.  They are ignorant of or choose to ignore the thousands of years and millions of brown immigrants who preceded them and developed the two continents through their acts of discovery and adaptation, and to ignore the millions of black, brown, and yellow skinned people who, often enduring slavery, scorn, and even death, brought the North American Continent (we’ll assume Spencer is not speaking for the many South American countries and cultures) and these United States to where we are today.

Cranberries, like the squash, the wild turkey that is father to your domestic variety, the potatoes and beans and other accouterments that are on your Thanksgiving table today, were here before Spencer’s forbearers knew there was an America. Maybe he and his white purists should start by stripping their Thanksgiving tables, and everyday tables, of the gifts of others.

The rest of us can give thanks to ALL who have contributed-even some of those like de Vaca who were often wrongheaded about it--to our tables.

# # #

Friday, November 18, 2016

Salmon and Beaver; Politics and Biology

President-elect Trump’s promise to promote coal mining and open more public lands for development of natural gas and oil is not new politics. And the Indian-centered and inspired movement to stop the Dakota Access pipeline is not the first fight by Native Americans against the Euro-American drive to exploit natural resources.

I thought about this as Nez Perce Fisheries workers joined my class (AG 301- ECOSYSTEM SCIENCE OF PACIFIC NW INDIANS) in La Grande last week to talk about salmon and treaties. They explained that the beaver and salmon had developed an intricate symbiotic relationship that had been totally interrupted by the extermination of the beaver almost 200 years ago.

They knew the biology; I could fill them in on the history.

The biology: a series of beaver dams forms perfect habitat for salmon, providing pools for growth and rest, avenues for running up river, and spurts of fast water from the dams’ depths to flush smolts downriver.  Beaver dams also create the hydrology and habitat for flora and fauna on rivers’ extended banks.

The history: One of the peculiar junctures in American history occurred when two countries “jointly occupied” the region the US called the “Oregon Country” and Great Britain’s surrogate, the Hudson’s Bay Company, called the “Columbia District.” The region stretched from the Mexican border (now the California border) far into present-day Canada, and from the Pacific to the Continental Divide. The joint occupation, set originally in 1818 to last ten years, held until an 1846 resolution.

The Americans, hungering for a Northwest Passage and the resources of the region, had sent Lewis and Clark on a reconnaissance exploration in 1804, and in 1811 John Jacob Astor, in consultation with his friend, Thomas Jefferson, had set out to secure a port—Astoria—and establish a foothold for a new state or friendly new country on the Pacific Coast to take advantage of the beaver and otter trade from North America to the rest of the World.

The jockeying for the region went on for some time before Joint Occupancy, with the British Crown’s Hudson’s Bay, the Canadian North West Company, Astor’s American Fur Company, and “free” trappers and traders working the territory, shipping beaver pelts back over the Rockies or around the Horn and eventually on to Europe and Asia. Then there was a war—the War of 1812; The North West Company bought Astor out in 1813. In 1818 the two countries agreed that they would “jointly occupy” the territory. In 1821 Hudson’s Bay absorbed North West, and became the British presence in the region.

The region was, of course, already occupied by Indians of numerous tribes. And the European presence was miniscule—Russian, English, and Spanish ships along the coast, fur trappers and traders inland. But the resources in the territory were tremendous—beaver and otter were the prime targets, but settlement and further exploitation were alive in some eyes. They would come to dominate activities in the Oregon Country until a final resolution was reached in 1846.

The British thought Americans should be held at the Columbia; the Americans lobbied for a boundary further north (Polk’s “54 40’ or fight” election campaign). Hudson’s Bay moved settlers from Red River in Canada to the region and built a fort at Vancouver; the British sent David Douglas to scout the territory and put their stamp on it; American frontiersmen trapped and traded and, eventually guided the missionaries to the Oregon Country.

The real mover and shaker over the middle years of Joint Occupancy was Sir George Simpson, Governor-in-Chief of the Hudson's Bay Company. From 1820-1860 Simpson was in practice, if not in law, the British viceroy for the most of Canada. The Columbia District was under the direct leadership of John McLoughlin at Fort Vancouver, but Simpson was the law. And his law said:

Strong trapping expeditions should be sent south of the Columbia. These may be called the “Snake River Expeditions." While we have access we should reap all the advantage we can for ourselves, and leave it in as bad a state as possible for our successors.

Simpson chose Peter Skene Ogden to lead the operation. In less than six years, operating with military precision, Ogden and his men trapped the region bare, from the Upper Columbia and Snake Rivers to California and Nevada. The “scorched earth” policy was ruthless. Mountain men were drowned, murdered, starved, and exhausted. Most of Simpson’s own men died along with the beaver.

The beaver were gone, but the dams carried on for some time, and then, in 1866, the canneries took over. By 1886, 39 canneries took over 43 million pounds out of the Columbia with their very efficient fish wheels. Those wheels stayed in the Big River until the 1930s!

One wonders whether beaver trapping and fish wheels—politics and economics—might have bled the region of salmon if a big dam had never been built.

# # #

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Indians and Environmentalists

This before election results are in, knowing that one candidate thinks climate change is a hoax, and that neither candidate has acknowledged Indian efforts at stopping the Dakota Access pipeline—or, for that matter, having talked at all to Indians or about Indian issues and concerns.

There are three pieces in today’s New York Times that reflect advances and show the need to continue Alvin Josephy’s long-ago efforts at bringing the environmental community and Indian communities together.

The first of course is about the environmental community backing the Indians at Standing Rock in their fight to stop the Dakota Access pipeline by targeting big banks that are financing the project (perfect roles for such groups). The second and third articles—and a closer look might have revealed more—were about the smog in Delhi, India, which is literally choking the population with industrial overload, and another about oil companies, that, to varying degrees and seeking to serve their own best economic self interests, are exploring alternative energies. Good for them.

In ancient days, when David Brower was the head of the Sierra Club, Alvin said that his and other environmental organizations paid no attention and lent not a helping hand as a high-minded hell-bent-for-development Army Corps of Engineers

"built the Garrison Dam, the largest rolled-earth am in the world, across the Missouri River in North Dakota, ignoring the protests of Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Indians and chopping up and flooding sacred sites and large parts of their reservation. Repeating their high-handedness, the Corps then broke the American government’s oldest existing treaty, made in 1794 with the Seneca Indians of New York State, to build the Kinzua Dam, which flooded the center of the Senecas’ reservation and the burial ground of their famous revolutionary-era chief, Cornplanter, and again forced a heartbreaking relocation of most of the Indians.” (Walk Toward Oregon, pp 275-76)

Weed, California
There were other disagreements, and other cases where environmental groups disregarded issues in Grand Canyon and in Alaska, but Josephy insisted that the two sides should be talking, wrote an op-ed about it in the Times, and actually arranged a New York meeting between Brower, Alan Gassow, and others from Friends of the Earth with tribal leaders. Ultimately, he wrote several articles for Audubon Magazine and a book, Now That the Buffalo’s Gone, which gathered essays and arguments on many of these issues. They are as fresh today as when he wrote them in the 70s and 80s--Kinzua’s still there; the Indians are ahead at Pyramid Lake and on the Columbia, and controversy swirls in the Dakotas.

I told my OSU class in La Grande yesterday about canaries in coal-mines, and how Indian concerns over natural resource issues, especially over water issues, might be seen in the same way. Dakota Access is not the only water issue out there today. Look to see what is happening on the Navajo Reservation with drought and pollution, and the efforts of Crystal Geyser and Arrowhead to tap Indian water in other places.

There is plenty of work to do—from Standing Rock to Delhi—but good environmentally conscious citizens might look close to home for the Indian tribes and their canaries and see where they are pointing.

# # # 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Listening to Indians

I’ve been voting for 50 years—Johnson was my first Presidential pick in 1964. And yes, I’ve learned much about that strong-arming, deal-making, womanizing, self-agrandizing, Vietnam-failing President over the years. He had all of those negative qualities and more, and he wasn’t the first or last president to use questionable tactics or to cash in on the exalted position for personal satisfaction.

But Lyndon Johnson used strength and guile, twisted arms, shamed, compromised, made deals with the NAACP and other Civil Rights leaders, House members and Senators from both parties, to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He did so knowing that Democrats would lose the South for the foreseeable future, hoping that it would mark his legacy for sure, but knowing also that it was the right thing to do (his own gut thoughts about civil rights went back to pre-political school-teaching days):

“On June 19, exactly one year after President Kennedy’s proposal, the compromise bill passed the Senate by a vote of 73 to 27. House approval followed, and on July 2 President Johnson signed the bill into law. The law’s eleven sections prohibited discrimination in the workplace, public accommodations, public facilities, and agencies receiving federal funds, and strengthened prohibitions on school segregation and discrimination in voter registration.” (Library of Congress)

That was “progress,” The notion that there is some glorious past to return to, that somehow “conserving” the words and ideas of the Founding Fathers as they were said and meant in that time is, I believe, absurd. Few current American citizens would embrace a country where only property owning men of European decent could vote. Although women were not explicitly prohibited from holding office, they didn’t. African American were not citizens; they were property. I’ll leave it at that!

The genius of the country—and its founding documents—is that they have always been aspirational. Citizenship has been gradually extended; immigration, necessary from the beginning to fuel the new nation, has gradually if reluctantly made us home for Jews, the Irish, East Europeans, Southern Europeans, Asians, and Africans. Laws have been made—not always followed, and often amended to accommodate new understandings.

The history of the nation’s relationships with Indians, the people who were here when Europeans arrived, the people who were misnamed, enslaved, and killed by accidental disease and intentional action, (and at the same time sent back to Europe to be celebrated as “noble savages” and painted as kings and princes), reflects a troubled, murky, ambiguous journey. Indian-government relations have had their own historical, often troubled and sometimes downright horrible journey.

No one, I imagine, wants to return to a time of slaughter. Some Indians might want to return to the terms of treaties, sometimes although not always negotiated in good faith, which promised particular tribes ancestral lands and the freedom to continue their traditional lives. And Indians too were practiced in adaptation and aspiration before European arrival. They had created great cities, developed agriculture, and come to a close relationship with the horse before they met a European, and their current journey began. (clarification: Plateau and Plains tribes met horses before white Europeans; people in Middle America and what is now the American Southwest met the horse earlier, along with their often fatal meetings with the Europeans.)

Indians today are everywhere. Some are participating fully in mainstream society; others are negotiating lives that straddle worlds and cultures, tribal and American national educational, health, and economic systems that often exist side by side. Many are regular Euro-American and African American citizens who claim some small piece of Indian they’ve discovered through family history or DNA analysis.

Legally, Indians enrolled with tribes participate in a form of “limited sovereignty” defined by Chief Justice Marshall in the 1830s (and ignored immediately by President Jackson and his Indian removal policy). Some of those treaties and that sovereignty apply to lands outside of reservations, called “usual and accustomed places.”

Which brings us to salmon in the Columbia River and the water itself in the great Missouri. Indians today are reminding us that we are part of a bigger world that we must attend to.

In this season of political turmoil, my hope is in Indian eyes, the Indian eyes that shine with the new Longhouse in Wallowa, the drummers’ and dancers’ eyes at powwows that now are held openly, adorned by regalia once confiscated, words in languages once outlawed. The eyes that greet returning salmon and expect the lamprey. Listening to ancient tribal lessons, and with the help of laws and interpretations of laws—Justice Marshall’s interpretation, the Boldt Decision—Indians are often the leading and sanest voices as we plunge into a future where temperatures rise, land is gobbled for development, and water is scarce.

The whole continent was once a “usual and accustomed place” for Indians. Listening to Indians now might make it a better place for all.


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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Standing Rock and Malheur

Like many, I am distressed about recent events in North Dakota and Malheur. I agree with Bill McKibben that the pipeline’s original route, above Bismarck, N.D. was changed to a route away from the white power structure and to one that might endanger tribal people and others downstream who just maybe would not pay attention--or at least do not have the power that Bismarck, the oil companies, and the labor unions have.

I agree with those who wonder what the FBI was doing with the Malheur prosecution. Why the conspiracy charges, difficult to prove, when the plain view infractions--trespassing, destruction of federal property and destruction and desecration of Indian sites--were many?

I agree with those who say that white privilege prevails, and that the Indians are being used and abused once again.

I reread what I had written about Malheur and “ownership” of the land in January. Ownership of and responsibility for the land, the water, and all that lives on and is dependent on it--is at the heart of Pipeline and Refuge. Everything I wrote then is true now for both.

http://josephylibrary.blogspot.com/2016/01/the-land-owns-paiutes.html

I think that we might embrace the Bundys’ calls for return of Federal Lands--TO THE INDIANS, TO WHOM IT WAS ALLOTTED BY THE GOVERNMENT, AND FROM WHOM IT WAS TAKEN.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Indians on historical, political sidelines

Cannon Ball, ND,, Sept. 9. Photo Reuters, Andrew Cullen
If 700 African-Americans camped in Ferguson, Missouri for two months, or 700 Latinos marched California from the San Diego border north, the national news media would have campers and marchers on the spot—and we would be reading updates and seeing video clips daily.

Seven hundred Indians--they call themselves “water protectors”--are camped in North Dakota. There ARE national reporters on the spot, but the Indians get only passing mention in national dispatches. The NYT had one very good essay a couple of weeks ago, and NBC News had good written commentary last week from their reporter—but has had scant mention on the evening news. If you work at it, Google it daily, there will be a story somewhere, in the Des Moines Register, Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now,” or on a blog post. But nothing like the daily news we got from Ferguson or New York or Florida.

Yesterday, the LA Times said that there have been 269 arrests, local law enforcement is calling the protesters rioters, and Indians are dragging logs in the path of the Pipeline. The pipeline company, Energy Transfer, is apparently going to build right up to the Missouri River and wait out the courts, the President, and any other legal obstacles in their literal path.

The pipeline is just the latest rendition of the story. When Indians are shot by white police—and they are at greater risk of this than African Americans or Latinos—we don’t get their names drummed at us daily. We don’t know the Indian Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown. We know more about Flint’s bad water than water shortages and uranium contamination on the Navajo Reservation. We don’t hear or know much about Indian health, education, and welfare.

We don’t even get much of the good Indian news—do you know that Pyramid Lake is full of water and Lahontan cutthroat trout are swimming again? Or that a loopholes which failed Indian women when raped by white men on a reservation was filled in the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act? Or are many in the general public familiar with Indian fisheries’ work in restoration of salmon runs on the Columbia River and its tributaries?

Why aren’t Indians and Indian issues of continuing interest to all Americans? Why aren’t Indians part of the Presidential debate? Why do Indians always seem to get shuffled to the sidelines?

“Indians,” Alvin Josephy used to say, “don’t have history or biography; they have archeology and anthropology.” I’d add that they don’t have much in the way of news value either.

There are so many things that make the contemporary Indian experience in America—and the majority interest in those experiences—different than that of other groups. Indians are not one people, but members of over 500 sovereign nations, living on over 500 reservations and in urban areas across the country. Their languages, cultures, and needs are diverse. Indian tribes have “treaties” with the US government, and enjoy “limited” sovereignty,  going back to an 1830s decision from Chief Justice Marshall. What does that mean? In the Civil Rights era, Alvin Josephy remarked that the liberals who had worked so hard on behalf of African Americans thought they could just do the same with/for Indians—and Indians told them they were not after Civil Rights, but Treaty Rights.

Maybe, most importantly, Indians were here first. They are of this land in a way that the rest of us are not. Ironically, with grandmothers’ stories and new DNA testing, more and more white and black Americans are claiming some Indian ancestry. Unfortunately, most such majority claims do not make the next step and enter into the Indian situation today. That sliver of Cherokee blood is, like the artifacts in museums, something out of the past, to be honored but not picked up and used in a march on a North Dakota pipeline.

From the first meetings of Europeans and Indians, there has been confusion—noble savage or savage savage? Learn from; take from? Leave Indians on reservations or give them bus tickets to the cities? Assimilate, remove, or kill? Honor treaties or “terminate” them?

It could be that understanding the place that Indians occupy in our daily lives and giving thought to the views, problems, attitudes, and promises that are still out there in Indian Country must somehow go back to this confusion that has followed and plagued Indian-white relations for over 500 years.

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Thursday, October 13, 2016

What about Indians?

In this election year, African Americans and Latinos are getting a lot of attention. Immigrants too. We are a “nation of them.”  Oops—Indians were here when the first European immigrants arrived, and are still. (But their voting numbers are small, and they are spread out over 500 reservations and scores of cities across the country.)

Indians don’t even speak the same language—or didn’t. Most of them speak English now, except for French speaking Metis who are mostly in Canada, and Spanish speaking Indians across South and Central America and Mexico. And the Mayan language speakers and others which are still strong enough to hold their own with Spanish and Portuguese south of our border. Linguists say there were some 2500 mutually unintelligible languages when the first Europeans arrived.

Or, you might want to count the Norse in Newfoundland as first new arrivals, or maybe some stray kon tiki boat from the Pacific that brought Islanders or Africans to the New World. But that is all pretty much academic in seeing what actually happened to the New World when the Old World got here. It was Columbus who started the rush from Spain—and Portugal and England, who misnamed the inhabitants “Indians,” shipped them back to Europe as slaves, worked them to death in gold mines on Hispanola as part of grants of land and labor known as encomiendas, and killed them off with diseases. Columbus brought horses and pigs and cows too, and sent back more than gold. Now you can study the “Columbian Exchange” to follow all that followed his New World adventure.

Eventually, Africans were brought to the Caribbean to work sugar cane and other crops, and as the English started settling further north, African slavery proper began. But what Columbus started with Indians had a good 100-year run before African American Slavery began its 250-year run up to the Civil War. 

Indians—indigenous people—were here everywhere when Spanish and Portuguese, English and Dutch, indentured servants from everywhere and African slaves put in to American ports. There were—or had been—large concentrations of them, cities in fact, in Mexico and Peru, Central America and the Mississippi Valley, but there were also hundreds, no thousands of small groups spread from the tip of South America to the Arctic. Their 1492 numbers were reduced drastically and rapidly by overworking, disease, and murder, but they have survived, and it has been years of exploration, colonization, wars, treaties, settlements, missionizing, boarding school education, and who knows what else to bring us to the present as re Indians.

Indians are complicated! First, they were, as one historian said, “here to meet the boats.” This—the Americas, all of it—was their land! Secondly, they were and probably still are as diverse in backgrounds, languages, and cultures as Europe or Asia or Africa was in 1492. Third, their subjugation to European culture, laws, and people, has been conducted in so many ways: the aforementioned diseases, wars, work, treaties, laws, etc. And finally, they are still spread out across the entire region just as they were when first found. There were no slave markets like Richmond or New Orleans, and the country was never divided north-south by their presence as it was to and through the Civil War into Civil Rights.

Alvin Josephy once said that white liberals who had fought for black Civil Rights in the ‘60s thought they had done that job and would move on to the Indians; the Indians told them they didn’t want Civil Rights, but their Treaty Rights!

See how complicated Indians are. Which might be the reason that our Presidential candidates are not courting the Indian Vote.

And here we have to leave the colonial and mestizo cultures south of the US border; and acknowledge that the people called Latinos on both sides of the border have their own complications, but they share language, and for most political purposes we Norte Americanos can thus lump them all together! The Latino vote. “Illegals.” “Immigrants” (well, maybe not “New Mexicans” or old California families, or….).

Good news: According to a recent piece in the New York Times re American Indians, “President Obama campaigned hard in 2008 for the votes of American Indians. He vowed that his administration would pay special attention to their grievances about federal mismanagement and the government’s recurring neglect of treaty obligations. ‘Few have been ignored by Washington for as long as Native Americans — the first Americans,’” Obama said.

“Mr. Obama was given credit by tribal leaders for creating a White House council to maintain lines of communication with them; establishing a buyback program to help tribes regain scattered lands; expanding the jurisdiction of tribal courts; and including tribal women under the protection of the Violence Against Women law in 2013. Reaching out to Indian nations has been ‘one of the hallmarks of this administration,’” according to Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation.

By all accounts, Obama has been the best President for Indians since Richard M. Nixon. Talk about complicated!

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Water

Standing Rock Protest
The Standing Rock Sioux and representatives from 280 North American Indian tribes, joined by Natives from Ecuador and Hawaii, have taken a stand in the Dakotas against oil companies and for water. Water, I imagine, will be increasingly in the news, and Indians will be the ones bringing it to our attention.

In the New York Times this week we learn that a small tribe in northern California, the Winnemem Wintu, are telling the residents of Weed, California, the officials of Roseburg Forest Products, and Ronan Papillaud, the president of CG Roxane, which owns Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring together with a Japanese pharmaceutical company, that the waters of Mt. Shasta are not limitless, that it is time to listen to the Mountain. According to tribal members, the spring on Mt. Shasta from which animals and humankind first emerged, and which oral tradition says has never failed, dried up six years ago.

For over 100 years, the city of Weed, which sits in the foothills of the Mountain, has got its water from Beaughan Spring. For the past 50 years, it has been charged $1 a year by Roseburg Forest Products and its predecessor, International Paper. Roseburg, an Oregon-based company that owns the pine forest where the spring sits, is charging the city $97,500 this year! And, according to Ellen Porter, the director of environmental affairs for Roseburg: “The city needs to actively look for another source of water.”
Weed water protest

The people of Weed, who have been dependent on the timber company for jobs and sustenance for all
that time, and who are still rebuilding after a major wildfire two years ago, say they have a document showing that previous owner International Paper handed over water rights to the city in 1982. Roseburg, having upped the ante to $97,000 and not flinching, has offered Weed another well-site on company ground. The catch: the site is a few hundred yards from a former wood treatment plant that is now a Superfund site.

The good neighbor policy is apparently at an end, overtaken by the short-term profit motive. Roseburg has recently been selling some of the water from Weed’s spring to Crystal Geyser, and Japan apparently wants more of its bottled water. Papillaud came to town to tell them that he needs more water, and in the course of his visit erupted in a tirade that caused his son to come back later with apologies. But he still wants the water.

“We do not belong in this story,” Mr. Papillaud said. “We are not depriving anyone of anything.” Mr. Papillaud described his deal with Roseburg as a simple relationship between a buyer and seller. “Is this blood water? Are they involved in child labor?... We are clients, end of story.”

Sacramento has an eye on Nestle, and other nearby cities and county governments are dealing with bottled water companies are watching carefully. Is water a commodity to be bought and sold? Or is water, as tribal people remind us continually, a fundamental principle of all life, one to be nurtured, watched out for, and shared by all?

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/02/us/california-drought-weed-mount-shasta.html?emc=edit_th_20161002&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=66175474

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Monday, September 12, 2016

It’s the Water

I’ve been following the protest in North Dakota over the pipeline, watching it swell with tribal people from across the country. The New York Times says that members from over 280 tribes are now involved. Some are coming in caravans, some by plane and foot, some Northwesterners made their final miles in large, brilliant canoes.

The Times profiled a few of the protesters. Thayliah Henry-Suppah, Paiute, of Oregon, wearing a traditional wing dress with ribbons and otter furs, said she kept this Indian proverb in mind: “Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It was loaned to you by your children.” In her own words: “We’ve lived without money. We can live without oil, but no human being can live without water.”

Most of the Indians profiled by the Times spoke of water: “We say ‘mni wiconi’: Water is life,” said David Archambault II, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, the site and center of the protest over a pipeline designed to ship oil out of North Dakota, under the Missouri River. “We can’t put it at risk, not for just us, but everybody downstream.”

It’s easy in this lush Wallowa Valley to take water for granted, although murmurs from California exiles and smoke from miles-away forest fires are troubling. This gathering of Indian peoples should be just as troubling.

It has to do with an attitude that natural resources are basically inexhaustible, and that, even as we run out of one, another resource or another technology will rise to take its place. Indians are telling us that water is the fundamental resource, and that the beaver and salmon that were taken almost to extinction by the fur trade and Columbia River canneries in the 1800s were indicators of a fundamentally flawed economy.

Beaver had been exhausted in Europe when that business marched across the middle of North America from the 1600s into the nineteenth century. In a dispute over the “jointly occupied” Oregon Territory, the British set out to trap out all of the beaver in the Columbia watersheds, thinking that this would dissuade American trappers and immigrants from occupying it. Eventually, silk or some other commodity replaced beaver felt for hats, the crisis was averted, and Americans found other reasons to settle the Northwest.

In the first Alaskan oil rush, American whalers, who had depleted sperm whales in the Pacific Ocean, killed over 13,000 bowhead whales north of the Bearing Strait in just two decades in the mid 1800s. Needless to say, Inupiat culture, which had revolved around whaling for millennia, was severely damaged. Survivors are now rearranging lives around the twenty-first century oil business, adapting while trying to hold onto vestiges of sea culture threatened by oil spills and warming and rising oceans. It’s the water.

Our economy seems based on the consumption of whatever resource is readily available in the moment, trusting that science and capitalist good sense will discover and exploit the next resource. Good we found petroleum to replace whale oil, shale oil to replace crude, wind to replace steam and water generated electricity. And, eventually, we’ll mine the moon, asteroids, and distant planets.

The Indians bring us back, back to land and water. The Umatilla Natural Resource program has developed a presentation on “First Foods.” They argue that ancient longhouse ceremonies served foods in order of importance, and if we do the same we will be healthier and will live in a healtier environment. Clean water, of course, is first, and then salmon—think good spawning grounds, deer, roots, berries, etc.

Our Wallowa waters are the envy of many. And while local cattle ranchers argue that “there is no such thing as a bad rain,” and grass growers and ranchers measure the snowpack and gauge hay cutting and pasture moves against the year’s weather, most of us not making our living in agriculture and timber are blissfully unaware of local water dynamics. We like the look of snowcapped mountains and the rush of  rivers. We fish, or ski, snowmobile, hunt, run rivers, or sit on the beach at Wallowa Lake and enjoy the sun—and water.

A few people work to rectify twentieth century technology by putting meander back in rivers, cooling water and increasing spawning grounds. Some think about our dam—and how sockeye salmon who once flooded the Lake might be brought to it again. Immigrants from California and Central Oregon shake the dust off and water lawns and pastures. And Washington irrigators follow the dam condemnation and potential reconstruction thirstily—they’ll buy that extra water from us.

Indians from diverse cultures across the country camping in North Dakota remind us that water is not just a commodity to be bought and sold, but the fundamental principle of all life.

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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Indians—and many Mexicans—were here first

Only Louisiana Purchase & Alaska were larger additions
Earlier this week, a Library visitor talked about her “roots”: specifically about a grandmother who was Apache and Mexican. At this point her proud, and very non-Indian or Mexican looking husband chimed in: “Mexican from when Colorado was part of Mexico.”

I grew up, at least partially, in Southern California, close to the San Luis Rey Mission and the Pala Indian Reservation. In 2010, at my fiftieth high school, I learned that some of the Mexicans I went to school with were Indians, or of mixed Indian and Mexican ancestry. I learned too that at least one blonde, crew-cut haired white guy was an Indian too. When I said that I was surprised to learn that he was Indian, he said that he’d been told by family not to talk about it at the time, but that he had years of photos, regalia and artifacts, and the next time I was in California he’d show it all to me.

If you were Indian growing up in Southern California in the 1940s and 50s, it was easier to be Mexican—if you were dark skinned, or Anglo, if you could “pass” as white. My Monday visitor nodded her head as I told my story, although she did say that her grandmother quietly taught things about herbs and customs. She also said that the Mexican side of the family was firm about their pre-U.S. roots in what we now know as the American Southwest.

That’s a fascinating story. Her corner of Colorado was part of a large chunk of the United States ceded by Mexico in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, at the conclusion of the Mexican-American War. The machinations that went into this huge land takeover—present-day U.S. states of California, Nevada, Utah, most of Arizona, about half of New Mexico, about a quarter of Colorado, and a small section of Wyoming—were complex, because the Republic of Texas and the US accession of Texas was also part of the mix.

Notice where Mexico is in 1846
US wanted border at 54-40
Britain wanted border at Columbia
So the Southwest joined the Northwestern US as areas where our government engaged with another government—Great Britain and the “joint occupancy” of the Oregon Country in the NW; the US and Mexico in the Southwest—in determining the future of land primarily and for millennia actually occupied by indigenous tribal people, Indians. And the two are tied together. President Polk, despite objections of more expansionist fellow Democrats, concluded the NW question with the 1846 Oregon
Treaty (at the 49th parallel, and not at “54 40 or fight”) as we were going to war with Mexico. The huge land accessions of Hidalgo—third largest in our history—came at war’s conclusion in 1848.

The Northwest is less complicated in one way; Indians were far and away the major occupants of the disputed lands in 1818, when Great Britain and the US agreed to joint occupancy (for 10 years, which became almost 30) and, in a sense threw the matter of ultimate jurisdiction into a race for white settlement.

The Indians were of course the earlier inhabitants of the Southwest as well, but Europeans, primarily of Spanish descent, were well into their takeover of the region in the 1840s. Mexicans—Mestizo descendants of Europeans and Indians—were the major occupants of the territory at cession in 1840. There were still Indian tribal people of course, and Indian raids on border settlements were part of the treaty talks—again another story!

I could find no firm population numbers, but did learn that the populations of California and Texas were small while New Mexico was a robust 40,000 in the 1820s. And I saw one estimate of 80,000 for the newly acquired territory in 1848, and a claim that 90 percent of them had chosen to stay in the new United States rather than relocate to what was left of Mexico. Throw in additional lands in New Mexico and Arizona gained peaceably through the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, and there must have been close to 100,000 Mexicans in the newly configured US on the eve of our Civil War.

Fast forward to now, and to intermarriages with Bracero workers who were recruited to the US during WW II, and others who came through various legal immigrant worker programs, and there are many Mexicans—millions certainly—who were “here” before most of the rest of us. (Most African-Americans too can claim older US roots, but that is a different story.)

Which makes ironic most nativist rants about sealing borders. This might be the bigger story: moving borders, as described in accompanying maps, did as much to determine the current makeup of the United States as has the long history of immigration legislation, legislation that has alternately encouraged and discouraged immigrants by country of origin, color and race with the economic needs and the political sentiments of the day.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The milpa: more to learn from Indians

The article in the New York Times last week about Oglala Lakota chef Sean Sherman was so good, so inspiring, that I just have to pass it on: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/17/dining/new-native-american-cuisine.html?emc=edit_th_20160817&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=66175474

I was born and lived my first ten years in Minnesota, so the talk of walleye, deer, and game birds, chokecherries and wild rice is all familiar. Not so the other wild greens and spices that Sherman has traced back to tribal usage and brings now to sophisticated tables.

What I know about American Indian cuisine is small—because the subject is so big. But the article reminded me that the role of Indian agriculture and the adoption of Indian foods worldwide are constantly overlooked. I know I have said this in other posts, but it is always worth repeating: over half of today’s world food crops started in the Americas! Where would Russia, Norway, and Ireland be without potatoes, Italy without tomatoes, Africa without cassava (manioc)? The Americas are huge, and the food gifts to the rest of the world are immense—think beans, squash, maize, sweet potato and more, which, in the decades after Columbus, changed the faces (and tastes) of Europe, Africa, and Asia. American Indians before the Europeans were not all hunter-gatherers, and most who hunted and gathered also farmed.

This piece on Indian cooking got me thinking in another direction too, the milpa. In 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, Charles Mann describes “maize milpas” in Central America in which a dozen plants are grouped in a small field. A dozen plants that feed each others’ needs as they provide a balanced diet to their farmers. Some milpas have been productively “farmed” for 4,000 years!

Milpa four months after planting the maiz canopy shades
beans, squash, macal, amaranths and quiniopods and
much more. Credit: MacduffEverton.com
One of the earliest images of Indian North America which many of us learned as third or fourth graders mimicking the first Thanksgiving is of an Indian named Squanto hunched over a hole in the ground in which he is placing a fish in preparation for planting corn, beans, and squash. The fish will succor the plants, the corn will provide stalk for the beans to climb, and the squash will cover the ground and keep down weeds and enhance moisture for it all. Squanto was really Tisquantum, and the scene which we all saw was about indigenous American agriculture. There is no doubt in my mind that there were other useful plants in Tisquantum’s milpa—herbs and medicinals, plants the English probably saw as weeds.

The English and Spanish adapted the American plants, took many back to Europe, and planted them all in rows on both sides of the ocean. They ignored the milpa, and one can argue that the agricultural journey that they launched led to monocultures that eventually depends on hybrids and fierce amounts of chemical fertilizers while ignoring companion planting and even the related idea of crop rotation.

Jack Weatherford, in Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World, says that North Americans continued to plant corn in hills until the 1930s. Even without the entire milpa, Weatherford argues that moving away from hilling has increased soil erosion in the Mississippi River system dramatically.

Mann recognizes that the milpa might be impractical in today’s large-scale agriculture, but suggests we might learn a thing or two from “gardens” that have been around for thousands of years.

And, I’ll add, from chefs like Sean who are exploring the same cultural legacy.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Canoe People

A year ago, Allen Pinkham Jr. worked for a few weeks as an artist in residence at the Josephy Center. He beaded and made drums and taught workshops in beading and drum-making. At the end of his stay, Allen said that he’d enjoyed himself, and that he would like to come back—and he had an idea.  “We were canoe people. I’d like to come back and build a Nez Perce dugout canoe.” We’ve been working with Allen and aim to help him do that this year.

Nez Perce Canoe--photo by E.S. Curtis c. 1910
It turns out that there are only a handful of Nez Perce dugout canoes in existence. The Nez Perce National Historical Park has four of them, so I went and looked at them, and talked with Park curator Bob Chenowith, who has studied them and written about them.  And with help from the US Forest Service, Nez Perce National Historic Trail, we are on the road to helping Allen realize his dream. Excuse me, the “water.”

In the course of this year, thinking about the history and cultures of tribes and reading about Indian canoes, I’ve had another historical aha moment. Allen’s right. The Nez Perce and many other Plateau tribes, other tribes of the inland Northwest, and coastal tribes as well, were canoe people. Because we live in a world of wheels and wings, automobiles, planes, roads, railroads, and airfields, it is another thing about Indian Country that most of us have to work at to understand. As Chenowith points out, we are so used to seeing the world from the road, we have a hard time imagining it from the river.

So the “aha” involves recognizing the obvious: the Northwest is ribboned by river systems, primarily the Fraser and the Columbia with their huge networks of tributaries. For the Nez Perce, it was the Snake and Clearwater and Columbia. Commerce and trade traditionally took place on riverbanks; Celilo was a physical and spiritual meeting place for peoples from the far north, coastal tribes, and inlanders to the Rocky Mountains; the diets of these river peoples were salmon and lamprey, whitefish, sturgeon, and other river offerings. Coastal tribes fished and hunted whales—in canoes!

And the first white people depended on rivers and canoes as well. The Lewis and Clark journey was mostly by water—although the Corps of Discovery was staffed with men used to traveling on water and making their craft, the Nez Perce probably helped them build five canoes that took them to Celilo. Canoes propelled the fur trade in the 18th century, and botanist David Douglas was canoed up the Columbia and the Willamette in the 1820s.

Even after the horse, which the Plateau people gained about 1730, Indian people of the inland Northwest, “Salmon People,” were still tethered to rivers. The Nez Perce no longer had to backpack to buffalo country (evidence is that they did so prior to the horse), and horses became huge items of trade and prestige, but there were still canoes. Lewis and Clark saw hundreds on the Columbia, and Clark says “I saw few hourses they appeared make but little use of those animals principally using Canoes for their uses of procuring food etc.

Of course the Nez Perce were proficient with horses. In 1855, Looking Glass came to the Walla Walla treaty grounds horseback from the buffalo country. Looking at Sohon’s drawing of their dramatic entry, one can imagine Stevens trembling a bit, and helping him to decide that the Nez Perce would get their own reservation rather than one shared with other peoples.

And if you ask people who know a little bit about Indians how they think of the Nez Perce, horses is usually one of the things that comes up. Right up to current  controversies over the origin of the Appaloosa horse.

Nevertheless, Allen’s question has changed my own thinking, and having him build a canoe here, in some proximity to the Josephy Center and nearby Nez Perce Fisheries, should help us all understand more of how life was lived for thousands of years before it was interrupted by horses, European diseases, missionaries, white settlement, dams, roads, railroads, and airfields.

And remind us that the salmon and the Nez Perce, in spite of all kinds of such disruptions, are with us still.

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