Thursday, January 28, 2016

The land owns the Paiutes

Yesterday, amid the blur of news stories from Burns and John Day about the confrontation between occupiers and law enforcement in this latest chapter of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupation, there was an NPR story from Nevada. A reporter and a Paiute tribal member were traveling the BLM ground once leased to Cliven Bundy but now, and for several years, not leased but still grazed by Bundy’s cattle. (Cliven’s sons were leaders in the Malheur occupation and among those arrested.)

The story from Nevada was one of fear and garbage—rangeland and fences left untended, BLM employees absent, and, in other places in Nevada, traveling in pairs with safety concerns. The thing that struck me hardest was when the radio team visited an ancient pictograph shattered by bullets from someone who did not care that they were ancient and sacred to Indians. In Oregon, Ammon Bundy was expressing similar distain for the past, saying that the grazing value on the Malheur Refuges is more important than Burns Paiute archeological and tribal values.

Where do you go from here? I turned to Alvin Josephy, and to The Indian Heritage of America, published in 1968, almost a half century ago. In the first chapter Alvin talks about the cultural misunderstandings that began in 1492, when “differing concepts concerning individual and group use of land and the private ownership of land were at the heart of numerous struggles…”

This relationship to the land is absolutely essential to understanding the cross-cultural divide that started with Columbus and continues at Malheur. For over fifty years, Alvin wrote and preached that Indians from across the Americas thought—and think—of themselves as part of the land, partners with four-leggeds and two-leggeds, birds in the air and fish in the water. Didn’t salmon strike the deal with the Nez Perce that he would provide sustenance? And the first salmon gets put back each year to tell the others that the deal is on, there are still humans to feed and the humans will do their part to make sure there are always salmon.

This view is radically different from viewing the rest of nature as separate from us and put here for our pleasure—the view expressed in the Book of Genesis, where man is to hold “dominion” over the birds and fishes.  The corollary to that is that nature is somehow inexhaustible—or that there is always another place or another product of nature that will be discovered or come along and save the day. So the beaver are trapped out of Europe, but there is America. The canneries take fish from the Columbia in the millions, but there is another river. When oil is gone there is shale, and when dams are done there is wind.

The European view was that land was another commodity that could be bought and sold, used for one purpose and then for another, by one person and then another, grazed today, tilled tomorrow, home to houses and towns the next.

I taught a class on NW tribes in La Grande this fall. I asked students how far they could go back in place and lineage. How many of them lived in the same place, on the same farm, as had a parent, a grandparent, great-grandparent? And how many of them knew or could name grandparents and great-grandparents? The multi-generational farm, ranch, or business is rare, and knowing and naming three generations back rarer. What they knew was that one generation bought and sold what was passed to them, accumulated or lost property, moved from one place to another, another town, county, or state.

In contrast, I remember watching an old Nez Perce woman from Nespelem weep on her first trip into the Wallowas. It—this place where I live—carries the bones of her ancestors and the stories that her aunties told her about these mountains, rivers, and valleys in the time before removal, the time before the Nez Perce War of 1877. It was, for her, yesterday.

When the West was so big that the white fathers in the East could not fathom it being filled, Indians were “removed” and pushed west as the country moved west. As whites moved west, Indians were crowded onto reservations in the West, and then reservations were redrawn on smaller maps.

The Nez Perce Reservation agreed to in the 1855 Treaty was reduced by 80 percent or more in an 1863 Treaty. The Burns-Paiute, out of the way of a proposed railroad route envisioned by Governor Isaac Stevens, were “skipped” in early treaty rounds, but eventually the Euro-American West caught up with them too. In 1868, after bitter fighting, the Paiute and “all bands of Indians ‘wandering’ in eastern Oregon,” were assigned “a reservation of 1,778,560 acres, which included Castle Rock, Strawberry Butte, the Silvies River, Malheur Lake and the North and South Forks of the Malheur River within its boundaries.” (see )

By 1876, under pressure from settlers, President Grant “opened” much of the country to “settlement.” That 1868 Treaty, agreed to by the Indians, was never “ratified” by the Senate, a process I’m sure they did not much understand.

But here is the miracle. The Indians are still here; the Burns-Paiute are still in Malheur country. They’ve worked for whites, maintained hunting and gathering, worked with the BLM and with the Malheur Refuge to maintain a millennial relationship to that particular piece of land. So it is a land that owns them even though they might not own it.

Alvin Josephy was convinced that this relationship to the land is the reason that Indians are still here; that wars, diseases, boarding schools, the Dawes Act and other attempts at assimilation have encountered an attachment so deep and so strong that land and Indians—not all land and not all Indians, but enough, are still together. And, maybe, as growing numbers realize that this special relationship is a hope not only for Indians, but for all who look to a future that includes land and the four-leggeds, birds and air, water and fish, and even the two-leggeds.

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Monday, January 18, 2016

It’s Martin Luther King Day

So take courage!

Friends here in Northeast Oregon are upset with the goings on in neighboring Burns. One group “occupied” a local Oregon Wildlife Refuge one evening with binoculars and beer. Most of “my” friends would like to see the government stand up and oust the anti-government gaggle; they’d like the Paiutes to have the biggest say in their ancestral lands. But I understand that some of my neighbors are sending food to the occupiers as well.

In America today, divisiveness is everywhere and hate sells. I needn’t list the shootings and the rancor over guns, the suspicion and hate over color, language and faith; the police conflicts, border walls, the hate speeches of Donald Trump, and the hatred of government that brings wronged ranchers, anti-Semites, anti-Islamists, and other antis swaggering with guns to a bird refuge in Oregon to state their cases and causes.

Many things are discouraging today. In the Middle East, where I lived and worked 50 years ago, I watch cities and places I love fall into chaos—Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest and grandest cities, is in shambles; Diyarbakir, Turkey, where I went to market and walked the city’s ancient walls, is a place of “urban warfare,” with the Turkish Army fighting Kurdish factions and civilians dying in the middle.

The Kurds, Turks, Arabs; Sunnis, Shiites, believers of one strain and another of Islam, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism, people who lived side by side when I was there, are now killing each other in Iraq and Syria. And millions are fleeing war, trying to find asylum in Germany and Sweden. So Europe swells with immigrants, and fear follows them and divides societies as good people seek to help.


And then—and then, Iran makes nice, releases US troops whose boats have strayed and releases prisoners they’ve held for years, destroys nuclear centrifuges and asks to join the world again. Cuba too is off the bad list, and someone is cleaning up Old Man and the Sea writer Ernest Hemingway’s house for visitors.

It’s Martin Luther King Day,

And I am reminded that I was in Washington D.C. in 1967 and 68, when thousands of Americans and millions of Vietnamese were being killed and maimed in a faraway land and our country was in turmoil. I marched on the Pentagon as helicopters flew over protesters and men with guns and binoculars walked atop high buildings keeping track. I was there when King was murdered in Memphis and D.C. exploded in riots and fire. And when Bobbie Kennedy, running for the Presidency that saw his brother killed, was murdered too.

In 1969, American Indians, emboldened by the Civil Rights Movement, seized Alcatraz, and they would soon occupy the Bureau of Indian Affairs headquarters, and face off with the FBI at Pine Ridge. Alvin Josephy documented these events and stood by the Indians in a wonderful NYT piece in 1973, in the heat of it all (and before I knew him and his Indian mission).

America is not a calm place now, nor was it a calm place in 1967 and 1968 and 1973. It wasn’t calm in 1929, when the Depression robbed peoples’ savings and sent them off to join the Communists and the anarchists, the fascists and the religious fanatics. Not calm when Roosevelt closed the banks and told the people the only thing they had to fear was fear itself.

So the bad water in Flint, Michigan and the tuberculosis in Alabama are real; some ranchers have real gripes with government agencies; some police forces are racist or running scared; and our country’s military misadventures, which didn’t start in Iraq—or even Vietnam—go on.

And almost a century of mistrust in Iran, going back to the 1953 CIA overthrow of Prime Minister Mosaddegh, the 1979 revolution and taking of American hostages, and its war with a US supported Iraq, will not go away in a day. There will be bumps in the Cuban road as well.

But on this Martin Luther King Day, it is important to remember that good people with strong will make differences. The New York Times sends its readers today to the contemporary obituaries of MLK, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, and many more who have done so.

And although I, like many, have been frustrated with our first Black President on several counts, I applaud him today for Iran, for Cuba, for coming close on health care, coming close on Guantanamo, for fighting against gun violence and for very quietly strengthening tribal courts, autonomy, and education, and thus being the best President for Indian country since Nixon!

And, on MLK Day, I remember Alvin too, one of the good guys who stood up with and for Indians when the country didn’t much care.

Remember friends, and take courage!

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Doctrine of Discovery and the Malheur Refuge

I’ve been wondering where to start in understanding the Bundys and the militia takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge—and I keep getting pushed back in time and place. My journey started with the obvious—the Paiutes, but it didn’t take me long to get to the Pope!

Let me explain: A couple of years ago, a group of us at the Josephy Center spent a few weeks examining the Nez Perce and early white settler history in the Wallowas. 

On the day we were talking about the treaties of 1855 and 1863 (the Paiute and US Indian treaties being my initial starting point in my Malheur quest) that led up to the 1877 Nez Perce War, Bobbie Conner, the director of the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute on the nearby Umatilla Reservation, showed up at the Josephy Center. We asked her to join us, and she jumped in immediately with the Doctrine of Discovery: “You can’t understand Indian treaties without understanding the Doctrine of Discovery.”

So we went on to discuss that doctrine, and how it played out in transfer from the Pope to protestant Englishmen and the ideas of Manifest Destiny, western expansion, Indian treaty-making, and the ultimate displacement of American Indians across the continents.

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York has an early version of the document—pictured here—and this is what they say about it:

The Papal Bull “Inter Caetera,” issued by Pope Alexander VI on May 4, 1493… stated that any land not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered,” claimed, and exploited by Christian rulers and declared that “the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.” This “Doctrine of Discovery” became the basis of all European claims in the Americas as well as the foundation for the United States’ western expansion. In the US Supreme Court in the 1823 case Johnson v. McIntosh, Chief Justice John Marshall’s opinion in the unanimous decision held “that the principle of discovery gave European nations an absolute right to New World lands.” In essence, American Indians had only a right of occupancy, which could be abolished.

So the indigenous people who had lived in the Americas for millennia had occupied it, but had no ownership of it. Ownership was reserved for good Christian nations, and, presumably, for their mercantile companies—Hudson’s Bay; Dutch East and West India companies, etc. Modern versions of these 17th century giants might be the Army Corps of Engineers and Exxon Mobil. Or beleaguered western ranchers who maybe trace holdings to the Homestead Act of 1862?

“Occupancy” was another road I tried in my understanding of the Malheur situation. That immediately gets one to “joint occupancy,” which is what we—the Oregon Territory, including the Malheur—lived under from the 1818 treaty that finally resolved territorial questions of the War of 1812, until 1846, when a new treaty setting the boundary line at the 48th parallel forestalled another conflict between Great Britain and the United States.

To summarize: the search for “original” owners of the land that is now the Malheur Wildlife Refuge—who the current hostile occupiers say they are looking for—took me first to the Paiutes. But that didn’t work, because they only lived there, occupied it and did not own it. Which took me to the United States and Great Britain, which, at least initially, only jointly occupied the land but did not own it (along with the Paiutes, who also jointly occupied in fact if not in law). 

Actual ownership of the Malheur country begins with the United States and the 1846 treaty, which rests on the 1823 Supreme Court Case, which in turn rests on a 1493 Papal Bull. The land in dispute was not included in the Northern Paiute Reservation, although the Indians are allowed by treaty to have access—occupy—for hunting, fishing, and gathering. It was never, in my brief exploration, homesteaded, so no private rancher has ownership rights based on that.

Which means that the land is “owned” by the US Government by treaty and law going back to the Pope. Which sets up some kind of religious battle between Catholicism and a long-dead Pope and the God who told the Bundys that they should undertake their mission.

If this is all bewildering, Alvin Josephy, who always seems to have something to say about current events involving tribes, says in several places that one of the initial mis-understandings between Europeans and indigenous Americans was the concept of private land ownership. He thought, correctly it seems, that that misunderstanding still prevails.

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Monday, January 4, 2016

This is not the year!

2016 will not be the year that the population of the United States of America tilts from white—the year when adding up all the browns and blacks and anyone the U.S. Census counts as not-white becomes a bigger number than the number of those who check a box or are in one way or another counted as “white.” In fact, a quick Google search tells me that this cataclysmic change in demographics is about 30 years away, and if you count Hispanics as white, more than that!

Distribution of U.S. Population by Race/Ethnicity, 2010 and 2050

You wouldn’t know it by the talk of it. It permeates, is everywhere in politics and the media. The talk sets up the fear of it on the one side, and the reasoning of it on the other. Donald Trump stands and harps about Mexicans and Moslems and anyone else not white and (at least in a recent Iowa talk) not evangelical. More broadly, fear of it seems to fuel speeches and votes advocating bigger walls and tighter immigration procedures in state and national legislatures, and even city halls.

On the other side of it, academics, novelists, filmmakers, and people of more liberal persuasion (one has to be careful, as lines are not always clear and congruent on this and other liberal-conservative issues) are producing analyses. How did we come to this turn? If we had handled things—slavery, Indian treaty making, exclusionary laws—differently earlier in our history, would things be different now? And of course, how are things now?

The Warmth of Other Suns tells the story of the Great Migration of African Americans north and west, out of the South from 1910-1970. The “movement” Black Lives Matter focuses on police-black citizen relations today, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ award winning Between the World and Me examines American history and the black of it.

It seems that Indian immigrants—east Indians—are the new kids on the American literary block. The Inscrutable Americans by Anurag Mathur is a “must read” on a list of books by Indian authors, many of whom, with great wit and candor, describe the cultural gaps between two very different worlds. And there are of course Iranian-American, Vietnamese-American, Nigerian-American, Latino-American and other hyphenated American writers seeking to do the same. Luis Urrea, my favorite author of the southern border, follows history and families from the heart of Mexico into the American heartland in non-fiction (The Devil’s Highway) and fiction (Hummingbird’s Daughter; Into the Beautiful North).

And then there are the Indians, the indigenous people who had lived in the Americas for 30,000 or maybe 50,000 years, and were suddenly invaded by Europeans a little over 500 years ago, and then watched and watch still later invasions by other Europeans, and Africans and Asians—many not of their own free will—over the course of that 500 years and continuing to this day.

Booksellers’ shelves teem with books on the subject. The most ambitious might be William T. Vollman’s “Seven Dreams” series of novels about the “collisions between Native Americans and European colonizers.” The Dying Grass: A Novel of the Nez Perce War, is the Fifth Dream in the series, which is not being written sequentially. It is over 1350 pages with footnotes! It stares at me unread from my desk—I will read it this year.

And if I make it through that tome, I might try another in the series—Maybe Fathers and Crows, about the Jesuits in Canada. And then I’ll read more of Peter Bowen’s Gabriel Du PrĂ© Montana mystery novels featuring Du Pre the Metis—the mixed bloods melded of several Indian tribes, French fur traders and a few Scotsmen into a distinct people and culture. Or maybe I will go south and read The Son, Philipp Meyer’s acclaimed novel about a multigenerational—and sometimes mixed blood—family that weaves in and out of Commanche lands.

I will actually read Warmth of Other Sons, and if I have the stomach for it, I’ll watch “The Revenant,” the fictional movie account of mountain man Hugh Glass and his experiences in Plains Indian Country in the early 1800s.

And I’ll keep on poking away at Alvin Josephy, who gets smarter every day as I think about his descriptions of the displacement and marginalization of, and on occasion the genocidal movements against, American Indians. Much of it was written and thought over a half-century ago, but Alvin was always out front. I can hear him now, lambasting the historians who thought and wrote into the 1980s that the Americas were “empty of civilization” before the Europeans arrived. He’d have something pithy to say about this tilt from white--like what about the tilts and jolts that reduced the percentage of Indians, among the 2 percent of “others” in 2010, from 100 percent in 1491!

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