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.

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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.

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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.