Wednesday, August 9, 2017

JFK on Indians

In 1961, Alvin Josephy moved from Time Magazine to American Heritage, where The American Heritage Book of Indians was his first major assignment. The text was written by William Brandon, but Alvin oversaw designers and assistant editors who fact checked and copy read, and I am sure it was Alvin who scoured the country’s libraries and museums for images to accompany the text. The early reviews, neatly summarized by American Heritage staff members and stuffed behind the cover of Alvin’s own copy of the book, which sits in our library, extol the effort, and comment on the breadth and depth of text and illustration. General readers will love it, one reviewer says, but even scholars will find something new.

I think I’d glanced at the one page introduction by President John F. Kennedy at some point, but recently found myself reading it again—and it struck me that Kennedy’s message was or became Alvin’s message throughout his long career as writer, editor, and Indian activist: “American Indians remain probably the least understood and most misunderstood Americans of us all,” says JFK. And he goes on to say that we have things to learn from Indians, etc.

I don’t know how editor Josephy got JFK to introduce this volume, or who actually penned the words—speechwriter Ted Sorenson? Or JFK himself, who had a strong background in history and was no slouch as a writer. But this one page “Introduction” could neatly serve as our mission statement here at the Josephy Library of Western History and Culture.




Friday, August 4, 2017

Canoe notes #2

My childhood recollections of New World history move quickly from Columbus and the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria to Squanto and the Puritans on the other side of the continent. In neither case did we get much real history, but rather sloganeering echoes passed from teacher to student for decades, now centuries. And we got holidays—Columbus Day and Thanksgiving—that were and probably still are occasion for grade school pageantry.

But Allen Pinkham, Jr., our Nez Perce canoe carver, sends me back to Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., my mentor and the “Great Reminder.” Alvin reminds us that Indians were here for millennia before Columbus and the Puritans, that they had fashioned high civilizations as well as many simple but effective ways of living on their lands, that there had been catastrophes even before the Europeans came with the great upset, but that Native peoples and the land have been resilient. (I mistakenly typed “had” in place of “have” in that sentence; these things go on.)

In researching The American Heritage Book of Indians, published in 1962,  Josephy combed the nation’s research libraries, and in them found the words and images of Fernandez de Oviedo. Oviedo apparently did his own art work; he was no great artistic talent, but with him we have some of the first European artistic renditions of the people of the New World.

And some of these images include canoes. This image appears in a book by de Oviedo, La historia general y natural de las Indias. The drawing is dated 1535.

One learns immediately that even in the early 1500s, men were of different minds on the treatment of Indians. In the Caribbean and Central America, beginning with Columbus, it had been brutal. It was too much for one Spaniard, Las Casas, who turned reformer, entered the clergy, and was officially named “Protector of the Indians.”

While all agree that Oviedo’s  Historia furnishes a mass of information collected at first hand, Las Casas, the fellow contemporary chronicler of the Spanish colonization of the Caribbean, denounced Oviedo and the Historia thus: "one of the greatest tyrants, thieves, and destroyers of the Indies, whose Historia contains almost as many lies as pages.”

Las Casas own tome is titled, pointedly, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies.

And I’ll take it that the canoes were not part of the lie, but real—and recognizable today, 500 years on, as part of a world that Allen Pinkham is revisiting with his own canoe carving here at the Josephy Center.

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Monday, July 31, 2017

Canoe notes #1

A couple of years ago Allen Pinkham Jr. was here at the Josephy Center teaching beading and drum building. At the end of his stay, he said that “We Nez Perce were canoe people. I think I’d like to come back here and build a dugout canoe.”

It’s taken patience and the work of many, but Allen is now fully embarked on building his first canoe—as far as we can figure, the first Nez Perce dugout canoe built in over 100 years.  Allen’s father, Allen Sr., came and checked the rings on the log to determine top and bottom, and told all the canoe stories he had in his very active memory bank. Local logger Jim Zacharias has helped with logs and making a first rough cut on the first log. Josephy Center board member Tim Norman (who happens to be a pretty darned good sculptor) came with tools and a good backswing to help hollow the log.  Bob Chenoweth, the retired curator at the Nez Perce National Historical Park, which is headquartered in Spalding, Idaho, came to offer advice based on his years of studying Nez Perce and regional canoes. According to Bob, there are only 5 or 6 NP dugouts in existence, all of them over 100 years old. The Park has four of them; Montana Historical Society has one, and there might be another out there somewhere.

The Nez Perce National Trail Foundation, the Autzen Foundation and some of you out there in donor land have helped fund the project so far—for which huge thanks.

This first canoe is a15 footer, a one man—or woman—canoe. We have two 30 foot logs waiting in Zacharias’s yard for a full-size canoe. But Allen, who has worked in many traditional arts and visited canoe builders from coastal tribes, has never built a canoe, so he and we liked the idea of building this one-person canoe first.

The project takes on a life of its own. One of Allen’s brothers makes traditional, antler and stone type, tools. The first two canoes—this 15 footer and the first 30 footer—will employ some modern technology, mainly a mill and chainsaws. But Allen mused this weekend that he might ask his brother to make some traditional adzes, that he would eventually figure out how to build a canoe with antler, stone, and fire.

The canoe building goes on outside the Josephy Center front door. Visitors can look at it anytime, and if here on the right weekend, watch Allen work on it and, if so inclined, take a whack or two with adze or wedge and sledge. They can also, as one woman did today, sit down and read Bob Chenoweth’s monograph on Nez Perce and other Plateau region canoes.

You don’t have to be here at the Josephy Center to “think” about canoes. Chenoweth says that the Indians continued to use canoes long after they got the horse, and could travel from present-day Clarkston, Washington to Celilo in six days. The Nez Perce helped Lewis and Clark build five canoes—Chenoweth says that in order to carry men and gear, a couple of them had to be over 50 feet in length. Corps accounts mention numerous canoe sightings on the Columbia—not so many horses. Seasonal Indian villages were mostly along water—the source of food as well as transportation. And horses without roads would still have made for difficult travel.

The first known depictions of Natives by Spaniards—before 1500!—include a man in a dugout! Most of the major cities in the world—as well as scores of Nez Perce villages—were built on river, lake, and ocean. Can you imagine Lewis and Clark in their canoes on the Big River? Imagine the Nez Perce, before 1800, before they saved the explorers, before Astoria and missionaries, Forts Walla Walla and The Dalles, joining a parade of river people traveling to Celilo to celebrate and exchange food, culture, and religion, meeting and making friends and relatives, making new families. Seeing someone with dentalia in a pierced nose.  

Think about the history that can be dug out of a canoe.


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Friday, July 21, 2017

Civil Rights, Treaty Rights

Alvin Josephy told me once that liberals just didn’t get it with Indians.  In the sixties, after legislative victories on voting and discrimination issues, some liberals, according to Alvin, were ready to “move on to Indians.” But when they took their good intentions into Indian country, they were told that Indians weren’t so concerned with Civil Rights; Indians were interested in Treaty Rights.

I think the story tells us something about the confusing and sporadic nature of liberal support for Indian issues. We don’t really get this stuff about treaties. Look at Standing Rock, which was a great liberal rallying cry only months ago, but is now on the back burner again—do you remember seeing anything recently in the New York Times or other bastions of the liberal establishment press about the situation in the Dakotas? Indians are still there. The pipeline is under the river, and there are, I believe, cases pending. But a quick Google search of Standing Rock updates brings up stories from February and April. Standing Rock is about treaty rights and their long and continuing abrogation and dismissal by the establishment. Too confusing for liberals looking for simple wrongs to right.

Standing Rock is also, of course, about what we humans are doing to the environment. But Indians reminding us of environmental disasters is also confusing and sometimes uneasy. So once again liberals pick up on it for a while before moving on to “cap and trade” or plastics at McDonalds or another middle class crusade that hits us in the places we live, work, and send our kids to school or offers to save the planet.

Water and oil in South Dakota or the extraction of oil from Canadian tar pits—which the Nez Perce in Idaho protested by blocking the Lolo Highway when they tried to move huge equipment necessary for tar sands oil extraction to Canada—is not so close, and not as big a planet-wide deal as the Paris Accords or Al Gore. We liberals want to save the school our children go to or save the planet. And we’ll do it with a quick protest or a tax-deductible check.

Many liberals applaud Indians for salmon recovery and stands against dams—which seems to me a nice confluence of interests, rather than true listening to all that Indians have to say about fish, health, and the environment. Yes, white liberals, including actor Marlon Brando, appeared in the Northwest Fish Wars that led to the Boldt Decision, but how many of us know what that decision was or does now? And how many proponents of dam removal know about “first foods,” know about the complicated ecosystems around any moving body of water? Why are the Nez Perce interested now in lamprey recovery? Do we even know where that fits in the scheme of river health? Maybe not exactly, said a biologist I know, but the Nez Perce know it was part of what was once a huge river of life for millennia. The elders thought lamprey important, so we’ll bring them back—eventually.

More than anything, how many of us non-Indians understand that it is treaty rights that American Indians lean on in environmental battles over fish and water and land? Treaty rights that are old and sacred, passed down from generation to generation of American Indians; treaty rights that also are written in Euro-American law books, and on occasion come to the attention of a judicial system that is obligated to pay them some attention.

From President Jackson forward, treaties have been ignored or abrogated as often as not—but they, like the Indians, are still with us.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

“Everyone Reads” Josephy in 1969!

As far as I can make out, Seattle Public Library’s “Seattle Reads” program began in 1998 with Russell Banks’ “Sweet Hereafter." The NEA--National Endowment for the Arts--began the Big Read program in 2006, and Fishtrap and Wallowa County were one of the first, pilot projects. We read Ray Bradberry’s “Fahrenheit 451.”

I just found out that Western Washington University did a campus-wide read of Alvin Josephy’s “The Patriot Chiefs: A Chronicle of American Indian Resistance," in 1969!

The information came from Makah filmmaker Sandy Osawa (“Pepper’s Powwow,” “Usual and Accustomed Places”), who sent a press release which included the following:

"Western Reads will also be commemorating the 50th Anniversary of “The Right to Be Indian” Conference, which took place at WWU in 1969. In that year, representatives of tribes west and east of the Cascades came to Western Washington State College to support indigenous youth culture. The entire campus read a common book in conjunction with the conference, The Patriot Chiefs:  A Chronicle of American Indian Resistance.”

Randy Lewis, enrolled at Colville and one of the original conference organizers went on to the occupations of Alcatraz and Fort Lawton. The Daybreak Star Cultural Center and People’s Lodge lives successfully today as the result of the Fort Lawton occupation Here’s the press release:
http://www.cascadiaweekly.com/cw/currents/tulalip_from_my_heart, which leads do some interesting interviews with Randy Lewis. But I have not been able to find out anything more about the campus read itself that year, or about Alvin’s appearance on campus in conjunction with the two events.

Will appreciate any further information (which might be hiding in Josephy archives at UO’s Knight Library).

Oh--this year the Western Reads book at Western Washington is “Tulalip, From My Heart: An Autobiographical Account of a Reservation Community,” by Harriette Shelton Dover.

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Monday, July 3, 2017

The Fourth of July—a difficult dance for Indians

Thinking about this national holiday...

This article was published in the July 3, 1904, edition of the Lewiston Tribune—and reprinted in today’s edition of the same paper.

“Sub-Chief Philip McFarland of the Nez Perce tribe, was in the city yesterday accompanied by his interpreter, Peter Malick. Chief McFarland was here on matters relative to the big celebration to be held at Lapwai and Spalding July 4th and states that extensive preparations are now being completed for the celebration.

“Through his interpreter yesterday Chief McFarland said: ‘The annual celebration of our tribe has been observed on July 4th since the first visit of the explorers to the Weippe plains nearly a hundred years ago. Previous to that time our war dance and parade was celebrated just before[we were] to engage in battle and during times of peace the celebrations were held several times during the year in memory of the battles of the tribe.

"’With the coming of the white people the tribe was taught the meaning of the Fourth of July and it soon became the custom to hold but one celebration each year and that was on July 4…

"’It is with the spirit of peace that the Indian enters the celebrations of the present time. All of the visitors are invited to eat at the campfire of the Indians after the parade.’"

The Nez Perce, and Indians across the country, were, in 1904, laboring under the demands of the “Indian Religious Crimes Code,” which had been enacted in 1883. The Code banned Indian ceremonies, disrupted religious practices, and destroyed or confiscated sacred objects. It was aimed at plural marriages and other practices deemed “un-Christian.” Consequences were imprisonment and/or the withholding of treaty rations. Indian superintendents and agents implemented the code until the mid-1930s.

But, the Fourth of July was a national holiday, with fireworks, dancing and celebration occurring across the nation. Some Indians saw in the holiday and its commemoration of American independence a small opening through which they could publicly continue their own important ceremonies—and maybe, in a subtle way, express a sense of loss and desire for their own independence.

On the other side, Indian reservation superintendents and agents justified allowing reservations to conduct ceremonies on the 4th of July as a way for Indians to learn patriotism and celebrate American ideals. Indians could take their regalia out of hiding, pound their drums—and dance.

One can imagine the Fourth of July emotions in 1904--and even today in Indian Country, where many tribes across the country still observe this national holiday with drumming and dancing. Indian dancing.

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Friday, June 30, 2017

Some thoughts on the new racism

I believe that Manifest Destiny was the nineteenth century idea that the United States of American—led by Anglo-Americans—was picking up the mantel of world leadership and the white man’s burden from the British Empire and would become greater than its predecessor.  I think it was an idea that began decades before its formal declaration, and continues in some diminished way to the present.

I think that Manifest Destiny was not about white Greeks and Bohunks, Irishmen, and Swedes. I think that “white” didn’t become a standard classification to include all Americans of European ancestry until after WW 2, when Bohemians and Swedes, Greeks, Italians, and Irishmen all served together.  Until then—even through the Dutch-American Roosevelts, Anglo-Americans were the ideal, and the story of Manifest Destiny their story of crusading against and bringing Civilization to a vast wilderness. (Which of course leads to totally ambivalent attitudes towards American Indians—but that is another story.)

If you look at one factor only, the ethnicity of our presidents, fully 38 of the 44 Presidents’ backgrounds, and 39 if you count Trump’s maternal side, are from the British Isles. Until about 1950, Scandinavians were farming; Germans were brewing and baking and doing business. National political leadership was left to or taken by Anglo-Americans.

27 English
 2 English/Scottish
 2 English/Welsh
 4 Scottish
 1 Scottish/Irish
 2 Irish
 3 Dutch
 1 German
 1 African
+ Trump—German-Scottish

Eisenhower was our first German American President, Kennedy the first Irish—and Catholic—President. The clump at the top of this chart doesn’t really break apart until after WW 2.

The other whites. The vast majority of early non-Anglo European immigrants to the U.S. came to Northern cities and Midwest farms. Northern cities were made up of ethnic neighborhoods, where Italian, Polish, Irish, and other non-Anglo European-American groups clustered. Irish Catholics and Italian Catholics often attended their own churches in adjoining neibhborhoods.

In my Minnesota birth town several Lutheran churches ministered to their unique immigrant communities. The German Lutheran Church still used the German language; the Swedish Lutheran Church used Swedish. The largely Scandinavian population who had fled farms too divided to maintain and sustain found farms in Minnesota and the Dakotas that had some resemblance to country they had left.  Willa Cather found Bohemian farmers in Nebraska in the same circumstance.

But, you say, under Jim Crow, Southern restaurants, public restrooms and drinking fountains said “whites only” and not “Anglo only”? Although I do not have experience in the South, my reading is that Southern culture was long dominated by Anglo-Americans—maybe beginning with Jamestown. That domination hiccupped during the Civil War and Reconstruction, then continued until the Civil Rights era of the 1960s.

At a church meeting in Washington D.C. in 1968, not long after the assassination of Martin Luther King, I heard a white woman from South Carolina—and significantly, I do not remember her name or ethnic identity—describe herself as “white trash.” She said that that she and her kind were looked down on by the region’s leaders, but given racism as a way to make them feel superior to someone while keeping them in their place. If this is true, “whites only” was a crude tool left in the wake of failed “Reconstruction” to keep the original, largely Anglo slave owners in control.

To bolster my theory about the impact of WW 2 on homogenizing white in America, remember that troops were totally segregated through the War; the military was integrated by President Truman in 1948.

I think one can also argue that ethnicity had, from the 19th century on, through the period noted as Manifest Destiny, been of less concern on the Frontier. People left old homes and alliances to move West—and the intermingling was almost immediate. In Wallowa County where I live, there were not enough French Canadian DeBoies and Beaudoins to keep intermarriage of that ethnic group sustained.

We should also remember that the Great Migration of Southern Blacks is recent; 1916-1970 are the normal given dates. And Blacks did displace some ethnic neighborhoods as whites moved to GI housing in all-white but ethnically mixed suburbs.

All of this is to say that the renewed concern about race in America is different from racist attitudes of other days. And that my hunch is that WW 2 kicked off the new divisions that have worked their way to Trump and some of his angry followers.

So today, many whites of all stripes feel threatened—and united in their fears—by sixty years of Civil Rights legislation, legal immigration from many continents, and the economic jostling at the southern border that just might have started with the Bracero program of WW 2.

And by the advent of an African American President.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Indians, African Americans, and the Persistence of Racism in America

I think a lot about the Euro-American treatment of Indians. It’s impossibly complex—from the “noble savage” to the “savage savage”; from the Mohawk chiefs paraded before painters and courts in England, named “King Philip” and “Prince Hendrik,” to Squanto, captured off the Atlantic coast and sent to Europe as a slave; from conquest by war and by meticulous—and quickly broken—treaty making to reservations and boarding schools; from admiration to forced assimilation through missionaries and schools forbidding of religion, dress, language, and even hair style. As Alvin Josephy said, prior to the Indian Freedom of Religion Act of 1978, what Indians in the United States had was not religion, but “mumbo jumbo.” That is 19 and 78!

Euro-American treatment of African-Americans is often lumped together with the treatment of Indians. Even by sympathizers. Josephy said that liberals who had worked hard during the Civil Rights campaigns of the 60s sometimes offered to help Indians secure civil rights—and the Indians often told them that they were not as interested in civil rights as they were in their treaty rights.

For all its complexities, and for the complexities wrapped around the Euro-American enslavement of African-Americans (Indians were enslaved by the Europeans prior to importation of Africans, but this “other slavery” is a story too big to address here), the routine discrimination and occasional brutal racism against Indians and African-Americans shares much. Today brought two reminders. One, a quote from Sherman Alexie talking about his new memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me:

“So my mother and her mother, in being raped physically, were also raped spiritually. They had salmon taken away from them by the Grand Coulee Dam. They had their entire history shrunk by being placed on a reservation. And despite all that, their love shone through despite all that. I'm here. My siblings are here. And we're pretty good people.”

The other, from a NYT op-ed piece by Lonnie G. Bunch III, the founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture:

“The person who recently left a noose at the National Museum of African American History and Culture clearly intended to intimidate, by deploying one of the most feared symbols in American racial history. Instead, the vandal unintentionally offered a contemporary reminder of one theme of the black experience in America: We continue to believe in the potential of a country that has not always believed in us, and we do this against incredible odds.”

I think that what all Americans can continue to learn from African Americans and Indian Americans is resiliency in the face of discrimination. And, in these times, when overt racism is loose again, it is important that all Americans acknowledge this history of racism and discrimination, from the slave sales of Jamestown to today’s nooses in Washington D.C.; from the treaty breaking at Standing Rock in the 1800s to the disregard for treaty and water rights at Standing Rock today.

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Monday, June 19, 2017

Baby Boxes and Cradleboards

We have a beautiful new Nez Perce cradleboard in our current exhibit, and two historical photos of children in cradleboards. Tomorrow’s noon Brown Bag talk will have Cece Whitewolf talking about cradleboards.

All the talk and the pictures sent me in two directions: first, remembering a recent NPR story on cardboard “baby boxes” as a safe way to raise children; and secondly, my 1965 discovery as a new Peace Corps Volunteer in a Turkish village that babies there were still “wrapped in swaddling clothes.”

Seventy-five years ago Finland was suffering from a very high infant death rate—65 of 1000 births. The government developed a program of information and tools to give to new moms to attack the problem. A small cardboard box with a firm mattress, basic baby clothing, nail scissors, bath thermometer, etc. was given to all poor families. The box itself served as baby’s first bed. A few years later, the program was extended to all Finnish families, and the results have been dramatic. Infant SID deaths dropped dramatically—Finland now has one of the lowest rates in the world; moms loved the feeling of safety, and children loved the security.

(check out Finnish baby boxes)

I heard the news on National Public Radio, where I learned that the State of New Jersey and some cites are giving out baby boxes, and that private companies are picking up the Finnish idea and running with it. You can buy one for about $70 shipped to your door.

Looking at the well-crafted doeskin cradleboard in our exhibit, one American mom couldn’t help a smile and “of course!” How safe a baby—and a mom—must feel, and, with the cradleboard, you can—and Indian moms have always—propped the baby up so that he or she can watch you at work and see whatever else is going on.

Which reminded me of the Turkish babies I had seen wrapped tightly in swaddling clothes, packed easily from one mother task to another, propped up in the field or the kitchen to watch mom work.

So—looking again at the real cradleboard and the cardboard baby box pictures online, I applaud the cities and states that are adopting the Finnish model. Something must be done to curb the high numbers—3500 annually—of babies who succumb to SID in America. But I wonder when US states and cities will look further back, to cradleboards and swaddling clothes, to make for happier children and moms, and further improve our dismal SID statistics.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Josephy Library at the Josephy Center

Many of you in this blog-land get other information about the Josephy Center and our programs through newsletters, press releases and letters—including fundraising letters. Thanks to those of you who have made donations, attended exhibits and workshops, and brought children to Josephy Center classes. Thanks to all of you who read the blog posts—and sometimes even comment on them.

What follows is a brief account of what the Josephy Library does beyond the blog—and a specific appeal for Library support.

First and most importantly, we live the legacy of Alvin Josephy. Every day we tell people that American Indians are still with us; that Indians have always been agents and actors, and not wooden standbys in American History; that the history re Indians we’ve been fed in school texts is incomplete at best and often wrong; that Indian treaty rights are real and legal; and that Indians continue to contribute to the common good with activism and hard work, especially in the fields of natural resources, but increasingly in healthcare, politics, and other fields.

Blog posts are a small part of these messages. At the Josephy Center we bring in Indian artists and historians—a current exhibit uses historic photos from the Nez Perce National Park and the University of Idaho to imagine the Indian past. Some of it will be used in a small permanent exhibit aimed at showing visitors, local school children and citizens “who lived here and how they lived.” Brown Bag lunches next week will feature Nez Perce Fisheries on Lamprey restoration, and Cece Whitewolf on the cradleboard. A college intern has just begun bibliographic work on Nez Perce materials—why does that story resonate in book after book published today?

And then the Big Dream Project—we’ve passed the first round in a grant competition—to invite a Plateau Indian artist to create a three-dimensional work on our property or the adjoining street with his or her vision of what we should know about this place. It is weird at best that the large, bronze statue of Chief Joseph on Main Street in Joseph was created by a white artist from another place imagining a Nez Perce Indian in this place. It seems to us that some corrective is needed.

Friends told me before this Josephy Library became a reality that “libraries don’t make money.” That is painfully true—but it is also true that libraries promote knowledge and understanding, that we help ignite interest and passion in young people and nurture professional writers and lay readers in their work and avocations.

Our Library budget is roughly $50,000 of a $290,000 budget. We get some grants, but bibliographies and talking Western and Indian history to visitors from Idaho and Israel isn’t grant-flashy, isn’t a “new” program every year (although it is new conversations every day).

About 400 of you get notices of these blog posts. If half of you could find $20 or $30 to further our work; if those of you who make it to the occasional Brown Bag could drop in a $10 bill in the offering plate; if a dozen of you came to the Center for a basketry or beading workshop this month; and if a few of you who share these passions could send us $500 or $1,000—if, if, if… we might raise half of that $50,000 and make the grant writing and overall fundraising for the Josephy Center a walk on a new Main Street with Indian artists helping to tell the story of Indians, salmon, game, agriculture and culture in this wonderful Wallowa place some of us are privileged to call home.

To make a donation now, go to https://josephy.org/support-the-josephy-center-for-arts-and-culture/

Monday, June 5, 2017

Misunderstanding Indians

Alvin Josephy with Allen Pinkham Sr. at Betty’s Memorial
In a talk at the Josephy Center on Saturday night, Nez Perce elder Allen Pinkham Sr. said that non-Indians have never understood that Indians, even while succumbing to Euro-American diseases, arms, numbers, and policies aimed at their cultural destruction, continually borrowed from and adapted to European science and culture. His examples included learning to use horses, cattle, guns, iron, and words on paper.

He had a different take on missionary zeal and the supposed longing for “The Book” that is cited in most histories of Indian-white relations in the West. Indians were sent to Hudson Bay’s school in Red River, Canada, and a group of four was sent to St. Lewis to find William Clark in search of information about writing and books, not “The Book." But Europeans interpreted all as a thirst for knowledge of their—Christian—religion. What we wanted, Allen’s father had told him, were the “tools,” the way to make words on paper to pass on and extend the store of tribal and human knowledge.

Pinkham said that Indian veterans coming home from World War 2 reignited an interest in treaty rights and traditional culture. Although language, traditional dress, culture, and agricultural habits had been suppressed for decades, they had survived, and it was often the veterans who said, “wait a minute,” we too deserve to speak our traditional languages, practice our traditional religions, and observe practices guaranteed us by our treaties.

Of course those Indian veterans ran into a centuries-old buzz saw of policies, laws, favoritism—and misunderstandings—that had brought European miners, buffalo hunters, railroad builders, missionaries, and settlers into their lands.

Indians have of course been caught in one misunderstanding after another since the day that Columbus and his crew declared them “Indians.” They’ve been mythologized as “noble savages” by European romantics upset with the forces of enlightenment. And called “savages” for the early defense of their lands. Indian agriculture too was misunderstood—although the Europeans quickly adapted corn, squash, beans, and other American crops, the Europeans didn’t understand the companion planting of corn, squash and beans (remember Squanto!) and eventually put everything in neat rows, forgetting the herbs and medicinal plants that were scattered in Northeast Indian gardens

Tribes in our area that hunted, fished, and gathered in seasonal patterns were accused of misusing land because they didn’t plow it and plant it and live on a single piece of it year-around. The Indian pattern was to leave enough roots and berry plants to ensure the next year’s harvest, and put the first salmon back in the river so he could tell his relatives to keep making their runs.

The whole notion of individual land ownership brought from Europe was antithetical to most Indian forms of land usage and tenure, and probably, as the whites moved west, the most crucial misunderstanding of all.

World War 2 veterans had seen other parts of the US and the world, were literate and capable of measuring their own lives—the boarding schools and the takeaways of languages and cultures—against those of other Americans. It’s been a long hard slog, and there is a long way to go, but Allen Pinkham was generally optimistic on Saturday night. “We’re teaching Nez Perce in the schools, from elementary to college classes,” and, of course, they are practicing traditional religion.

And adapting some of their traditional practices—Allen said that beading and basket-making, traditional women’s activities, are now done by men and women, and that women are now drumming and singing the ancient songs.

And he hinted that we—the huge non-Indian population, might be paying some attention to the old Indian ways of dealing with the water, forests, and other natural resources that we now share.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Race in America

I don’t know where I first heard or read that history books are often more about the time they are written in than the time they are written about. Several new books on Indians, and specifically the Nez Perce, support the idea.

O.O. Howard and Chief Joseph
I’m only 80 pages into the Vanderbilt professor Daniel Sharfstein’s just published Thunder in the Mountains: Chief Joseph, Oliver Otis Howard and the Nez Perce War. The first pages take us from the Civil War to Howard’s tenure as head of the Freedmen’s Bureau and responsibilities for the care of four million freed slaves. An early agonizing account follows General Howard, newly appointed head of the Freedmen’s Bureau, as he is dispatched to South Carolina by President Andrew Johnson; his task is to tell freed slaves who had been given “forty acres and a mule” by General Sherman that they must return the land to their former masters. This is a book about Reconstruction and race in America.

I’ll not argue about the horse and cart, whether a renewed interest in race helped propel Trump and his people into office, or whether Trump and his followers’ statements on race—and the opposition to them—have become the national conversation.  “Black Lives Matter” preceded this election cycle, and my thought is that the topic—race—has been welling for some time, that it emerged pronouncedly in the campaign, and that the authors and books dealing with race, which have always been there in some measure, are now moving through publishing channels at a fevered pitch.

Slavery and the Civil War have always been the starting points for discussion of race in America. What is different is that American Indians are now part of the discussion. General Howard of the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Nez Perce War is a natural vehicle for Indians’ entry into the race conversation.

But his is not the only story that brings Indians into the discussion of race in America. Another recent book, The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America, by Andrés Reséndez, reminds us that Columbus sent Indian slaves back to Europe, and that enslavement of American Indians was practiced on a grand scale across the continents.

Benjamin Madley’s An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846-1873 recounts the decimation and brutality carried out against the Indians of California. And in In the Earth is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West, historian Peter Cozzens, who has written much on the Civil War and on Western tribes, ties the stories together.

The Nez Perce story has been used to tell stories of military competence—and incompetence, of Westward expansion and the inevitable white progress across the continent that begins with Lewis and Clark. It has revealed stories of heroism, and of government betrayal, eloquent speech and the storybook endings of former foes in battle talking in comfort and mutual admiration in their retirements. It’s as though generals Howard and Gibbons sought opportunity to sit with Chief Joseph and, somehow, make things right. (The looks on Joseph’s tired face tell you that they are not.)

Now the Nez Perce Story becomes part of the conversation about America’s racial struggles.

David Osborne’s The Coming follows the Nez Perce story through the life of Daytime Smoke, William Clark’s Nez Perce son. Daytime Smoke is a true character that we know little about—he probably died in captivity after the War—but Osborne uses the story to talk about a failure of Indian-White relations with tragic consequences.

I’ve not made it through William Vollmann’s The Dying Grass, a 1300 page volume of historical fiction with footnotes, but know that it is the fourth or fifth volume in a projected series of seven—Seven Dreams—focused on the European conquest of America.  

In other words, expect more. And, as a friend with academic creds told me, “it’s about time that Indians become part of this conversation.”

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Bears Ears, Standing Rock, Indians and the Press

Well-known Utah writer Terry Tempest Williams wonders in a recent New York Times piece about the Trump administration’s executive orders and National Monuments. “Will Bears Ears Be the Next Standing Rock?” she asks.

Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition
Terry’s piece ran a couple of days ago. Two friends, one local and one in California, wanted to be sure that I saw it. I did.

My first thought was… good for Terry. She has the national reputation and the local knowledge to get the NYT to listen—and maybe to shake a few boots in Congress (this is not her first run at that noble body).  But…

my second cynical thought was that the Indian voices she raises will soon be drowned out. In the normal course of events, Indian stories and claims, even stories explosive or important enough to get immediate national press attention, move quickly to the back pages (if that even works as a metaphor anymore), and then out of everyday consciousness altogether.

More importantly, this series of front to back to nothing has repeated itself endlessly in the course of American history, so the sad legacy that precedes today’s story gets little attention. Maybe we in the majority do not want to see that history, or we have seen enough and think “not again” and go on to other thoughts.

For example: Never, with all the hoopla at Standing Rock—which made national news on and off for months—did I see analysis of the entire string of events going back to the Laramie Treaties of 1851 and 1868 and through the endless and most often futile-for-the-Indians historic interactions between Indians and the numerous federal agencies that led up to the crisis.

Reporters and politicians should have been required to read “Coyote Warrior,” Paul VanDevelder’s 2004 book about the government takeover of Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara homelands upstream from Standing Rock on the Missouri River. Rick Bass called it “Intense, heroic, patriotic... uplifting, wise, and instructive.” John Nichols said “compassionate and important.” Vine DeLoria Jr. said “this book captures the modern struggle for Indian rights.” But 2004 is a long time ago, the Mandan and Missouri a long way—well, a few hundred miles—from Utah and Bears Ears.

About Bears Ears, Terry Williams says that “After seven years of organizing, the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition — made up of the Hopi, Navajo, Uintah and Ouray Ute, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni Nations — played a key role in securing the protection of 1.35 million acres surrounding Bears Ears from development and resource extraction just before President Obama left office.”

So here again—in Utah—we have Indians dealing with the federal government for decades over sacred ground. When the Obama administration does something—designates land already in federal hands as a National Monument—there is immediate reaction by oil and mineral interests, and the “locals” who see their way of life upended by more tourists or fewer tourists or whatever— upended by putting Indian claims ahead of their own. My cynical take is that no matter what the outcome, the Indian story surrounding Bears Ears will move to the back pages quickly.  We will get the story quietly from the oil and mineral interests if they win, more vocally from the Sierra Club and environmental interests if the Monument designation stays.  Patient tribes will adapt—as they have for centuries, hoping for eventual vindication from the American public and the law.

We can and I do hope that with the good work of Terry Tempest Williams and others, Utah tribes will get their sacred lands secured before they are desecrated or flooded.  That they won’t have to wait for the flood and 40 years for legal and financial compensation as did the Mandans and Arikaras and Hidatsas; that they won’t get rolled over by Presidential politics as did the Sioux at Standing Rock.

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https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/06/opinion/sunday/will-bears-ears-be-the-next-standing-rock.html?emc=eta1&_r=0


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Osage--and Lucky to be Here


Where to start?

I just finished reading Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. I thought first about people I know—people of Osage blood—who are indeed “lucky to be here” in light of what happened in Osage County, Oklahoma in the first decades of the twentieth century.

And then “Osage Outrage” came to mind, as what started out as a novel-paced mystery became a litany of lies, deceit, greed, and cold-blooded murder. A novelist would not have left as many dangling unanswered questions, or so many people dead.

Finally, thoughts that could not be as easily captured in a few words came to mind: “It is a question in my mind,” said an Osage Tribal member prior to trial, “whether this jury is considering a murder case or not. The question for them to decide is whether a white man killing an Osage is murder—or merely cruelty to animals.”

“America’s original sin” came to mind. I remembered the first Europeans, Columbus’s crew, having to go to the Pope to decide whether new world people were indeed humans, possessed of souls, or some lower form of life. But three hundred years had passed from the time of the Papal Bull, which said that Indians did indeed have souls (and were thus capable of conversion), and the murders of scores—maybe hundreds—of Osage Indians in the pursuit of wealth. Were the killings mere evil deeds in pursuit of gold—or were they a continuing statement by White America that American Indians are lesser humans, or not humans at all?

I first heard bits of the story from the poet Elise Paschen, the daughter of prima ballerina Maria Tallchief. Tallchief was born in Oklahoma, the daughter of an Osage Indian father, and went from there to the world stage. Elise was at Fishtrap because she is a fine poet, and we were celebrating Indian writers that year. We called the celebration “Circling Back.” Elise read her poems, a couple of which hinted at the dark Osage past, and in conversation said that there was much more to learn and tell.

Sandy Osawa, the fine documentary filmmaker, who is Makah and was raised on that reservation in Washington, was at that Summer Fishtrap. Sandy produced an early morning NBC show on Indians in the mid-70s, and is now a highly regarded documentary filmmaker. Her credits include: In the Heart of Big Mountain, focusing on Navajo matriarch Kathrine Smith; Pepper’s Powwow, the story of Kaw-Muscogee jazz saxophonist Jim Pepper; and Lighting the Seventh Fire, a film about Chippewa spearfishing rights in Wisconsin.

Sandy and Elise became friends, and in 2007 Sandy released Maria Tallchief, which has been shown on PBS stations across the country.

The film mentions, but does not explore in depth, the Osage murders. In Killers of the Flower Moon, author David Grann does. It is a wicked story, beginning with government displacement of Indians, moving to oil discovery on the scrubby lands given the Osage, chronicling the extraordinary wealth of the Osage (the “wealthiest county in America,” for a time); exploring racial attitudes in Oklahoma and the country in the early 20th century, and then following the greed of a few white men—a trickle of evildoers that became a river of corruption and destruction. Reading it was a journey from interest through disbelief to disgust. I set it down sick to my stomach.

But the Osage survive. Maria Tallchief survived to give pleasure to millions as a dancer; her daughter Elise Paschen—we might call her a second generation Osage survivor—survives to give voice to Indian stories; and my friend Nancy Crenshaw, whose father was born on the Osage Reservation in the time of the murders, teaches the children of Wallowa County and, with her teacher son and a growing group of local community members, works with the Nez Perce towards reconciliation of white and Indian in their traditional Wallowa homeland.

Elise and Nancy are really “lucky to be here.” The woman or man murdered could have been grandfather or father rather than aunt, grandmother or mother rather than uncle. And we of course, are lucky too, richer—and not in oil or gold—for their survival.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Indian Art is American Art

A recent piece in the New York Times described a large collection of “modern” and American Indian art being donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The headline is telling: “Native American Treasures Head to the Met, This Time as American Art.”

Alvin Josephy talking in my ear again: “Indians don’t have biography or history; they have anthropology and archeology.” To that we can add “art.”

Peter Rindisbacher Circa 1822
Alvin scoured the country for art by and related to Indians, finding, for the first Indian book he edited, The American Heritage Book of Indians, the earliest European depictions of Native Americans. He wrote a book about Peter Rindisbacher, the European artist who introduced the world to Plains Indians in the early 1800s with drawings and paintings that were taken back to Europe by Hudson’s Bay people, engraved and sold across the continent. In 500 Nations, Josephy easily mixed the art of John White, George Catlin, and other early Europeans who drew and painted Indians with ancient Mayan and Mississippian art objects and photos and artwork of contemporary Indians.

I digress. If we remember anything of “Indian Art” from schools and popular culture, it is probably the totems and masks of the Kwaikutl and related Pacific Northwest tribes. Or the basketry and clay of Indians from the Southwest. But, in our own minds, we—and certainly most American textbooks and museums—are more likely to consider it the stuff of religion and function, artifacts and everyday living tools, rather than art. As Randy Kennedy points out in the Times piece, it is most often found “in the galleries for the Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas.”

I wonder if Alvin and Betty ever met Charles and Valerie Diker, who are making the donation to the Met? According to Kennedy, they “live in an apartment brimful of Native American pieces and American modernist painting just a few blocks from the museum, the Met’s curatorial decision is nothing less than a groundbreaking affirmation of the way they have thought about their collection for more than 40 years.”

20th century New Mexican Tewa potters
Maria and Julian Martinez 
“We always felt that what we were collecting was American art,” Mr. Diker said in a recent interview with the couple in their apartment. “And we always felt very strongly that it should be shown in that context.”

What a revelation! Indians make art, and they have for thousands of years, and Indian art, like that of European cave painters, the Impressionists, and Pablo Picasso, is art. In this case, it falls into the stream of American Art collected by a couple who always saw it as such, and are allowing the most famous American art museum to make the case for it.

And here is the rest of the Diker story:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/06/arts/design/native-american-treasures-head-to-the-met-this-time-as-american-art.html?emc=edit_th_20170407&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=66175474&_r=0

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Another Nez Perce book

Oregon Public Radio’s Dave Miller interviewed Daniel Sharfstein, author of the latest Nez Perce book, Thunder in the Mountains, yesterday on his “Think-Out-Loud” program. That came right on the heels of my reading David Osborne’s just released novel, The Coming, which is the Nez Perce story with William Clark’s Nez Perce son at its center.

Daytime Smoke, William Clark’s Nez Perce son
We know, by the way, that a Nez Perce woman bore Clark a son, Halaftooki (Daytime Smoke), and that he became a tribal elder who hoped his mixed heritage would insulate him from growing conflicts between Indians and white miners and settlers. When conflict broke out, however, he joined the non-treaties, and, as far as I know, died in captivity. Osborne’s book is a fine retelling of that story, with fictional characters and events scattered among the real ones to get Daytime Smoke from birth through the War.

But I digress. This new book, according to Miller’s interview with Sharfstein, follows the pre-Nez Perce career of O.O. Howard in the Civil War and as head of “The U.S. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands,” popularly known as the “Freedmen's Bureau,” established in 1865 to assist freed slaves in the reconstruction era.  Follows him to Portland, describes lectures on the Civil War he gave there (a general’s retirement program), and then describes Joseph’s prewar meanderings among the Cayuse, Umatilla, and white settlers of the Grande Ronde Valley.

Examination of the Nez Perce—and especially of the Nez Perce War—is a small industry. My friend, Mike Andrews, who grew up in La Grande, has read a lot of it, and wonders what kind of patterns there are, and why the burst of new books NOW. William Vollman’s The Dying Grass, a 900 page novel with footnotes!, came out less than two years ago; Osborne’s book a couple of months ago; and T.J. Stiles, in Portland recently to talk about a new biography of Custer, announced that his next book is Joseph.

Mike asks why all the Nez Perce books; I think the more specific question might be why all the Chief Joseph books. Joseph was handsome at a time when photography was new; Joseph had a proper Christian name people could pronounce. The Nez Perce had kicked the army’s butt during the War, and as that could not have been accomplished by a bunch of ignorant heathens, Joseph must have been a military genius, the “Red Napoleon,” as the newspapers called him. And this last of the Indian wars was indeed reported by Eastern newspapers. As Joseph learned as his people were transported from Bismarck by train after surrender, the new telegraph had played a part in the War. His surrender speech and later eloquent speeches about his lost homeland, the white man’s forked tongues and rules, and requests for fair treatment, would be published, and he would be photographed.

Although early books called it Chief Joseph’s War, later books pointed out that Joseph was never a war chief—but Looking Glass and his brother Ollokot, who had been war chiefs, were dead at Bears Paw, White Bird crossed to Canada, and it was Joseph who surrendered.

And Joseph, the diplomat, who would lead his people in captivity for eight long years in the “hot country,” and, eventually, after meetings with Congress and Presidents, badgering of generals and politicians, and astute lobbying of the local and national Presbyterians, lead them back to the West.

As some one—or many—have said, history is often more about the time it is written in than the time it is written about. I would like to line up all of the Nez Perce books –455 titles now in our SAGE Library System—and see what patterns emerge.

More importantly, what histories might our times call for?

I’ve heard much about Joseph’s War, the Nez Perce War, Indian wars; it might be time to look at Indian diplomacy, at patience and endurance amidst chaos, at survival against all odds, at revival of culture and language in an electronic age, at purpose and will and heroism off the battlefield that have kept the Nez Perce, and Indian peoples across North America, alive.

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Friday, April 7, 2017

So the President lied?

Which president, which time?

President Ulysses S. Grant
Indian trails of tears are littered with Presidential lies. We could pick almost any one, but why not take the hero of the Civil War and the man on the $50 bill. He had some interesting dealings with the Nez Perce, so I am somewhat familiar with President Grant’s “Peace Policy” and stated attempts to do better by Indians than had his predecessors.

The Nez Perce had signed a treaty with the nation in 1855 that left them much of their traditional homeland, including the Wallowa Country. In 1863, gold was found on that reservation in Idaho, so the government negotiated a new treaty, centered in Lapwai, Idaho, which reduced the size of the reservation by about 90 percent. Old Joseph and the chiefs of several other Nez Perce bands did not sign, and Joseph went back to the Wallowas, where no gold had been discovered, and where he was briefly left alone.

Grant was elected in 1868. The Wallowa Country, which had been surveyed with the 1863 treaty (during the Civil War!), got its first white settlers in 1871, about the time that Old Joseph died and his son became the band’s headman. The first settlers and Indian hosts tried to get along, though fences and seasonal migrations immediately brought conflict.

Encouraged by the Presbyterian Indian Agent John Montieth (the Peace Policy gave tribal administration to the churches), knowing that Joseph’s Band had not signed the 1863 treaty (and that no Wallowa gold had been found) President Grant proposed a new treaty in 1873, giving the Indians half of the Wallowas. The government went so far as appraising improvements on the way to buying out settlers.

It of course didn’t happen—the “Proposed Reservation for Roaming Nez Perce Indians in the Wallowa Valley of Oregon” died when Indians did not build picket fences and “settle down” on the land and new settlers came into the Valley. The end of that series of broken promises was the Nez Perce War of 1877.

But here’s a new one I just learned about Grant’s dealing with Indians. The article in the March issue of the Smithsonian Magazine is titled “Ulysses S. Grant Launched an Illegal War against the Plains Indians, Then Lied About It.” And here are a couple of pertinent quotes:

“He had no legal reason for seizing the Black Hills, so he invented one, convening a secret White House cabal to plan a war against the Lakotas. Four documents, held at the Library of Congress and the United States Military Academy Library, leave no doubt: The Grant administration launched an illegal war and then lied to Congress and the American people about it. The episode hasn’t been examined outside the specialty literature on the Plains wars…

“In 1980, the Supreme Court ruled that the Lakotas were entitled to damages for the taking of their land. The sum, uncollected and accruing interest, now exceeds $1 billion. The Lakotas would rather have the Black Hills.”

And they would rather not have a pipeline either, but that is another series of lies. Here’s the link to the full story on Grant, the Sioux, and Custer:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/ulysses-grant-launched-illegal-war-plains-indians-180960787/

Friday, March 17, 2017

It’s the Water!

Photo by Edward Sheriff Curtis of Nez Perce Dugout Canoe
A couple of summers ago Allen Pinkham Jr. was here at the Josephy Center teaching workshops. He did a few days of beading and a few making drums with a handful of people interested in the crafts and the Nez Perce Indians who had developed them. At the end of his stay, Allen told me that “We Nez Perce were canoe people you know. I’d like to come back here and carve a dugout canoe.”

That conversation sent me on a journey that landed enough grant funds to bring Allen back—in fact, he’s due in tonight with his father and with Bob Chenoweth from the Nez Perce National Historical Park in Spalding, Idaho. Bob’s made a study of historic Nez Perce canoes— there are only a handful in existence, and the park has four of them—and will do a program based on his research. Allen Sr. will chip in with stories of canoes and Nez Perce traditions.

Without stealing any of their thunder, I’ll say that that initial conversation with Allen and subsequent talks, reading, and thinking have me looking at regional history in different ways.  I asked Allen Sr. one time if you stopped someone in downtown Lewiston and asked him or her what two words they associated with Nez Perce, what would they say. “The War and horses,” we almost answered my question together.

Water was here before the horse (which the Nez Perce didn’t get until about 1730), and Indians were using canoes on rivers and lakes well after the advent of the horse. Think about it. Lewis and Clark traveled a good share of their miles by water—rafts on the Missouri; and the Nez Perce helped them build canoes that took them to the sea.  In the Journals, they note few horses and many canoes on the Columbia.

David Thompson and the fur traders would pack trade goods on boats and horses, moving from one to the other with the terrain, building new canoes, trading canoes for horses, and on and on.  Locally, it’s obvious that historically, traveling the length of Wallowa Lake would have been a lot easier by water than horseback.

On the other end of the scale, Dr. Loren Davis, an archeologist from Oregon State University, told a recent audience at Wallowology next door that the first immigrants to the Americas probably came by sea, bouncing along the Pacific Shore to the tip of South America. That, and not the land bridge (the times of newer finds are pushing that date back and taking their toll on land bridge theory) is how the Americas were populated as extensively and widely as we now know they were.

Stories go on. This week’s local paper heralds the return of coho salmon to the Lostine River and the Grande Ronde Basin. Similar efforts by Nez Perce Fisheries, and by the Yakima Nation and the Umatilla have reinforced or reintroduced salmon populations across the region. Aaron Penny, a Nez Perce Fisheries worker and tribal member, says that the losses of fish over the last 100 years were like “losing your soul.”

The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation Natural Resources Department has a program called “first foods.” The tenant of the program is that if we take care of our foods in the way they are served in the longhouse, we’ll have a healthier environment and healthier bodies. And it all, of course, starts with water. Without clear, healthy water there are no salmon, and then no deer and the other four-leggeds and two leggeds that comprised traditional diet. And without clean and good rain there would be no strong roots and abundant huckleberries to finish the longhouse meal.

The biggest and most important water battle fought by tribes in the past 100 years was probably the fight on Northwest Rivers that led to the Boldt Decision and the determination that half the catch belonged to Indians. For their part, the Indians are restoring habitat and doing all they can with mitigation money to increase the size of that catch.

And simultaneously, from coastal tribes in Washington to these Nez Perce in their traditional Wallowa Homeland, Indians are building canoes again, reclaiming cultural heritage, showing the world that the water has always been and is still primal.

I’m tempted to go on, and tie it all to Standing Rock. But water is water everywhere, and you can do that.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Great White Father

The Dakota Access Pipeline says they have drilled under the water and have just a bit of work to do before oil begins to flow. Earth Justice has filed an appeal on behalf of the Standing Rock Sioux, and other tribes have filed other suits, but there is no word that the courts will step in and halt this threat to water and affront to Indian sovereignty.  

This after: years of deceptive practices by the oil companies in obtaining clearances for the pipeline; years after another route, one above the town of mostly-white Bismarck, was rejected; months after Obama’s executive order to halt construction and the Army Corps of Engineers’ agreement to do a full environmental impact study (rather than the cursory, expedited one they did in the first place) halted construction; and weeks after President Trump erased that effort with another Presidential executive order contravening the previous one and demanding a speed-up of the whole affair. And this drilling and flowing despite months of vigorous protest by water protectors from some 300 tribes across the Americas and allied environmental and veteran groups from across the nation.

Where have they all gone? The protectors? The veterans? The environmental action groups? The Press?

I am sure that many of the tribal people went home to confront like issues on their own reservations.  Home might be Oklahoma, where there is a Pawnee lawsuit against oil companies over the earthquakes that are disrupting their lives. The earthquakes that are conclusively tied to the fracking perpetrated by the oil companies. Some of the Indians maybe went home to Navajo land, where there are uranium tainted water troubles. Or to any number of other tribal places where water and fish and game are still important to tribal members.

And maybe the veterans, the environmental activists, and the press have gone on to other important causes not related to the Pawnee or other Indian tribes. Maybe they are busy with the women’s day protest this Wednesday. Maybe they are fighting the Republican answer to the Affordable Care Act. Or worrying about the new anti-EPA appointments in the EPA office.

But from my perch in the Josephy Library, with Alvin looking over my shoulder, and with a new novel of the Nez Perce and their tragic history my current reading, another idea comes to mind. It’s not an idea I like much, or one white Americans can be proud of, but Alvin’s words, and the Lewis and Clark scenes in David Osborne’s novel, The Coming, remind me that from the beginning and for generations, white America greeted tribes with a story of the Great White Father in Washington who had their best interests—as well as those of the missionaries, the settlers, the oil and uranium and coal companies—at heart.

Lewis and Clark brought Peace Medals, and encouraged the tribes to get along with each other and the white newcomers. The fur trade brought pots and pans, potatoes and trade cloth—and guns—and encouraged the tribes to trap and participate in the new economy. Missionaries brought seeds and plowshares, and The Book, with stories of sin and redemption, divine intervention in this world and burning or exalting in the next. (They of course brought their messages in different versions—Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, etc.—and, to the consternation of tribal peoples, fought over them.) Settlers and developers have brought “progress” always.

The way Alvin put it, a predominant white view of Indians from the beginning was that they were like children, and we—the white interveners—would, with education, religion, seeds and plows, grow them up to be like us. It strikes me on this gray day when Indians are losing their pipeline fight, and waging lonely fights to keep land, water, game, and fish in places across the country, attitudes haven’t changed much.

They—tribal peoples—are quaint and parochial, still needing education and training in the ways of the civilized world. We—the white majority and the leaders in politics, business, and environmental activism; the Governor of North Dakota and the Great White Father in Washington himself—know how the world works and what is best for All Americans.

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Two World War II Heroes

Gwen Coffin with Senator Bob Packwood
February 19 marked the 75th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, authorizing the removal of any or all people from military areas “as deemed necessary or desirable.” The military then defined the entire West Coast, home to the majority of Americans of Japanese ancestry or citizenship, as a military area. And although race or ethnicity were not mentioned in the order, the Japanese-Americans on the West Coast—citizens or no—were targeted for removal.

In the middle of a “just war” against Fascism and Imperial Japanese expansion over peoples across the Pacific, Gwen Coffin, the editor of the Wallowa County Chieftain, rose to challenge President Roosevelt and Executive Order 9066. From his far outpost in Wallowa County he spoke to remind people of who we are and why we were fighting. It was a brave thing to do. I remember him saying once, with a chuckle, that the barber would not cut his hair; I am sure there were more serious threats.

In the troubled times in which we live, when religion and national origin are again topics of the day, and again related to real battles with real bullets, it is worth carefully reading Gwen Coffin’s courageous words of April 8, 1943:

“Much of the resentment on the West Coast toward the Japanese was not the outgrowth of the war but arose during peacetime as the Japanese achieved some success and prominence in their pursuit of agriculture and trade. Many employers preferred to see the Japanese remain in the ranks of the low paid wage earners. Others were resentful at the sight of Japanese prospering….

“It is foreign to our conceptions of democracy, however, to distinguish between peoples on the basis of color or nationality. There should be only one test for the right to share in the opportunities which this country provides, and that is the test of belief in our democratic ideals and government, and a willingness to work with other Americans to further those ideals and to support this government.”

This anniversary reminded me that we addressed WW II in 1994, at the seventh annual Summer Fishtrap Gathering at Wallowa Lake. My vivid memories of that July meeting involve three people: Jean Wakatsuki Houston, Richard White, and Alvin Josephy. Houston had grown up during the War in a Japanese Internment camp in California, and written a book about it, Farewell to Manzanar. Manzanar is most widely known as the site of one of ten camps in the United States of America to which over 110,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly moved and then held under Order 9066 during World War II.

And I remember historian Richard White telling us that the Japanese in America were not a threat—any with dangerous ties to the Japanese government were known to our government, and if Americans of Japanese ancestry were serious threats, those on Hawaii should also have been rounded up and incarcerated. They were not, because the Japanese there were crucial to the economy and our war effort.

The internment, White said, was done out of war hysteria for purposes of propaganda.

As it turned out of course, many Japanese-Americans served with great distinction in the European theater, no Japanese Americans were prosecuted for spying, and, in 1988, President Reagan apologized and awarded $20,000 to each of over 100,000 camp detainees still alive at the time.

Finally, I remember Alvin Josephy playing his recording of the Marine landing at Guam. Alvin, a Marine Corps Combat Correspondent, had walked the last quarter mile with a microphone covered by a condom against the seawater, tethered to the recording machine in the belly of a halftrack by a 40-foot cord. He said later that he became numb as he talked his way to shore, passing bodies of comrades—over 20 of the 32 on his boat were hit in that quarter mile. On the day in 1994, tears in his eyes as he and we listened to a recording of shouts and cries, gunfire and engine noise, he rose and said that “some of us felt guilty about coming home alive.”

He stepped down from the stage, where Jean Wakatsuki Houston stood to give him a hug, tears in her eyes too.

I replayed all of this in my mind as I listened to news reports on Sunday, February 19, the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066. World War II was a dangerous juncture in our nation’s history. Thousands of Americans and millions of Germans, Russians, French, English, Japanese and others died in that War.

There were heroes in the War, as in any war. Alvin Josephy would not have called himself a hero, but in my mind he was, putting his own life on the line to write about his fellow Marines, and to remind them and the American public of how and what they were fighting for. Gwen Coffin was a hero too, reminding us of our better selves in a time when it was not easy or popular to do so.

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