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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