Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Dams, Fish, Controversy--June events!

If you are “in the territory” in June!

Salmon talk—and controversy—today is about “spills” on Columbia and Snake River dams to help push salmon smolt to the sea.  Fifty and sixty years ago it was about getting salmon upriver to native spawning grounds.

The June exhibit at the Josephy Center, funded in part by a “Arts Build Communities” grant from the Oregon Arts Commission, opens on Saturday, June 2 at 4:00 p.m. It builds on one that Tamástslikt Cultural Institute on the Umatilla Reservation did last year on Celilo and the dam at The Dalles. They called it “Progress vs. Protest,” and told stories of the economic and energy gains—and the losses of fish and Indian culture on the Big River. In planning this exhibit, Tamástslikt Director Bobbie Conner suggested that we localize, with stories of the dam at Wallowa Lake and the High Mountain Sheep Dam—the one that did not get built—joining text and photos from Celilo.

Wallowa Lake Dam-1916. Photo courtesy Edsal White
The Josephy Center asked Joe Whittle to research the Wallowa Lake dams, and Jon Rombach to take on High Mountain Sheep. The result is an exhibit that gives background on the march of dams on the Columbia, a good accounting of the flooding of the ancient fishing site at Celilo with the construction of The Dalles Dam, and tells important local stories about dams, fish, and tribal culture.

Early settlers scooped sockeye salmon out of Wallowa Lake by the thousands, and failed to realize the species’ special migration pattern from Ocean to river, lake, and headwaters—and back to the sea. But the understanding of all salmon by the scientists of the day—the late 1800s and early 1900s—was off the mark. Thinking that native streams were not important—that Pacific salmon would randomly find a river to travel—scientists thought they could make up for the huge cannery harvests on the Columbia with hatcheries and moving eggs and smolts from one river to the next. Locally, dams and hatcheries at Minam and Troy, the experts thought, would easily replace the fish the settlers were harvesting on upper rivers and in Wallowa Lake.

No one bothered to ask the Indians.

In this exhibit we include the Indian stories of dams and salmon. And several special programs will allow for discussion of dams and fish. The revitalized Associated Ditch Company will talk about the present and future of the Wallowa Lake Dam at a June 12 Brown Bag, and Nez Perce Fisheries biologists Brian Simmons and Lora Tennant will describe how Imnaha salmon and steelhead fare as they migrate through the hydrosystem on a June 19 Brown Bag. That Tuesday evening Nez Perce elder and Fisheries veteran Silas Whitman will talk about culture, salmon, and the Snake River dams, with special attention to the one that did not get built. He’ll be able to point to a topographical map in the exhibit that shows how much of Hells Canyon and the Imnaha River corridor would have disappeared under “Lake Imnaha."

Other programs are in the works, and Allen Pinkham Jr. will continue his dugout canoe carving in June. The exhibit runs the entire month, but please put the opening, the big splash on June 2 at 4:00 p.m., on your calendar. Tamástslikt Director Bobbie Conner will be here to help launch the show.

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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Nez Perce Scores

Mark Eubanks recently brought me the score of a musical work called “The Chief Joseph Legend: A Choral Symphony in Five Parts.” Mark is a long-time bassoonist with the Oregon Symphony who retired to Wallowa County a few years ago, but finds time to take his bassoon over the hill to play with the Walla Walla Symphony Orchestra. There is a connection between “The Chief Joseph Legend” and the Orchestra, and Mark thinks the score and material related to it should be in the Josephy Library.

More on that in a minute.

I immediately thought about “Nez Perce: Promises,” a piece commissioned for the Caritas Chorale in Ketchum, Idaho by its conductor, Dick Brown. The composer was David Alan Ernest, and the librettist Diane Josephy Peavey. I was lucky enough to attend the “world premier” in the Lapwai High School Gymnasium in June 2012. We have the program—with lyrics but not the score—in the Library.

The composer of “Chief Joseph Legend,” John Verrall, had been Mark Eubank’s instructor at the University of Washington years ago. Verrall was born in Iowa, studied in London and Budapest, and spent several summers at Tanglewood with Aaron Copland and other American musical luminaries.

Yaacov Bergman, then and still conductor of the Walla Walla Symphony Orchestra— where Eubank now plays his bassoon—had suggested the subject of the 1988 work to Verrall. Bergman was born in Israel, and in addition to his post in Walla Walla conducts the Portland Chamber Orchestra.

Two symphonic pieces telling some part of the Nez Perce story join hundreds of folk songs, books, articles, poems, stories, sculptures, paintings and drawings related to the story—many of them hinged directly to the most famous Nez Perce leader, Chief Joseph, or Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekht (Thunder traveling over the Mountains). They all confirm my growing idea that the Nez Perce Story has become an American Odyssey, and that Chief Joseph is our Odysseus, the tormented leader exiled from his own land and longing for return.

Writers, composers, artists of all kinds recognize this on picking up the smallest thread of the story, and then work it into their own American narrative. In fact, the Nez Perce and Joseph narrative is powerful enough to attract an international audience and artists like Bergman—and to specially attract the attention of Americans who have left home and looked at their own land from foreign lands, like Verrall.

Diane is of course Alvin Josephy’s daughter. I remember how nervous she was in creating the text for “Nez Perce; Promises.” Being her father’s daughter and an experienced writer in her own right, Diane went immediately to tribal elders for help with the work. Diane also had a history of working and traveling abroad. And her father came to the Nez Perce Story fewer than six years removed from the beaches of Iwo Jima in World War II. In his memoir, Alvin describes finding a “great American epic.”

At the Josephy Library, it is not only professional and amateur writers and artists who come clinging to a page of the Nez Perce Story, but readers and listeners too. And they come from across the world. This week it was a retired pediatrician from Orcus Island who had worked with tribal people throughout his career, but only recently happened on “the story.” He’d read Kent Nerburn’s Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce, and Sharfstein’s Thunder in the Mountains, and that was enough to bring him here. He thinks he will visit Nespelem next, and plans on coming here again.

A few weeks ago it was a retired American History professor from New York, who had not read Indian stories seriously until he retired. He started with the Navajo, and came here for the Nez Perce. Last summer there were visitors from Japan and Germany and Hawaii, come to see the land of the Nez Perce.

Identifying the phenomenon is the simple part. The question, which I have raised from time to time and know will continue to come back to, is about the growing interest in the Nez Perce Story. And why now?

One day we’ll have a symposium or a gathering to consider this. For now, let’s continue collecting evidence—the stories in word and song, stone and bronze; and the writers and composers and painters who are drawn to the Story.

Send me yours!

p.s. Yaacov Bergman will be at the Josephy Center at noon on July 10 to discuss the “Chief Joseph Legend” and tell us what he knows about its composition.

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Wednesday, May 2, 2018

What DNA says


Viking Travels
A few years ago my sister had a DNA profile done. To her surprise, the family stories, passed down from Minnesota Germans and Norwegians, that said our mother’s people were pure Scandinavian and dad’s side was all German, turned out to be more complicated.

Our maternal grandfather came to Minnesota from Hadland, Norway, in the early 1900s, when he was in his teens. He married another Norwegian, whose family had arrived in Minnesota in the 1880s, and they made a family. They spoke Norwegian at home—until mom, their first child, went to school and was made fun of by other kids. Although grandpa spoke with a severe accent, the slap at his daughter rankled him, and he had enough English to declare himself American and English as the language spoken in the house from that day forward.

Dad’s side is a little murkier, but Wandschneiders and Steindorfs came to the States in the great migration out of Germany in the late 1800s. Grandmother was a Steindorf born and raised in Minnesota; our grandfather was not yet two on his arrival. Dad said that his grandparents did not speak English, but we never knew them, and I never heard his parents—our own grandparents—speak German. Maybe they too had decided “to be American.”

Here is the DNA breakdown that my sister got back from the testers:

Scandinavia—30%
Eastern Europe—28%
British Isles—21%
West & Central Europe—17%
Asia Minor—3%
And then traces from Africa and South America!

Two thoughts came immediately to my mind: the marauding Vikings and the shifting borders in Central and Eastern Europe. Germans and Germanic people have slipped and slid across empires and countries from Central Asia to Western Europe for millennia. And the Norsemen made repeated raids in the British Isles, and certainly brought women home with them. Their travels also included the Mediterranean, where they would have run into slavers that might account for African traces. Viking travels and world-wide slavery can probably also account for South American traces.

Borders have always shifted and people have always traveled--even before there were nations. The first thing to remember is that nation-states are a relatively recent historical category, that more than likely most of the world for most of history identified by local tribe—and language—rather than as members of a German, Norwegian, or Ghanaian nation.

Which ties into my interest in the twin evolutions of Manifest Destiny and the American concept of whiteness. In a review of a new book, Making the White Man’s West: Whiteness and the Creation of the American West, by Jason Pierce, in the Oregon Historical Quarterly, Jennifer Kerns explains how Anglo-Americans fueled the westward movement and the taking of Indian lands as “lesser” groups of whites—Irish, Slavs, Eastern Europeans—filled eastern cities and industrial jobs: “Boosters of the West… intellectually imagined the West as a restorative place for Anglo pioneers whose inherent character was at risk of decline when located in the urban East among ‘motley’ immigrants.” I’ve said it before: In its time Manifest Destiny was not about the white—or even European—westward expansion. It was about the Anglo notion of empire and superiority being passed from British Anglos to Anglo-Americans.

Jason Pierce also explains how the railroads, operating with the largesse of the federal government in allotting them Western lands, went to Europe and recruited Germans and Scandinavians they thought hardier and more industrious than other whites. So these Scandinavian and German men (because our history is almost always about men) eventually joined the lead—Anglo-American—jockeys riding Manifest Destiny to the Pacific Ocean.

Only later, in my mind after and in part as a consequence of World War II, did those “lesser” groups of whites become the right kind of white.

The Indians were more complicated. Apparently some early Puritans thought them one of Israel’s lost tribes, and the Mormons found a special place for them in their theology. Some Europeans even mimicked or joined tribal peoples, but for the most part, from Plymouth forward, the Indians were only an obstacle for Anglo-Americans on their march to the Western Sea. Indians--who had grown across two continents and evolved 2500 languages and tribal cultures--died of diseases the immigrants brought from another world, fought when they could, continued to move and mix genes with other tribes and eventually with some Euro-Americans, and miraculously held onto some older languages and markers of identity.

The new DNA analysis business shows us a world as complicated as the 2500 indigenous American languages added to those of other continents. And “the right kind of white,” like my sister’s DNA, is obviously more complicated than many of its defenders would like to know. What modern DNA analyses tell us is that ultimately, as far as the human race is concerned, we’re all related.

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