Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Generational Wreckage of Boarding Schools

It was the week after Albert and Veronica Redstar, brother and sister elders of the Joseph or Wallowa Band of the Nez Perce from the Colville Reservation in Washington, talked about 140 years of exile. The audience was 45 workers and board members from Wallowa County’s government agencies and non-profits. The exile dated to the Nez Perce War of 1877, which took the Wallowa Band across the Snake River in spring flood on an unwanted journey to a reduced reservation in Idaho. An uprising of young Indians against cruel white settlers set off a war, a fighting retreat that ended five months and almost 1400 miles east and north, 40 miles from the Canadian border at Bear’s Paw, Montana. From a famous surrender there the Indians were herded to Bismarck, North Dakota, and then to Kansas and Oklahoma Indian Territory.

Eventually, through the extraordinary diplomatic efforts of their leader, Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, known to us as Chief Joseph, they were allowed to return to the West, and about half of the returnees went to the Idaho reservation. Joseph was not allowed that small reward, and he and 149 followers ended up on the Colville Reservation in north central Washington with the Moses Band. Albert and Veronica are descendants of that group of Nez Perces—still in exile from their ancestral Wallowas.

Their words about loss, and the rifts and reconciliations among the people were vivid and striking. Their remaining attachment to this Wallowa Country is palpable.

They’d meant to talk some about the continuing oppressions by government agencies and officials in the 132 years they have lived on the Colville Reservation, about the government regulations regarding language, songs, music and regalia; the Allotment Act that would turn them all into yeoman farmers; about Termination and Relocation. And about Indian boarding schools. No one was sorry that they ran out of time talking about their own people, the loss on leaving and the years of displacement. I thought I could take a few minutes to address the topic at the next class.

So on the final week of our class, when Wenix Red Elk was to talk about natural resources and about the unique program on the Umatilla Reservation that ties the First Foods served in the long house to land and natural resource management, I asked that we take a few minutes at the beginning of the class to show a short video, a trailer for a longer movie, on the boarding school experience.

I found the story of Walter Littlemoon a few years ago. Walter was born the same year I was, 1942, and grew up in South Dakota, about 300 miles from my own Minnesota birthplace. I lived with parents and, during the war, with my mother and her parents. When Walter was five years old, he was taken from his parents and put in boarding school. Years and years later, Walter is the subject of a documentary called “The Thick Dark Fog,” which described the way he had long felt and became the title of his life story as he retraced it with a filmmaker.

We watched the three minutes, and Wenix, with tears in her eyes, rose to speak. She had not seen this particular video, but the experience of the boarding schools was in her bones—“We forgot how to parent,” she said, “and lost our traditional ways of bringing up children.” And not just for one generation. That loss, Wenix said, is with her people still, with her still. I don’t know but don’t think she went to a boarding school, and if she did so, it was long after severe abuses were discovered and mitigated if not corrected. But that loss is still visibly with her.

I used this video in a class I taught last year at Eastern Oregon, and students were outraged—“We did that?” they said. And I was satisfied that I had awakened something, some new kind of empathy, in them. But I missed then what Wenix felt last week. I missed the generational loss of culture, the longing that some young Indians feel today for the lessons stolen from their grandparents and great grandparents, and therefor so difficult to pass on today.

The sins of “our” fathers visited on Indian people.

Thick Dark Fog trailer

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Oops!



All that chronicling of activities and soft pitch for funds---and no information on HOW to contribute to the Josephy Center.

1. You can make a check out to the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture (Josephy Center enough), and mail it to PO Box 949/ Joseph, Oregon 97846.

or, you can click on the link below and make a donation on line:

https://josephy.org/donate/#donate

Thanks much--and enjoy your holiday!
rich

Monday, November 19, 2018

A pitch into the future

Dear Friends,

(Uh oh! Sounds like he is going to ask for money—yes, but nicely.)

First, I want to tell you what a privilege it is to work at the Josephy Center.  Exhibits are fun—and fun to be a part of. Seeing classes and students, from pre-schoolers to adults, trying paint or clay for the first time can make my day.

And the opportunity to work with the books, papers, and people that are all part of the Josephy Library is just too good. It is humbling to listen to Nez Perce elders who remember their War and exile generationally, as if it were yesterday. It is exciting to hear an elder tell us that some of the kokanee in Wallowa Lake—“The ones trying to get out at the base of the dam”—will find their way to the ocean if given a chance, that a sockeye salmon run, gone for 130 years, is possible again with fish passage at a rebuilt Wallowa Lake Dam. And it is thrilling to see sisters from California and Wisconsin meeting here to celebrate their grandmother’s 1918 climb of Eagle Cap with the Portland based Mazamas.

Research, I’ve come to know, is not just the book writer or movie documentarian’s province, but what we all do when we explore the past and the world around us. It’s elementary kids reading books out of our “Nez Perce Teaching Box,” and the people coming in now with faded photos to give us for the January-February “Wallowa Country, pre-World War II” exhibit. It’s Allen Pinkham figuring out how to build a Nez Perce dugout canoe.

And sculptor Doug Hyde finding the right Nez Perce word for “The Return,” the name he wants for the stone and bronze piece that will go in our front yard this spring. We actually got an answer to his question from Haruo Aoki, the 90 year-old linguist who has spent decades saving and cataloging the Nez Perce language. I can’t make the marks on my computer to show you the Nez Perce word—but I’ll figure it out by the time the sculpture is installed this summer. (We have it in the Nez Perce Dictionary on our shelves.)

That will be a great event, with drums and song and salmon to celebrate—and you will be invited.

The Library and I have been with the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture for seven years—from the beginning. The board is concerned about the future: “What are the Library succession plans?” “How will it be funded?” Current board chair Jeff Costello says the Library is “in our DNA.” But how does that carry into the future?

Good questions. I just turned 76, and although I have no plans to quit this wonderful gig anytime soon, I have to admit that I won’t go on forever. But I know more than ever that the Library and the Josephy Center will go on—we’ve become an important part of this Wallowa Community, and, in my mind, an important window between Indian and non-Indian, urban and rural, present and past. It will be a great job for the lucky man or woman—maybe one of you out there with a passion for the past and its importance today—who steps into it. For now, I want a few more good licks myself on the way to retirement.

Help me do that! Your donation now will support the Library and help keep this wonderful organization and fine building lit and alive with art and learning, words, music, sculpture, pots, glazes, a printing press and blog posts about Coho salmon, seven drums, dugout canoes, and the work of my old mentor and our namesake, Alvin M. Josephy, Jr.

Rich Wandschneider, still learning to be a librarian--and loving it!

Monday, November 12, 2018

Lessons from the Redstars

Veronica “Ronnie” and Albert Redstar (w me)
Sometime this summer, Kathleen Ackley, director of the Wallowa Land Trust, asked me to put together a class about Nez Perce history for local agency and non-profit workers who work with tribes. She wanted me to recruit speakers from the Tribes to be part of the presentations. Her thought was that a better understanding of Tribal history and culture would lead to better working relationships.

So in good white-man fashion, I put together a series of five Thursday programs that would trace, roughly, the history and activities of the Nez Perce Indians in the Wallowas from ancient times to the present. It’s been good, and as always in these things, when you are asked to teach—or to organize teaching—you end up learning. In this case learning to rethink my own linear notions of time and space.

Last week was week four, and I had asked Albert Andrews Redstar and his sister, Veronica “Ronnie” Redstar, to talk about the period of exile for the Wallowa or Joseph band of the Nez Perce after the War of 1877. Their journey, which started in the Wallowas, went from War—the five month, 1400 mile fighting retreat that is chronicled in dozens of books—to exile in Indian Territory to exile on the Colville Reservation in north central Washington. I thought maybe they could talk about how they, the Wallowa or Joseph Band, had become divided from other Nez Perces, how living among the mostly Salish speakers of the other Indians on the Colville had been and is, and about continuing efforts of the American government and most of its population towards assimilation of Indian peoples.

From Albert’s opening words to their closing song—a song that traveled from the Wallowas to Bear’s Paw to Indian Territory to Colville, and now home—the notion that history is some kind of linear journey that we find ourselves on, propelled by the past on an arrow toward the future, I was reminded of how white and Judeo-Christian that notion of history is. The past, Albert and Ronnie told us, is not over and the future is not an arrow. Naming ancestors on paternal and maternal sides—and maternal and paternal sides of grandparents!—linked them and their children to names and places across miles and decades—even across what we would call tribal lines.

The exile has been profound—being cast out of the Wallowas, suffering in the “hot country,” and returned to live among Indians of other languages, cultures, and religions was and is often agonizing. But they showed us, in words and gesture and song, that this Wallowa Land is a lodestone, a true magnetic center that will not fade, and despite everything that has gone before, this land, which brings tears to them still as they come into it from afar, is still a joy to them.

Land and culture, fish, sky, words, and song, are not points or lines on a map—or in a book, but life that is held onto through family and ceremony.

There were stories of relations with people on the Umatilla Reservation and on the Nez Perce Reservation at Lapwai, stories of Nez Perce who did make it to Canada, fleeing cold and hunger at Bear’s Paw in Montana. There was a grandmother who took them to Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist churches—and to the Long House where Seven Drums is practiced. There was the pain of being called “heathen,” and the barriers that religion has fostered. And the pride and joy of leading a service, ringing a bell.

There is something about living orally, face to face, words to words, hand gesture and facial turns, that is both primal and excitingly “new” to an audience of white men and women steeped in books, screens, and electronic devices.

So thank you Albert and Ronnie—I wish I could write and say your Indian names, and maybe someday I will. Until then, many happy returns to your land. We’ll do our best to care for it while you are away.

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