Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The American Indian Religious Freedom Act

"The American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978  protects the rights of Native Americans to exercise their traditional religions by ensuring access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites.”

Alvin Josephy explained that in America, prior to this act, one could be a Buddhist, Methodist, Catholic, Hasid, Hindu, or Sikh, and your right to practice your religion was protected. But in the eyes of the government--and most Euro-Americans--what Indians had was not religion, but “mumbo jumbo.”

Alvin further said that the “Peace Policy” of President Grant was the biggest abrogation of the Constitutionally protected freedom of religion in the country’s history. Here is an explanation from the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian:

"During the 1870s, in what was seen as a progressive decision, the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant assigned 13 Protestant denominations to take responsibility for managing more than 70 Indian agencies on or near reservations (leading the Catholic Church quickly to establish the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions). In 1887, the Dawes Act dividing tribal lands into individual allotments included a provision allowing religious organizations working among Indians to keep up to 160 acres of federal land to support their missions.”

Christianity was a major tool in the government’s assimilation arsenal, missionaries their weapons. In the 1880s, the Code of Indian Offenses gave reservation authorities authority to punish Indians--by withholding rations or on-reservation imprisonment, for practicing religion with dances and regalia, and especially for being religious leaders, so called “medicine men.”

In the 1880s also, the system of boarding schools became another tool in the battle of assimilation. Hair was cut, languages banned, and church attendance required. But the darkest part of the boarding school era was the breaking up of Indian families. Parents were cajoled, threatened, and bribed to give their young children over to the boarding schools.

It all makes for several bleak chapters in our past. But it is also a story of Indian resilience in the face of it all. That the Freedom of Religion Act was passed is one sign. That dances and powwows are held throughout the country, and that there is a new longhouse--an Indian Church--on the Nez Perce Homeland grounds right here in Wallowa County, Oregon are other signs.

In troubling times, we can all take heart from American Indians, who have endured and accommodated, learned to live in the 21st century while holding to traditional values--and religion--in spite of all efforts to erase them.

# # #



Friday, August 9, 2019

Doug Hyde—Artist

Like many Natives, Doug Hyde was born off-reservation, is of mixed tribal descent, and is a veteran of the Vietnam War. Unlike most, but still a significant number of talented Native artists, Doug was sent from his reservation to the Indian Art School at Santa Fe as a young man. It was there, between growing up on the Nez Perce Reservation at Lapwai, Idaho and serving in Vietnam, that his training as an artist began, and there that he later returned to teach.

Doug is in his 70s now, a mature artist with a large body of work in galleries, museums, and on reservations across the country. But he has no intention of leaving the work and world of a Native artist.

Nez Perce Tribal exec Ferris Paisano III and artist Doug Hyde
A recent sculpture project brought Doug and his work,  'etweyĆ©·wise—“The Return,” to the Josephy Center this June. The project began with a grant to the Oregon Community Foundation. We said that Joseph’s bronze streetscape boasted 11 sculptures, four of them depicting Indians; none was the work of an Indian artist. We got the grant, and Doug got the job. And “Return” was his idea, a telling in stone and bronze of Nez Perce removal in 1877 and their gradual and growing presence in the Wallowa Homeland today.

On June 22 there were powwow drums from
walwa’ma band from Nespelem sang old songs from Wallowas
Lapwai and Umatilla, and a bell and songs of the walwa’ma band—Joseph’s band—from Nespelem, Washington. There was salmon and there was friendship, a coming together of Tribal people—who were often related but now living far apart—and of local people in this new Wallowa Country where, we hope, we

shall all be alike - brothers of one father and one mother, with one sky above us and one country around us, and one government for all. Then the Great Spirit Chief who rules above will smile upon this land, and send rain to wash out the bloody spots made by brothers' hands from the face of the earth.

Those are words of Chief Joseph, of course, and in the ceremony dedicating Doug Hyde’s sculpture and in talking with him afterwards they came back to me. Doug could easily retire and be satisfied with a fine and large body of work, but he has no intention of doing that. Art is what he does; artist is what he is. And there is work to do. More healing to do in Indian country; more Indian stories to tell to non-Indians and to the young Indians who are stepping into elders’ shoes.

Nez Pece woman returns
There is something in the stone and bronze, and in the rounded forms that characterize Hyde’s sculpture, that says healing. My mentor, Alvin Josephy, said that the Anglo-colonists who came here conquered by dividing, tribe from tribe across the continent. And then the dividing and cutting continued—cutting hair, cutting language and culture, dividing children from parents with boarding schools, tribes from roots with missionary work.

Doug’s full-figured Nez Perce woman, dressed traditionally, walks back confidently to the granite block of Wallowa mountains where the empty space shows her long ago removal. She’s a woman, as Tamastslikt director Bobbie Conner pointed out, another powerful symbol of healing and wellness in a public sculpture world long dominated by men on horses with tools of war.

Doug lost words when describing a work he has in mind, something round and coming together—and his arms waved and body turned—that would show healing of old Tribal divisions—something I will see one day articulated in stone or bronze.

Qe’ci’yew’yew’ –Thank you Doug Hyde. And good work to you.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Women in important places

I have a theory—that women have often stepped into new fields as they emerged and were not yet dominated by men. Mostly--but not always--for good. And usually men have come along to restore the hierarchical order and women have been pushed aside in any case.

In the early days of rodeo, women riding  “rough stock” were often crowd favorites. Then, in 1929, Bonnie McCarroll, who had thrilled Pendleton Roundup audiences since 1915, was thrown from and rolled over by a bucking horse, and the Roundup decided bucking events were too dangerous for women. Other rodeos followed, and women were left to be rodeo queens and sometimes to do—what might be more dangerous than bucking—trick rides. No matter, the glamorous heart of the rodeo, bucking horses, were left to the men.

In the early days of flight, women jumped in as pilots, airport managers, and flight instructors. Bessie Coleman, the daughter of Texas African-American-Cherokee sharecroppers, worked, saved money, found sponsors, and went to France for flight school—opportunities for African-Americans were limited in the US—and in 1921 got her international pilot’s license. Coleman was an early air show and test pilot—she died in a crash testing a new plane in 1926.

And we remember Amelia Earhart (who actually had an Oregon connection, but that’s another story!). And locally some remember Bessie Halladay, who trained WW II pilots in Ontario, Oregon and managed the Joseph, Oregon airport after the War.

I think one can make the same arguments about women in academic fields. The beginnings of wildlife biology saw women birders and butterfly followers—and writers. Brothers Adolph and Olaus Murie pioneered wildlife biology in Alaska and Wyoming, but it was Olaus’s wife, Mardy, who lobbied Justice Douglas and Congress on behalf of Alaskan wilderness and went on to lead the Wilderness Society. And Mardy who transformed the Murie Ranch in Wyoming to the Murie Center for continuing studies in wildlife biology.

“Out of the Shadows,” a recent documentary on Idaho public television, features two early photographers, Jane Gay and Benedicte Wrensted—and the photos they took of Native Americans in Idaho in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In an interview, producer Marcia Franklin said that most photographers were amateurs in the early years, so the field was wide open, and there was room for women.

Jane Gay is of course the companion, photographer, and helpmate to the anthropologist, Alice Fletcher, who came to the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho to carry out the Dawes Allotment Act. She was known at Lapwai as “the measuring woman,” who could not be bought by white ranchers, but the program itself was a disaster.

Fletcher with Chief Joseph, who did not take an allotment.
And Alice Fletcher was one of its architects—possibly the primary one. Fletcher was a wealthy Easterner with a big heart who taught school, was in at the beginning of anthropology, and began studying and writing about the Plains Indians in the 1880s.

Although Fletcher was a leader in the new field of anthropology, and would be followed soon by other women, Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, to name the two most prominent, she was a creature of her time. And her time saw the low ebb for Indians as well as academic and popular curiosity in the new Eugenics movement. There were, eugenicists believed, natural hierarchies among humans, with whites of European descent being at the top.

Fletcher’s response to the poor state of Indian affairs was to document the Indian cultures of the day, and help draft the Dawes General Allotment Act in 1887.  Indians, in Fletcher’s thinking, and in that of her contemporary, Indian Boarding School developer Colonel Richard Pratt, could be saved only by making them white! By total Assimilation. Fletcher’s Allotmhhent Act would give Indians individual land holdings and turn them into Jeffersonian farmers. Pratt’s schools would take away their unique languages and cultures, give them English, Christianity, and trade skills like cooking and carpentry which had value in the white world (although obviously not places in the higher rungs of white society).

Fletcher’s anthropological studies survive—her books on Omaha songs and dances are still in print! Fletcher’s anthropological heirs, Mead and Benedict, found values in other cultures—childrearing ways, even ideas about homosexuality—that could be of value in our Euro-American world.

But many tribes across the country are still dealing with the impacts of Fletcher’s Allotment act and the policy of forced assimilation. Slowly, reservation lands long owned by or with long-term leases to whites, are being reclaimed, and tribal practices are being revived through court action and sometimes by the obvious failures of white management—e.g. of fire and fish.

And the eugenics movement, and the idea that White-Anglo-Saxon culture is somehow the apex of world culture, has no academic credibility today, but lives on in the minds and values of some white Americans and Europeans afraid of “displacement” by people of Asian, African, and indigenous American stock.

In the end, Alice Fletcher was a woman of her times, big heart and all, sympathetic to the Indians in poverty and want, but given to paternalistic assimilation and the undercurrent of eugenics and white superiority.

# # #