Friday, December 20, 2019

Year’s End

Hello Friends,

First off, thank you for reading my blog posts, coming to Brown Bag programs, stopping by to talk about books, Indians, treaties, wild foods, dams, fish, art, and the state of the world.

It’s been a fine year at the Josephy Center: wonderful exhibits featuring “Women on the Edge,“ “Art and Words of the Lostine,” “The Wallowas in Historical Photos,” and “Nez Perce Music.” The Josephy Center took on and managed the annual Wallowa Valley Arts Festival to great applause. The clay studio hums, and we teach special art classes for the Joseph school along with regular Friday student classes. For those of you in blog land, do visit the web site—josephy.org—and take in some of our shows and events when you come to town. Or click on https://josephy.org/video-audio/ to see or listen to some of the Brown Bag programs, exhibit openings, and goings on here at the Center.

My role at the Center is to run the Josephy Library and take the lead in Indian programming. It’s been a good year: a couple of small grants and two hard-working volunteers have caught us up with cataloging—check https://sagelib.org to see our holdings, and to begin making the non-book holdings accessible to the world. Our “Nez Perce Ephemera” and “Manuscript” holdings will soon be visible online.

She “Returned from a hard journey”-- 'etweyé·wise 
But the biggest triumph—and the most rewarding event I have been involved with for many years, was the installation of 'etweyé·wise, the story of Nez Perce return told in bronze and granite by Nez Perce artist Doug Hyde. At the installation of the first sculpture by a tribal artist on Joseph’s Main Street, we had drummers from Lapwai and Umatilla, singers and speakers from Nespelem. There were tears as Joseph Band descendants talked about this “homeland” and a long-ago Chief Joseph Rodeo queen unwrapped a mortar and pestle, found and held by her white family, and returned it to the Nez Perce. Then we—tribal people, local people, and curious visitors from everywhere—sat down and ate salmon together.

Things have changed in the Wallowa Country—on the installation of the sculpture, the Wallowa County Chieftain editorialized “Welcome Home.” There’s a Nez Perce art show coming in January (Opening January 5, 2:00—4:00 pm, with Kevin Peters, John Seven Wilson, Carla Timentwa and more) and another series of talks by elders in the spring. The Josephy Center is one of many organizational and individual partnerships expressing new relationships with descendants of the Nez Perce who long called this place home.

In this season of gift giving, when the family and good cause demands on you are many, think about a gift to the Josephy Center and its Library so that we can continue this good work.

(You can send a check to PO Box 949/ Joseph, Oregon 97846, or donate through the web site at https://josephy.org/donate/ )

I thank you for your support, and wish you all the best in the coming year.


Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Beadworkers

Here’s a holiday book recommendation—a gift to yourself and then to pass on to others: The Beadworkers, by Beth Piatote.

Cover art is beadwork
by artist Marcus Amerman
I got an early copy weeks ago, and sped through the poems and stories quickly, but for some reason stopped at the play that ends the collection. This morning I read it in a sitting, and wondered why I had left it so long.

neti’telwit / human beings” gathers the stories of Indian Wars, of legal and physical mistreatment of Indians, loss and recapture of language; competing notions of getting along in the American world and hanging onto traditions and meanings passed on by elders; the interrelationships of museum and tribal holdings, family and communal pasts. And it weaves and works the script—present and past, now and hereafter—with the loom built in Antigone, by the Greek tragedian Sophocles. It’s a tour de force that holds up the tragedies, disappointments, complexities and the hopes of Indian America, then turns them deftly for our consideration--and importantly allows us, the readers, no easy answers.

Beth Piatote came to Fishtrap almost 20 years ago. We honored Indians that year, calling it “Circling Back.” One of the guests was Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock journalist from Idaho with a long history of work for tribal and mainstream newspapers. He brought Beth along—my recollection is that their history went back to southern Idaho, where Beth grew up.

She was working on a multi-generational novel at the time, and teaching at the University of Oregon in journalism and, maybe, Indian studies. We loved her writing, and invited her to be a writer in residence at our local schools. She did, and we loved her more. But then she went back and went on with her life, almost out of our reach and thoughts.

Doug Hyde--'etweyé·wise
But she came back. Somehow a couple of years ago I found her teaching and writing at UC Berkeley. She was learning the Nez Perce language and making contact with Nez Perce elders at Nespelem, where she was enrolled, but had not grown up. A short time after that she told me how she had brought Nez Perce language elders from Nespelem, Lapwai, and Umatilla to Berkeley, where they met with Haruo Aoki, compiler of the acknowledged Nez Perce-English dictionary.

This summer, as we readied Nez Perce artist Doug Hyde’s sculpture for the Josephy Center courtyard, I reached out to Beth and those language elders. Beth brought Aoki himself into the conversation, and together they named the Doug Hyde sculpture. They named it 'etweyé·wise—“I return from a hard journey.”

Beth came back to Fishtrap this summer to read and teach, and struck a new cohort of Fishtrap faculty and attendees as she had struck us those years ago. (She’s already invited back for this summer.)

And then The Beadworkers came in the mail.

By the way, don’t skip the poems and stories on the way to  neti’telwit / human beings.