Thursday, September 5, 2019

16,000 years!

Cooper’s Ferry on Salmon River.White arrow points to the site.
Image credit: Davis 
et al, doi: 10.1126/science.aax9830.
In the news this week: the story of on an archeological dig on the Salmon River at Cooper’s Ferry. It’s an ancient village site the Nez Perce call  Nipe’che. The dig leader is Dr. Loren Davis of Oregon State University, with staff from the University and scientists from the UK, Canada, and Japan. It’s been going on for some years, with carbon dated artifacts from a first site in hand and work on a second nearby site in progress. 16,000 years is the reason it made headlines this week—well, headlines in some places. In a gushy blog post, Craig Medred writes that:


“Archeologists in Idaho appear to have put another nail in the coffin of the long-held but rapidly dying theory that the first humans to arrive in North America crossed the Bering Land Bridge connecting Asia and Alaska and kept hiking south.”

He goes on: “Scientists working the Cooper’s Landing archeological site on Friday published a paper in Science reporting they had radiocarbon-dated projectile points there to sometime between 16,560 and 15,280 years before present.” And he notes that the projectile points found at Cooper’s Landing, or Cooper’s Ferry, match those of sites in Japan from the same era. (https://craigmedred.news/2019/09/01/the-paddlers/ for the full article)

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I’ve often wondered why the academy has stubbornly held onto the view that the original human inhabitants of the “new world” arrived over a land bridge from Asia. Common sense and the historical record about the way people move tell us that for much of human history travel by water was easier than travel by land.

Archeologist Davis explains that: “The Cooper’s Ferry site is located along the Salmon River, which is a tributary of the larger Columbia River basin. Early peoples moving south along the Pacific coast would have encountered the Columbia River as the first place below the glaciers where they could easily walk and paddle in to North America. Essentially, the Columbia River corridor was the first off-ramp of a Pacific coast migration route."

*  *  *
In 2000, when I was still the director at Fishtrap, we decided to do a winter conference on “Living and Writing on the Edge.” We looked for writers who were adventurers by inclination or chance, and spent a winter weekend at Wallowa Lake in conversation with them.

I don’t know how we found Jon Turk, but he was the real deal, an over-educated scientist who had grown disenchanted with his life and work, and so dropped his job and headed off in a sea kayak to paddle and sail around South America. It didn’t work out, but he was undaunted, and the journeys continued until he had grist for a book, Cold Oceans: Adventures in Kayak, Rowboat, and Dogsled. 

Jon Turk got in touch with us later as he traveled with a new book—In the Wake of the Jomon: Stone Age Mariners and a Voyage Across the Pacific. In 1999 and 2000, he and some partners had sailed a small trimaran and paddled a sea kayak from Japan to Alaska--not in one swoop, but over time, as it might have occurred thousands of years ago. The book tells the story of the modern expedition, looks back at Stone Age mariners who paddled these waters over 10,000 years ago, and asks “Why did people with primitive stone tools leave their homes in the lush temperate bamboo forests, with salmon in the rivers and deer in the forests to paddle into the frozen Arctic during the Ice Age?”

Turk’s was an anthropological quest into Stone Age migration, skeletal remains, archaeological mysteries, and the eternal urge to explore—what he told us was a kind of “wild gene” that has sent humans crashing around the world forever.

Here’s Turk today on his Jomon book: “Since the book was published, anthropological studies have gone back and forth, supporting my claim, refuting it, and now returning to some level of support.  That's science…  If you read the book to explore the question, ‘How did people cross harsh lands to enter into the unknown, and Why?’… the message remains valid and timeless.”

And today, in Idaho, with those newly dated stone fragments matching others from Japan—land of the Jomon—I wonder whether the archeologists from three continents are reading Jon Turk, who showed how it could have happened.

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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.

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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,  'etweyé·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.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

‘etweyé·wise—A new sculpture at the Josephy Center

'etweyé·wise—Return

On Saturday, June 22, 2019, we dedicated a new sculpture at the Josephy Center on Main Street in Joseph, Oregon. Two years of preparation and the artisanship of Doug Hyde gave us  a work he calls ‘etweyé·wise—which is an old word meaning “I return from a hard journey” in the Nez Perce language.

Sculptor Doug Hyde and the Returning Nez Perce Woman
The walwa’ma band of the Nez Perce was forced out of this country in 1877, leading to a war in which the Indians fended off government armies for almost 1400 miles through some of the most rugged country in the West. They were within 40 miles of Canada when the armies caught the cold and hungry people. A promised return to the West became eight years in exile in Kansas and Indian Territory—what the Nez Perce still call the “hot country.”

The Nez Perce War survivors were allowed to return to the West in 1885, but not to the Wallowa Valley. Some went to Lapwai in Idaho, others, including Joseph and his close followers, went to the Colville Reservation in Washington, where descendants remain in exile today. Other descendants are scattered on the Umatilla Reservation in Oregon, at Lapwai in Idaho, in Canada, and on reservations and towns and cities across the country.

Artist Doug Hyde is of Nez Perce, Assiniboine, and Chippewa descent. He grew up in Oregon and in Idaho and studied and eventually taught at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, and now lives in Arizona. His “Chief Joseph” is at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. and the Clearwater Casino in Idaho. Doug has worked and is working with many tribes to tell tribal stories in art.

On the dedication day we had big drums and tribal members from Lapwai and Umatilla, and others  from the Colville Reservation in Washington. They--the walwa’ma band descendants, sang and prayed to open the dedication ceremony, the big drums played, there were speeches and tears--a local women, a Chief Joseph Days rodeo queen from 1952, came with a small object wrapped in cloth which she wanted to return to tribal members. It was a mortar found somewhere along the Snake River years ago. She thought it rightfully belonged to the Nez Perce people. And then, as is customary in Indian country, we shared a meal, including salmon of course.

As we ate salmon and watermelon and enjoyed each other’s company, people--native and non-native--went to stand by the bronze Nez Perce woman and have their pictures taken, or stood back from the granite slab where her cutout welcomes her home to get their own image of ‘etweyé·wise, this return from a hard journey.

Please, if you are in the territory this summer, come by to see us--and to look at the Nez Perce woman as she steps back into her ancestral home.

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Friday, June 28, 2019

Fourth of July

I turn over this blogpost to Nez Perce elder and friend Albert Andrews Redstar. Albert is a descendent of the walwama band of Nez Perce who were not allowed to return to their Wallowa Homeland, and have been in exile on the Colville Reservation since their 1885 return from the “hot country” --Oklahoma Indian Territory. We now know that Joseph was not a war chief, but a brilliant and eloquent leader of his people. Here we learn how he turned the Fourth of July celebration in 1903 to Nez Perce purposes.


Nez. Perce Memorial procession, 1903, Nespelem, WA, Photo Edward Latham, courtesy, Museum of the Rockies


Pasapalloynin

It is Fourth of July. This picture was taken near the town of Nespelem, on the Colville Indian Reservation in North Central Washington State. You are looking at a Nez Perce encampment just outside the city limits of Nespelem. In this picture you can make out a procession of riders making their way around the inside of the ring of teepees. The mounted riders, all in their finest, are making a solemn procession relieving, and releasing, themselves of the pain of losses they’ve all suffered over the years since the Nez Perce War began in 1877.

The procession also signals an end to a long, long journey and the loss of home and lives of loved ones somewhere out there on a trail begun when they were forced from their homeland in the Wallowa Valley.

For they are the people of the Joseph Band of Nez Perce. Their Homeland in the “Land of the Winding Waters” of Northeast Oregon, a land to which they shall never return, is now in a growing distant past only existing in memory and dreams. Many, still, are longing for a return “home”... Many are feeling this is but a temporary stop before being allowed to return to Wallowa once again. That is a move that will never come.

Amidst the group of riders, towards the front, are speakers calling out the why of this gathering and calling out some of the many names of those now gone or deceased, never to be seen or visited with again. The cantering pace allows the speakers’ voices to carry well and the camper’s responses can be heard as the keening begins while the procession passes by them. Grieving has begun.

In “normal times” this procession could occur anytime. But large gatherings of Native peoples still trigger suspicion and fear by white people and “peaceful Indians” of another uprising, during this time. Chief Joseph had brought his headmen together to take care of themselves, to help the people of the Band come to terms with what they had just experienced. With the Nation’s celebration of its birth coming, it would be a time to carry this out. In this way, it would lessen the chance that the military would be called in bearing the arms and weaponry of war. The Soyapos may think the Band is joining in on this “birthday” celebration.

Chief Joseph made it clear that this was a time for a collective mourning. They needed to grieve their losses of friends, of relatives, of family...of all lost since 1877. They must carry out this mourning service to grieve and “let go” of all those now gone from their midst. They must let go and move on together, having survived the conflict inflicted under Manifest Destiny.

The mourning begun, the second round proceeded at a faster pace. As the third round began, the horses were prompted into a faster-paced gallop. On this round, rejoicing began.

Pasapalloynin!!! “to make them rejoice, to make them happy! “Look around you!” they shouted. “See and remember all whom you see here today and rejoice that we are all together, and that we are here! Today, we live to carry on, for all that are here with us, for all our children! Today we rejoice! Today!”

Many my age have witnessed such a procession as this. It had always preceded other activities at the start of the Fourth of July Celebration, here in Nespelem. Its significance seems to fade with each generation, but some of us still remember. We remember how names were called out of those lost in the past year, just as they had done in that first gathering for those lost in the 1877 War. We’d felt that grieving loss, just as our ancestry herein depicted by this picture had, during that first procession. Some of us still know why it was done before it became the “Horse Parade” it is called today. We are descendants of the Joseph Band of Nez Perce! We still carry on the traditions and customs in the old ways. We are still able to speak in that uncolonized language of our Longhouses. Yes! We are still here!

Albert Andrews Redstar
Nespelem, Washington






Saturday, June 8, 2019

Mohawk Code Talkers

I apologize for the long blog silence—and shame myself for it. These posts are a way of putting something new I have learned or deciphered into memory. They’re recordings of my own life lessons. And I’ve been lazy for weeks.

Enough of philosophy: an article in Wednesday’s New York Times—and a book I am reading—are, together, responsible for returning me to the blogs. The Times piece was about a Mohawk WW 2 veteran:

"Louis Levi Oakes, the last of the Mohawk code talkers, who helped American soldiers triumph in the Pacific Theater during World War II, along with code talkers from other tribes, died on May 28 at a care facility near his home on the Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation in Quebec. He was 94."

The book I’m reading is David Treuer’s The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee. Treuer’s contention is that American historians and the American public have, for the most part, stopped Indian history at 1891, at Wounded Knee. Our popular perceptions and written accounts of American Indians today follow the lead of historians and assimilationists at the turn of the last century. With the help of allotment and religion, the “Codes of Indian Offences” of the 1880s, boarding schools and “Termination,” Indians would, it was assumed, disappear. They would “become white,” and their languages, regalia, religions, dances, songs, and entire cultures would be left in museums and the photos of Edward Sheriff Curtis.

They were called the “Vanishing Indian,” and their story—Indian history—stopped as they vanished, with Wounded Knee in 1891.

Over the years there have been cracks in this narrative, stories of Indians that remind us of their continued presence on indigenous lands; occasional stories that are actually chapters of the nation’s history. Some of those cracks show pain: boarding school stories that have emerged in documentaries and, in our region, in a powerful play called “Ghosts of Celilo,” that played in Portland and should have played across the country; and the awful stories of today of Indian women raped and murdered in outrageous numbers in Canada and America.

Other stories show resilience, pride, and contribution to the American story. Indian art is collected; The National Museum of the American Indian is visited by thousands from across the country and the world; a powwow circuit brings Indians and non-Indian Americans together in celebration; salmon runs are saved and revived by Indian fisheries programs.

But no story says more about Indians’ continuing presence and important participation in the American story than that of the code talkers. The Navajo code talkers of World War II were known—if not widely—before war records were released in 1968 and books and movies appeared. When Chester Nez, the last of the original Navajo code talkers, died in 2014, I read and wrote about it.

In the obituary of Louis Oakes, we learn about code talkers from other tribes, including the Hopi, Comanche and Mohawk. We learn that some 30 indigenous languages were used in battle in that war. And that there were Choctaw code talkers in World War I!

When Chester Nez, a U. S. Marine who served in the Pacific, died, the obituary noted that the language he used to help his country—our country—in World War II had been washed from his mouth with soap in a boarding school. There is something emblematic of the continuing relationship of majority America—even as it has grown and changed over centuries—in this story of an Indian child who is asked to erase his language and culture, and then, years later, given a Congressional Gold Medal for his use of it as a warrior in our country’s defense.

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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Indian photos in the exhibit

Joseph’s Last Visit, 1900. Photo by Frank Reavis
There were 50 photos in the recent Josephy Center exhibit of pre-WW II images from the Wallowa Country. Seven of the images feature Indians, and, it occurs to me, capture a great deal of white misunderstandings of and ambivalence toward Indians over the last 500 years.  The photos all date from about 1895-1930, less than one generation in that long history that unravels with amazing consistency over more than a dozen.

The most salient feature of our photos is that they were all taken after 1877, after the Wallowa Band Nez Perce were removed from this land, chased across Idaho, Yellowstone, and into Montana; lied to about return; sent to Leavenworth and the “hot country”; and returned to the Northwest—but not to the Wallowa—in 1885. Many descendants of the band remain in exile on the Colville Reservation in north central Washington to this day.

So what do the photos tell us?

First, that Indians continued to come into the Wallowa after the War and removal of the Wallowa Band. Who were they? It’s complicated, as our Euro-American history books, when they tell Indian stories at all, speak in terms of leaders and whole tribes, rather than the complex networks of families, bands, and relationships across geography and time. When they touch on Indians at all, they do so by “chiefs”—Pontiac, Tecumseh, Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Joseph. How many of us can attach tribes, bands, and geography to them?

The relationships between and among Plateau Indian tribes and bands were always fluid. The Nez Perce, and their Walla Walla, Umatilla, and Cayuse cousins traveled from Celilo in the west to the buffalo country in the east, north and south from the Spokan to the Paiute. Sometimes they stayed for months—or maybe years. Sometimes they settled elsewhere; they intermarried. I’m told that some Nez Perce had fishing places on the Willamette River through such marriages.

Other bands of Nez Perce visited the Wallowa country before the War, and traveled from Lapwai and surrounding areas into the Wallowa to hunt, fish, and gather, and eventually to work for wages in the harvests after 1877. And the “usual and accustomed places” (off-reservation lands still available to the tribes) for those activities outlined in the 1855 treaties were still valid in the 1863 “liars’ treaty.”  Although it is unlikely that these Indians could read the treaties, many family groups would have kept to seasonal travels as they had done for generations, sometimes dealing with white settlers along the way.

Although the core of Wallowa Band—those who had followed Ollokot and Joseph and other chiefs through the war, were living on the Colville Reservation from 1885 forward, descendants—some who did not go to war; others who had made it to Canada or had just wandered on return from the hot country, settled, and married elsewhere—would have been scattered on the reservations of the inland Northwest, a scattering that continues to this day.

A photo in the exhibit called “Last Camp of the Nez Perce” at Wallowa Lake shows a dozen tipis with fence and buildings in the background. Another shows a batch of tipis at the Enterprise fairgrounds, with a few white people in nice clothes visiting an Indian camp where some of the men wore traditional “stovepipe” headdresses, and yet another of an Indian family, circa 1895, was taken in a studio, maybe in La Grande, by G. W. Mackey. He put his name and “Traveling Artist” on this beautiful family photo. Indians—Nez Perce and their cousins—used some white technology to celebrate themselves. And yet they traveled and lived in traditional ways as much as possible here, as they must have across the entire country. How else do we account for the fact of their survival as Indians?

There’s a photo of Indian women combing children’s hair, taken about 1907. Frank Reavis, a photographer who had married A.C. Smith, the old mountain man’s daughter, noticed the humanity and normalcy of an Indian family. And a photo of the 1931 graduating class at Flora has one of the five students wearing gloves obviously Indian-made. It reminds me of many stories of white settlers saving hides for Indians, who would trace their hands and feet and make custom gloves and moccasins. Sally Goebel brought in a well-worn pair of beaded gloves her grandmother’s size that would have been from this era.

In the years between the 1885 return from the Hot Country to Nespelem and 1900, the Dawes Allotment Act had taken more Indian lands across the country, and Joseph had refused the offer of an allotment in Lapwai. Laws allowing Indian agents to restrict drumming and dancing and even the wearing of regalia had blossomed. As had the boarding school movement, possibly the harshest of the assimilationists’ weapons, with its kidnapping of young students, hair cutting and outlawing of Indian languages.

The historical record matches our photos. The War is in 1877. The return to the Northwest, but not to the Wallowa, is in 1885, when fear of a pan-Indian uprising was rife with some. In 1887 Wallowa County broke away from Union County. And, ironically, that year the name “Joseph” was legally adopted for a town that had been variously called Lakeside, and Lake City. That they would choose that name just ten years after the eviction of the man and his band is numbing.  But it was not unusual. As Indians were being displaced, Indian names were being adopted across the land, and romantic notions of Indians were making there way into popular culture, from “Indian” motorcycles to “Pontiac” cars.

Yet the turn of the twentieth century was a low point for actual American Indians. The assimilationists seemed to have carried the day. To be generous to them, to Colonel Pratt of Carlisle, Alice Fletcher and the Allotment Act, and Edward Sheriff Curtis, the photographer, the assimilationists had a real fear that Indians would literally be killed if they did not assimilate. So Fletcher would document Plains Indian culture, and Curtiss would take photos in sacred places and traditional dress of hundreds of Indians across the continent—“Vanishing Indians,” they called them, glad they had museum-saved the peoples.

The most poignant photo in our exhibit is one of Chief Joseph—Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt—on his last visit to the Wallowa, in 1900. He came with Indian agent James McLoughlin, with a translator named Edward Ruibin and with the intention of buying back a small piece of the Homeland. He was of course rebuffed. The expression on his face as he looks into the camera and the white world, seems to say all of it—weariness, rejection, and yet a remaining dignity, the inner knowledge that he had given everything he had and acted honorably in the worst of circumstances.

Today, Indians are re-learning languages and remembering food and culture across the country, and the Nez Perce and their Plateau cousins, from reservations and cities across the region, come to dance and sing in the arbor and pray in the new longhouse at the homeland grounds near the town of Wallowa. The photos in our exhibit, and especially the one of Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, are not of vanishing Indians, but of a people and culture still with us, and still watching us.

See most of the show and the photos mentioned here:
https://josephy.org/exhibit-slider/historic-photos-virtual-exhibit/


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Thursday, January 31, 2019

Photo Exhibit at the Josephy Center

Apologies for not blogging sooner about a wonderful new exhibit at the Josephy Center. It’s called “Historical Photos of the Wallowa Country Before WW II.” There are 50 photos, some from the County Museum, some from the Chieftain, others from private and family collectors. David Weaver, who collects photos and history and is very involved with the new Wallowa History Center in that “lower valley” town, did most of the collecting and curating, and wrote most of the mini-essays that go with the photos.

I should have written sooner so that more of you could have squeezed a trip to the Center into your January-February schedules—well, you have until February 25 to do it, so hoping that still works for some of you.

Mazama Outing 1918--Eagle Cap Summit
David’s initial instincts on the exhibit—to have each photo stand on its own, with mini-essays accompanying many of them, was perfect. The exhibit is 20 or 30 history lessons—women and work; family camping; Indians here after the War; Indian reflections on the reburial of Old Chief Joseph; sockeye salmon and kokanee; early photographic techniques; “postcard” prints; traveling photographers; the Mobius strip and early threshing machines (or how early farm technicians got the most out of a belt drive); football without helmets; and so much more.

Let me tell one story, because the picture of the Mazama climb of Eagle Cap in 1918 is the cover photo on the show catalog that is now available. ($20, plus $5 for mailing.)

In 1918, on their 25th anniversary, the Mazamas—a Portland based climbing club that is still very much alive—decided to make the Wallowas, and summiting Eagle Cap, the annual outing. Twenty-five of them came on the train, were feted to dinner at the restaurant in Joseph, and then taken by automobile to the head of the lake where they made base camp. The mail was brought in daily by auto delivery, and “enthusiastic fishermen caught trout within a stone’s throw of the camp frying pan.”

They spent the next several days making trips to Aneroid and Ice Lake, hiking the moraines with early Oregon geologist Dr. D. W. Smith, and going by automobile up Hurricane Creek and hiking into Mirror Lake. They fished and relaxed at Aneroid while “seven of the more strenuous members” climbed Pete’s Peak and Aneroid Point. I count 20 in the Eagle Cap summit photo, and surmise one more took the photo.

We know all this because one of the hikers was Lola Creighton, who wrote it up for the Mazama journal she’s to the viewer’s left of the man holding the flag). And we know that because two of her granddaughters—one from the Midwest and one from California—met here this summer with their daughters to show the young women where their-great grandmother had been and what she had done in 1918.

Viewers have loved it, and suggested more historical photo exhibits. Center director Cheryl Coughlan thinks that blowing up historical photos—many of these are 18” x 24”; a few are larger—makes them more real than the book-size photos we are accustomed to. We’ve had students from Wallowa, Joseph, and Enterprise in to see the exhibit—over 100 of them so far, and it is a fine way to teach history. The Indian story makes more sense when there is a photo of the women preparing food for the reburial of Old Joseph and a picture of Indians at the fair grounds in Enterprise. The sockeye and kokanee story moves from past to present with news of a rebuild of the dam at Wallowa Lake—with fish passage! And I always ask them to look at what the girls and women were doing in 1895 and 1918—working horses, playing guitars, fishing on the Lake, and climbing Eagle Cap.

You can scroll most of the exhibit at https://josephy.org/exhibit-slider/. You won’t get the essays, so come on in--before February 25--and see the exhibit, or order one of the exhibit catalogs.

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Sunday, December 23, 2018

At Mid-winter

Dear Friends,

It’s hard to know where to start. Should I tell you about kids and grandkids, triumphs and setbacks over the past year? Or muse about the state of the country and the world, the places I visited or lived in years ago—and are still close to my heart—that are now in turmoil or in ruins? Or should I tell you about the peace and hope that I find in my work with American Indians, how my old mentor Alvin Josephy, gone now for a dozen years, gets smarter every day as I learn from Tribal people? And learn not just about the past, but get glimpses of hope for tomorrow.

Yesterday there were visitors at the Library. Two families from McMinnville, Oregon and their two YES exchange students, one from Pakistan and the other from the West Bank in Palestine. YES, or “Youth Exchange and Study Programs,” brings students from predominantly Muslim countries to the US, and sends American students to those countries. YES involves full scholarships, is administered by the State Department, and was instigated by Senators Kennedy and Lugar, a Democrat and a Republican. It is difficult to imagine how the program survives.

But it does, and my 16 year-old Palestinian visitor—his English was flawless, and he had a good basic understanding of American history and official Indian policy—asked fine questions about the Nez Perce story and Josephy’s understanding of Indians in new world history. We talked about languages—about the 2500 distinct languages in the pre-Columbian Americas and the dialects of Arabic across the world. He was hungry to know what we can learn from the flow and development of languages—I told him how Josephy had gone to linguists to explore the early movements of peoples across the Americas, and to make estimates of their numbers. He promised to look for Charles Mann’s 1491 for a better grasp of the pre-Columbian Americas, the impacts of diseases and the interchanges between the new worlds and the old.

Not fifteen minutes into the conversation, my new friend remarked on the similarities between the plight of American Indians and that of Palestinians—peoples visited and lands settled by foreign colonists.

At this point one can become pessimistic. A YES exchange student from Palestine who lived in Wallowa County a couple of years ago had serious trouble getting back to his family home. Will these bright young people who spend a year exploring America and ideas of peace and friendship get lost in a decades-long fight for home and culture on their return? Or will they be part of new flowerings of peace-making in their home countries, and in the “work” they have done in their brief stays in ours?

We’ve just celebrated my favorite day of the year, the winter solstice, the day that brings more light. It’s also a reminder that our linear understanding of history is always punctuated by the cyclical—or rather that the cyclical is fundamental, and the events and actions done in the present punctuate the rhythms of light and darkness, days and years. Summers and winters come and go; listening to the people who know that the land needs fire, salmon need free-flowing water, that the earth we live on persists through plagues and tyrants, we might begin to live saner lives. As Alvin Josephy said so many times, we have much to learn from American Indians.

And whatever the reasons for the perennial mid-winter calls for peace—shalom—that emerge in many languages and religions, and always in perilous times, let’s listen to them too. Let’s listen to and hope with YES and the students who are bridging the divides in their worlds and ours.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Invisible Indians; Invisible Nez Perce

Alvin Josephy said many times that the greatest injustice done to the Indian people in this country was not the takings of land, language, and culture, but a continuing failure to acknowledge that they existed—or at least that they ever existed as people in their own right.  For the Euro-American, Indians were important for a moment—to teach them tools of survival, but then immediately became hurdles to their domination of the continent. Those other terrible thefts—of land, language, and culture—pale when compared to the taking of history. That taking means erasing the unique lives of individuals and tribes as agents, actors in their own stories, reducing them to asterisks in the Euro-American story of conquest.

If that. In the introduction to America in 1492, Alvin quotes from the 1987 edition of American History: A Survey, a popular text written by three prominent historians: “centuries in which human races were evolving, forming communities, and building the beginnings of national civilizations in Africa, Asia, and Europe—the continents we know as the Americas stood empty of humankind and its works… The story of this new world is a story of the creation of a civilization where none existed.”

But now, you say, we go to powwows and interpretive centers, read Indian writers, and include tribal representatives in discussions of the management of fish, fire, land and water. I’ll grant you that, but remind you that following the original extreme Euro-centrism of Spanish and English explorers and settlers, American government policies of allotment, boarding schools, missions, Termination, and Relocation did everything possible to erase Indians as distinct peoples with unique histories. It is only in recent years, as a result of enormous courage and fortitude, of holding majority America to historical treaties and agreements that assimilationists have worked so hard to remove, that those voices have survived.

Local historian David Weaver recently pointed out a very local example of making Indians invisible. I had just picked up a new book for the Library, Theodore T. Geer’s Fifty Years in Oregon. David suggested we turn to page 281 for the first photo known to have been taken in the Wallowas. It was, according to the author, in August of 1875, when he and a handful of friends left the Grand Ronde Valley for a two-week camping trip in the Wallowas. Thirteen of them, men and women, left from Cove on August 16 with six horses, camping gear and a skiff in the back of a wagon. On the second day they reached the confluence of the Wallowa and Minam rivers, where A.C. Smith had just completed a toll bridge. They camped that night on Bramlette property in lower valley, and the next day reached the shores of Wallowa Lake.

Geer gushes over the Lake and the surrounding territory—“The location is not surpassed for beauty anywhere in the United States”—and he or someone from his party takes that first photo. They launch the skiff, and row to the head of the Lake,

Geer then talks fish, and in his only nod to Indians, calls the Lake the “favorite fishing resort” of the Nez Perce Indians from time immemorial. He goes on: “it was to retain possession of it and the valley surrounding it that Chief Joseph made his stand against white settlers.” And that is the end of his remarks concerning Indians!

David reminded me that 1875 was a turbulent year in the Wallowas, and I reached back to Grace Bartlett’s month-by-month account in The Wallowa Country: 1867-77 to see what was happening in August, the month of Geer’s camping trip. One would think that Geer and his party might have encountered over 100 armed troops from Walla Walla that arrived about the same time they did, or that he would have seen 45 Indian lodges, or even Chief Joseph himself and about 75 tribal members who visited Captain Whipple and his troops. Or, more seriously, that the man who would become the 10th Governor of Oregon, and the first born in the state, serving from January 9, 1899 until January 14, 1903, would have something more to say about the Indians and their removal from his state.

Geer didn’t write the book, subtitled Experiences, Observations, and Commentaries Upon Men, Measures, and Customs in Pioneer Days and Later Times, until 1911, so maybe the Nez Perce and the soldiers that he must surely have seen—and the history of the state he later governed, had drifted away by 1911, when the summation of his trip to the Wallowas remained a glowing pastoral memory—and one without Indians:

“The following days were spent in the enjoyment of the unequaled facilities which the place afforded for a happy camp life—hunting, fishing, boat-riding, reading, story-telling, attempts at singing, cooking, and exploring the surrounding country.”

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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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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Coho return to the Lostine River!


I got this “FYI” from Jim Harbeck at Nez Perce Fisheries here in Joseph last night:

“The first Coho Salmon to return to the Lostine River in over 40 years came back home this morning…  I think we’ll see at least a few hundred Coho this fall at our weir on the Lostine. And more importantly, once again the Nez Perce Tribe is proving to be a good steward here in Wallowa County. This fish returned to a reach of river just below old Chief Joseph’s original burial site. I’m sure he’d be proud of his people for this significant accomplishment (and Ken Witty would be too).”

Ken Witty was a long-time fish biologist for the State of Oregon, and did some consulting with the tribe after his retirement.

It’s a long story. 1855 Treaty; Fish Wars of the 70s (which Alvin Josephy wrote about); Boldt Decision awarding half the salmon catch to the tribes; Nez Perce, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, and other tribal fishery programs ramping up; mitigation money from Bonneville Power—and events like this!

I could go on, but encourage you to do so on your own. For now, we celebrate the return of the Coho Salmon to the Lostine River.

First Lostine River Coho in over 40 years!


Friday, September 28, 2018

The hearings—and the listenings

Like many, I have been semi-glued to the judicial committee hearings over the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. And today, showered and ready for work, I paused to listen to Senator Cory Booker—and immediately had a flashback to 1954.

We’d recently moved from Minnesota to California, and my dad was the new owner of a small Mobil gas station on Highway 101 in Oceanside. We lived two blocks from the station, and dad would walk home for lunch and watch the McCarthy hearings as he ate. He’d go back to work, but the TV stayed on, and would be on when I got home from school. I remember no content, but remember the smirk on McCarthy’s face as he hoisted a sheaf of papers or a daily newspaper with new knowledge of communists everywhere, and then he would blare at the TV audience in his gravelly baritone.

I didn’t know my dad’s politics at the time—although I do remember wearing an “I Like Ike” button before the 1952 election, and I remember getting out of school and going to Mrs. Drummond’s house to watch Eisenhower sworn in on TV—a first, I believe, which is why our good teacher thought it worthwhile leaving school for the event.

Although I rarely talked politics with my parents, I guess I came to see them as moderate Republicans, which didn’t matter much until Nixon and Vietnam. Today, I believe my parents were caught in a bind—wanting to stick with country and LBJ and then Nixon. We argued over that, but not to any conclusions, and not to rupture.

Unfortunately, I do not remember ever having a conversation with them about those McCarthy hearings. My guess is that when attorney for the Army Joseph Welch rose to say "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness… You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?", my father and mother, along with millions of Americans, breathed sighs of relief and thought the country had righted itself, come back to its common senses.

As the hearing today wound down to a vote, one of the Democratic Senators—I think it was Richard Blumenthal—spoke to Christine Blasey Ford’s son: “Your mother,” he said, “will be remembered as a hero.” In five or ten years, he opined, her words and her role in the unfolding development of women’s rights in this country would be remembered; her words and work would be honored by posterity.

Another Senator reminded everyone that the truth would eventually come out—just as it did, I would argue, with the rampage of Senator McCarthy.

And why do I, sitting in my enclave of books about history and Indians in the West, think to use this blog to talk about today’s hearings. Nothing about Indians here… Well, maybe there is. There are so many parallels with black and women’s and Indians’ struggles for fair treatment in our country that what touches one touches all.

And the first step in fair treatment is always to listen—to listen beyond the shouts of the demagogue to the voices of the oppressed. I believe the truth on this matter will come out, and my guess is that behind Brett Kavanaugh’s rants of yesterday, and the alcoholic mists of his past, we will find women’s truths.  Ford’s son will be proud. And if we can hear women’s voices and find women’s truths, we can go back to the men of power who stampeded the Indians at Standing Rock. Go back and add another chapter to the slow drive for fair treatment of the first peoples of this continent.

# # #

Monday, September 10, 2018

Fire--and another failure to listen to Indians

The June exhibit at the Josephy Center was about dams and fish. One of the many things I learned in researching and preparing that exhibit was the ways in which 19th and early 20th century scientists and government officials ignored Indian knowledge about the habits of salmon and all anadromous fish. The progressive white voices of the time—from roughly 1880 until 1938—submitted that Pacific salmon returned from the sea to spawn in any random stream or river that caught their swim. Natal streams were insignificant, and in any case we—progressive, scientific Americans—could better nature with hatcheries. We could more than make up for the tremendous numbers of salmon taken from the Columbia to feed the 60+ canneries that lined the river. So we built hatcheries—on the Columbia, the Willamette, and even, in the early 1900s, on the Grande Ronde and Minam rivers.

Alvin Josephy said on many occasions that the most damaging historical treatment of Indians was not the lies—although there were many, but the continuing neglect of Indians as we, as a nation, constructed the narrative of our past. Indians—their voices and their actions—are missing in the standard histories of schools and academe. And of course in discussions of natural resources.

Fire now dominates the news—and lives—in much of the West. As I write this, 35 miles of the I-5 highway at the California-Oregon border are shut down. There are still smoke warnings in Central Oregon, and we in Wallowa County wait and hope for cool nights and fall rains to beat lightening, human carelessness, and wind to the rank grass and dry forests around us.

The Indians burned, purposefully and regularly, in this country and across the West. They burned to invigorate the soil and enhance berry and root production, to make travel easier, and, we might guess, to guard against large, catastrophic fires as much as they could. I understand that agricultural Indians in the East used low slow regular burns to sequester carbon in the soil. I.e. Across the North American continent, fire was the primary land management tool of the people who lived here prior to the Europeans.

I’ve heard that early US Forest Service employees followed this Indian knowledge for a time, but their voices were soon drowned out by the German-trained foresters from Yale who dominated Forest Service administration—and emphatically discredited by the Big Fire of 1910 that raged across the Northwest. Those western Forest Service employees were denigrated as “Paiute foresters,” and the “10 O’clock Policy” came to dominate Western land and fire management for the next 100 years: All fires should be put out by 10 O’clock the morning after their discovery.

The idea that fire is part of the natural regimen of forests and necessary for forest health has been making a slow comeback, but it is difficult to embrace and implement with 100 years of ladder fuels waiting for their match. And with clear-cutting and over-cutting in some places having left a sour taste and environmental outrage in their wake, a reasonable conversation about how to get to baseline—how to reintroduce fire into the landscape—is proving hard.

So here we are with fish and fire, looking for ways to get things back to where Indians told us they should be all those years ago. But that is not right either; getting back to living with the changing world we are part of, which includes big fires and hurricanes, volcanoes and other natural “disasters”—those major events that change the mostly cyclical world we live in.

There is much talk about “white privilege”; maybe there should be more talk about white hubris.

# # #

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Built on Broken Families

One of the earliest stories of white-Indian interaction in North America is that of Squanto, a Patuxet Indian taken captive by English explorer Thomas Hunt in 1614 and sold as a slave in Spain. Tisquantum—his real name—escaped and made his way back to Cape Cod through England. He had picked up English along the way, a skill that would prove valuable when the Mayflower landed and the newcomers needed help with agriculture and the ways of the new world. Unfortunately, Squanto, whose tribe had completely succumbed to diseases brought ashore by European fishermen, who was valued and praised by Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford, did not live long, just long enough to show the colony food caches, seeds, fertilizer and fields.

The violence in Squanto’s capture and demise was caused by slavery and disease, harbingers of continuing interrelationships between the misnamed Indians and the European newcomers from that day forward. A third tool of dismemberment of the native societies was armed force, the use of guns and powder, as the Euro-Americans marched across the continent.

Here’s the time to point out that the earliest Europeans were WASPS, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, because disease, slavery, and physical force have often been wielded against other “white” immigrants as well as resident tribal people and imported African slaves. And the common theme in all cases is that the break-up of family and tribe was critical in the WASP hold on power as it pursued its Manifest Destiny.

We know the story of slave markets, of selling off children and spouses and arranged breeding of more slaves. We’re less likely to think of the indentured white servants, sent to America by distraught parents living in poverty—often drought related in the time of the Little Ice Age—as a means of giving them some small chance at life. They came singly with ships’ captains auctioning them off for 4, 5, or 7 years of servitude to recapture the cost of their passage. Over half of the European immigrants from the Mayflower to the Revolution—almost 200 years worth—were indentured servants. In other words, single, mostly young, white girls and boys ripped from families to start new lives on their own.

I can find no good numbers on the number of European immigrants, and the number of indentured servants, but adding numbers from various sources says it must have been more than 200,000, so over 100,000 from broken families. And in one place found a number of over 20,000 Irish alone.

For whatever reason, the number of Africans coming to the new world is easier to find. Here, down to the 100s, is a figure for the period 1700-1775: an “estimated 278,400 Africans” were brought to the new WASP world. The point in all of this is that the first 200 years of the United States of America owed its building to broken families.

And it didn’t stop there. While a flood of immigrants from Western European countries came from Civil War through the end of the 19th century, the government, promoting programs of westward expansion and settlement with grants to railroads and eventually the Homestead Act, actively cleared the country of Indians, breaking up tribes and families with wars and, beginning in the 1880s, boarding schools, where children were torn from families and stripped of their language and culture.

But even the Europeans who moved west became or resulted in broken families. Many of the women wanted to stay near families that had become rooted on farms and in towns across the East and Midwest. But the promise of free land and a patriarchal society that put husbands and fathers in charge of their nuclear families moved them west.

Italians, Greeks, the Irish, and Eastern European Jews filled eastern cities and did establish and rely on extended families, which grew into clans that in many cases dominated local politics, business, and even crime. Some accounts say that this—the enclaves of Eastern and Southern Europeans—drove WASPS west and promulgated the idea of Manifest Destiny. Owen Wister and his ilk thought themselves the tip on civilization’s arrow, which they had picked up from the fading British Empire.

But the WASPs could not do it alone. Some did bring slaves with them, but the quest for slave states was lost to the Civil War, and the westering WASPs soon turned to Asian workers. The Chinese and Japanese who came to work on railroads, to mine, and to farm came primarily as single men. The Chinese sent money from Gold Mountain back to China; the Japanese, having fled a small land with growing population, sent home for “picture brides.”

Families made their way on the Oregon Trail. But the white west attracted adventurous men, the fur traders, loggers, and fishermen. The trappers often married or took in Indian women. On an island near Seattle, a man named Mercer sent east for factory working women to come meet potential husbands in the fishermen and lumberjacks on what would become Mercer Island. It’s said that white men outnumbered white women in the region 10-1. The Puget Sound was not settled by families.

The Indian story is the dreariest. Along with boarding schools came the Dawes Allotment Act, which allotted reservation lands to individual Indians. They were to pay taxes and could, after 25 years, sell it to whites. The connections of extended families and tribes were frayed, and the attack on Indian families continued through the 1950s, when Eisenhower sought to “solve” the Indian “problem” by terminating tribal reservations completely, and a “relocation” program which moved young Indians to cities with a bus ticket and a few bucks towards a job or school. The policies failed, and the remnant urban Indians today are sometimes reconnecting with tribal roots and land.

When we come that far forward in time, to WW 2 and its aftermath, the jumble of urban whites from the East had mixed up the West, while the Mexican Braceros—men recruited to work while western farmers went to war, were herded back to Mexico, and the country has invented and reinvented migrant labor programs to harvest our crops ever since. Sometimes migrants travel as families, sometimes as individuals, but in any case they are broken from any previous lives as stable families who lived and grew in one place over time.

New immigrants to the country, whether they come individually or as families, are coming to a world that is dominated by individualism, where grandparents, cousins, extended families and tribes are here still—but often struggle against the forces that have broken families in the names of progress and nation building for over 500 years.

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Friday, August 3, 2018

Indian Church

Longhouse at Wallowa Nez Perce Homeland
It’s called a “longhouse,” because long ago tipis were strung together to make a “long tent” of hides or tule mats that could accommodate a large number of people for living, and, eventually, for religious ceremonies. The ceremonies are often called “seven drums,” because there are most often seven hand drums and a bell at the west end of the room or space looking toward the east, where the view to the rising sun is open. Songs are sung in cycles of threes and sevens, the lead singer/drummer rotating with each song. Women are on the south side and men and boys on the north, and a dirt floor in the center is a place where dancers dance and celebrants moved to speak speak.

These ceremonies and the religious beliefs expressed in the long house have been honed over centuries by Indians of the Plateau tribes of the interior Northwest.

President Grant thought he could stifle corruption among those charged with administering Indian affairs by turning over reservation administration to the churches—a blow of course to traditional Indian religious practices and beliefs. And General Howard’s confrontation with and jailing of Toohoolhoolzote at Lapwai in the lead-up to the Nez Perce War was a marked religious confrontation—Howard wanted none of Toohooloolzote’s beliefs about sacredness of mother earth.

The drums, bells, and songs were harshly suppressed with the many efforts to assimilate Indians—make them White—from the end of the 1877 Nez Perce War until recent times. From the 1870s until 1934, certain “codes” and regulations that allowed Indian agents—many of them religious people—to remove drums and regalia and outlaw songs and dances in the drive towards assimilation. Boarding schools outlawed Indian languages, cut boys’ hair, and put Indians in standard institutional dress. And sometimes the children were outright kidnapped for these schools.

Assimilation might have seemed natural, even desirable to people fleeing other lands and coming to the New World for the chance at new life—my Norwegian grandfather banned that language from his house when he had learned enough English; assimilation was for then a gift. For Indians assimilation was a theft, taking away their lives even as they were sometimes allowed to stay on traditional lands.

Resilient Indians began having powwows on the Fourth of July—getting out their drums and regalia, letting religious and government officials think they were now “half-civilized.” An Indian elder told me recently that the Indian dance bands of the teens and 1920s and 1930s, who played pop dance music and wore traditional clothing and headdresses, had found another way to hang onto tradition and culture under the noses of assimilationists.

Loosening of restrictions on Indian religious practices began in 1934, with a first Indian religious freedom action by the Secretary of Interior, and was enshrined in federal legistlation with The American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978—that is 19 and 78. As Alvin Josephy would say, until that time American Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Moslems, Buddhists and many others had religion; American Indians had “mumbo jumbo.”

These legal steps have also opened the way for language and culture programs, and, along with people of good will across racial and agency divides, have allowed Indians to gain and share spiritual beliefs, practices, and pride.

We have a long house now in Wallowa at the Wallowa Nez Perce Homeland. I say “we” because I am one of many—Indians from Nespelem, Umatilla, and Lapwai, and local Wallowa Countians—who formed this homeland organization years ago to provide a path and a place for the descendants of those displaced 140 years ago to return. There is a dance arbor at the Homeland—has been for many years, but now there is a long house, and on the Sunday of Tamkaliks, the annual powwow and friendship feast on the grounds, drummers and singers from Umatilla, Lapwai, and Nespelem drummed, sang, and prayed together.

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Forked tongues

American Indians have little reason to trust the written word. They are buried in broken treaties and false history texts—words, as Chief Joseph said and Alvin Josephy reiterated 100 years later, spoken with “forked tongue.” Alvin also said that Indians have been and are still disserved by the omission of words, by historical accounts that omit the Indians who were here, and contemporary accounts that forget that they are here still.

Our Josephy Center sculpture project aims to right a local omission, that of an Indian artist on Main Street in the town of Joseph. Four bronze statues in our town depict Indians—none of them the work of an Indian artist.

We selected Doug Hyde—or Doug Hyde selected us! Doug was born in Hermiston, grew up in part at Lapwai, Idaho, was packed off to the Indian art school in Santa Fe when he was 17 after a high school teacher sent a portfolio to the school.

The road wasn’t all smooth. There was Vietnam, combat wounds, and work in Lewiston carving cemetery monuments, but now he is an established artist in bronze and stone across the country. He’s past 70, but working hard from his Arizona studio—because he loves what he does. And what he is doing now for us in Joseph is what he is doing for people and tribes across the country—telling stories without words, without forked tongues.




A Hyde sculpture tellling Hopi stories. I don’t know those stories, but can imagine the Indians nodding at this, seeing their grandmothers and aunties in stone, captured with arms and clothing intertwined, pride and expectation on their faces.









And here’s Doug’s initial concept of the piece that will go in the Josephy Center courtyard: a slab of granite, the Wallowa Mountains profiled on the top, a Nez Perce woman cut out of the granite, and the woman--in bronze--walking back toward the mountains.







Here he is, carving the “maquette” of the woman who will soon walk in Joseph. Notice other Indians looking on in the background, and imagine their life-sized doubles on Indian grounds across the country.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Writing on stolen land

Pendleton writer Bette Husted read from her new novel, All Coyote’s Children, at the Josephy Center last week. It’s the story of a white family living on the Umatilla Reservation, surrounded by and ultimately intertwined with the Indian families around them.

Writing Indian characters and stories in fiction—or non-fiction for that matter—is a tricky business. Having historically used power and privilege to take away land, language, and culture, Euro-Americans should be and mostly are cautious in telling Indian stories now. We’re mindful of guilt for past actions—some of them not so far in the past, as boarding schools and the last efforts at assimilation in the 1950s are in living memory for many—and struggle with speaking “for” others whose experience we Euro-American writers do not have.

A quick survey of the literature finds much that is marked by prejudice and stereotyping (take a look at some old Zane Grey’s!)—and much that is romanticized. And some that explores the complexities of Euro-American—Indian relationships from the beginning. I’ve written before about the attraction of Indian life for colonial women described by Benjamin Franklin and turned into literature for girls in Indian Captive, published by Lois Lenske in 1941. This book is based on the autobiography of Mary Jemison, who was captured by the Seneca in 1755 in the back and forth between British and French and the Indian allies they pursued. Jemison watched her family be killed, but eventually assimilated with the Indians, married and had Indian children, and told her story towards the end of a long and adventurous life. The story has had many retellings, but Lenski’s book for girls sprung in the 1940s—and is still in print, now considered a children’s “classic.”

The capturing of white families in the early years of European colonization—and the capture of Indians and trades of prisoners—was not unusual, and did not end with New England and the 18th century. There is a literature of white captives in the Southwest, and in 2016 Paulette Jiles published News of the World, a page turning novel of a young girl captured by the Kiowa and the 1870 effort of an itinerant “news reader” to return her to her German-American family. She of course does not want to return, and the novel does let her work out a kind of compromise of her two lives.

In both of these cases, the protagonists are Euro-Americans, but the authors also found empathy for the Indian peoples who the captives unwillingly joined and willingly stayed with. They found it in connections to the living earth, the extended family support systems, and the relative freedom of women in tribal societies.

People have lived, married and raised families across racial divides forever. In Lies My Teacher Told Me, James Loewen reminds us of mixed black-white families, and reminds us that principled people who spoke for human rights for black slaves were with us from the beginning of that national tragedy. Until recently—maybe as recent as the 1950s—mixed families have been forced into one community or the other, and the people who stood up for them have been silenced or ridiculed. Decades before that as African-Americans moved north and west to find opportunity, black workers, athletes, and musicians worked and played for white audiences—and then went home to segregated lives.

Ditto for Indians—but with the curious addition of pride attached to tribes and tribal leaders. The current exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian displays over 300 objects of commercial appropriation of names of Indian tribes, tools, and chiefs: “Pontiac,” “Seminoles,” Jeep “Cherokee,” “Apache” and “Chinook” helicopters, “Tomahawk” missile, and the plain old Cleveland “Indians.”

How many times do we hear “my great-grandmother was Cherokee,” or some other story of distant Indian relationships—with no notion that there was a true story there, and no attempt to relate it to contemporary Indian-white affairs.

What Bette Husted and a few other writers are doing is teasing out the real stories of Indian-white interactions, of living together. The title of her memoir, Above the Clearwater: Living on Stolen Land, tells a story. Bette grew up on land in Idaho that was part of the original 1855 Nez Perce Reservation—a part scrubbed away with the discovery of gold and another, “liars’ treaty, written eight years after the first. The memoir explores poverty and guilt; the new novel explores interrelationships.

Luis Urrea takes on the huge complexities of Indian-Mexican-White interrelationships over centuries in Hummingbird’s Daughter and Queen of America. Closer to home, Pam Steele’s Greasewood Creek sits on the edge of the Umatilla Reservation and its people, and Warren Easley dares to take on the flooding of Celilo in a mystery novel, Not Dead Enough. That story was told in an incredible musical drama composed by Thomas Morning Owl and Marv Ross, “Ghosts of Celilo.”

In other words, it’s now ok to chip at the edges of White-Indian relations in books, as we struggle to get along and work together over salmon, water, dams, and economies. Hope is that the books—and their writers, Indian and non-Indian—are settling old history and part themselves of a new, more inclusive present.

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