Monday, March 30, 2020

Heroes and Hope

I’ve seen and heard the word “hero” more in the last week than I have in the last year. Newscasters use it regularly to describe doctors, nurses, hospital workers, police and fire workers—and grocery clerks. Hero signs show up across from hospitals, and people in cities across the country hang out windows and front doors at 7 each night to bang pots and pans in praise of these workers.

That’s as refreshing as the “play dates” with parents driving and kids hanging out windows and singing and chanting at friends from a distance. Or the retired clown in Portland who set up in a cul-de-sac as kids from several houses stood in their front yards and cheered him on; or the Italian opera singer singing from his balcony.

The financial analysts still make their ways on the news programs, but they get little more time than the weathermen, even as the stock market gyrates crazily and they grope for this day’s answers to explain yesterday. (I’ve always thought their talk largely hooey; they can always explain yesterday’s dips and climbs—after the fact.)

But now: tired doctors and nurses take the mikes—one New York ER doc said she was at the end of five 13-hour days, and hadn’t really slept since it all started; another high-fived his young child through a glass because he is spending his days with the afflicted; and yet another said that she could not wait to get back to work when she was at home, that the meaning of the work and the camaraderie of coworkers are exhilarating. When asked whether anyone had come off a ventilator successfully, she cracked a huge smile and described a 21 year-old patient, “one of our successes.”

Even Dr. Fauci gets more applause than the President, and Dr. Birx is listened to more closely in the press conferences Trump seems to see as campaign rallies. Fauci and Birx struggle and try to use them honestly.

This pandemic reminds us that we are all human together. It strikes rich and poor, black and white, Christian and Hindu, the famous and the humble. Tom Hanks caught it; John Prine is seriously ill; Congressmen and Senators and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are in quarantine.

It appears to have no preference for one kind of government over another—it might have originated in Communist China, but it is expanding rapidly in our democracy and killing mightily in European Union countries Spain and Italy. And while a country’s wealth and power are tools in the fight, their interdependencies ease the virus’s path.

Our parents and grandparents looked back on the Great Depression as a time of want—but also as a time of camaraderie, sharing, and cooperation. The Depression too hit the wealthy and the poor, and reached every corner of the country and the world. Photographer Dorothea Lange and writer John Steinbeck made heroes of everyday people who coped with it with courage and dignity. And President Franklin Roosevelt is remembered for courageous actions and coming into everyone’s radio living room regularly with words of encouragement.

This is our time, our Depression, our Spanish Flu. The pandemic has now touched most continents and countries. It has leveled the rich and famous and elevated the humble. And although some will always duck hard times with their wealth—the New Yorkers who fled to the Hamptons on first onset; and others who will try to profit—the entrepreneur selling $30,000 “drop in the ground” iron bunkers, we’ll not remember them with praise. Our hope and our future is in the quiet heroes.

I see Lange-like photos of them every day, and I wait for this Pandemic’s Steinbeck and its Grapes of Wrath.

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Friday, March 27, 2020

“Modern America and the Indian"

The essay by Alvin Josephy appeared in a book, Indians in American History: an Introduction, edited by Frederick E. Hoxie, and published in 1988.  “Modern America and the Indian” is one in a fine collection of essays by scholars--many of them tribal members also--examining American history from the Indian’s side.

Josephy covers the period from the late 1920s until the Reagan Administration. There is a detailed examination of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and the biographical background on its author, John Collier. Alvin sees the period as a defining one in the long struggle of Indians to maintain culture and identity against the tremendous pressures of assimilation. Collier was their champion, with support from President Roosevelt, and tried to reverse the assimilation movements of the previous half century. The support was not as strong from Congress.

The IRA did finally put an end to the Allotment Act of 1887, which “had stripped Indians of some 90 million acres of their lands.” The New Deal and IRA gave Indians hope, but it also created divisions. In the next decades, WW II, PL 280, Termination and Relocation all tended to reverse Indian identity movements and advance assimilationist sentiments among white policy makers, the general population, and some Indians. The 60s, Vietnam, and Civil Rights activism then countered, as did the American Indian Movement and other expressions of “Red Power.”

The same period is addressed in more detail from an Indian point of view by David Treuer, an Ojibwe tribal member from Minnesota. Treuer is a novelist and a scholar, and in two books: The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee and Rez Life, argues that the popular view of Indians and Indian history still today stops in 1891 at Wounded Knee. He uses written history and personal experience to make his arguments. His work is to tell us what in fact happened in Indian Country 1891-present.

Josephy fought that battle from the white side in his career as writer and activist. In this essay, and throughout his career, Alvin Josephy saw the Indians as unique partners in a broader American and world-wide movement to recognize the dignity and worth of many cultures in a “pluralistic” America and world. Authoritarian nationalism and cultural homogenization have been and continue to be pitted against this pluralistic world view. The essay follows on the link below:

Modern America & the Indian.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Their Vietnam

I have four grandchildren between the ages of 18 and 23. I’ve told them that coronavirus is their Vietnam. It will be the event they will remember when they are my age, as I remember Vietnam for its horror and its impact on my life.

I was born in 1942, so skated by with easy education and Peace Corps draft deferments until 1968, when Vietnam really heated up and the country was running out of volunteers—American Indians volunteered at the highest rate of any American group for Vietnam, an important fact that deserves more attention—and the draft was becoming problematic. In 1969, with reduced volunteer numbers and the number of poor black and brown draftees available growing smaller, the Selective Service Administration was going to have to begin drafting large numbers of white Americans. They came up with the draft lottery.

Going to Vietnam became a condition of your birth date and numbered Ping-Pong balls bouncing in a container in front of a television audience. I was 26 by then—too old to be drafted by the protocols of the day, so I paid no attention to a draft number attached to my birth date, but I’ll guarantee you that any American male born between 1944 and 1951 and not in the service at the time can tell you precisely what his lottery number was. Low and you were on your way to Vietnam; high and you went back to work, school, partying, and feeling some guilt for your good fortune. In the middle—100-150 maybe; I don’t remember the details—and you stayed home to worry.

On the front lines of the COVID-19 war, young people are losing school terms and having to study online; being laid off from their jobs in restaurants, bars, ski areas, hotels, and factories; working scared in grocery stores and at Amazon; or saying to hell with it and partying. If they are working anywhere in the health field, 50 years from now they’ll remember the work they did that helped people survive, and the people who didn’t make it. Although this crisis has only been with us full scale for a month, my guess is that it is already indelible in their young lives.

Vietnam, and the severe negative reaction in the rest of the world to the American war effort there, ended my Peace Corps staff assignment in Turkey—and it ended my dream of being a diplomat. I came back to the US in 1970, and a year later found my way to a small, rural Oregon town to work and live close to the land. We were part of the 70s “back to the land” movement.  And unlike many who went back to the cities and suburbs, I stayed here.

It’s early now, but over the next months the grandkids and their cohort will be examining the world and their own options with different eyes. They’ll jump into health care or politics or biochemical research to find answers; return to familiar surroundings and hunker down; or they will become lost in the shuffle of political and medical opinions and directives, and stumble along in a life of missed opportunities and “might-have-beens.”

My parents and their generation had the Great Depression and World War II. Their parents had World War I and the Flu Epidemic of 1918, which hit 500 million people, about a quarter of the world’s population at the time. Over 50 million died. My generation had—and still has—Vietnam.

And American Indians had them all, as they simultaneously battled discrimination and assimilation.  The miracle of their survival continues to astound.

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Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Earth is Tilting

Maybe it is. The lines on charts showing the new daily incidents of COVID-19 infection are still spiking up. Only China has leveled off, an interesting fact given the huge population, but how much to attribute to the authoritarian culture? There is too much randomness, too much chaos, too much short-term hedonism and self-interest, and too much honest open discussion of the problem in most of the world for the China model to hold strong promise.

I cannot stop thinking about the devastation by infectious diseases suffered by the indigenous peoples of the Americas beginning in 1492—and continuing for hundreds of years. The Indian population of what is now the contiguous United States, which might have been 10 million at first contact, plummeted to about 237,000 at the turn of the twentieth century. That would match the idea held by many demographers today that diseases wiped out about 90 percent of the population at contact. But Indians, a tribal friend reminds me, were still suffering from smallpox a generation or two ago. And, one can imagine, from polio and measles and all else.

That initial contact, like our COVID-19, was quiet, stealthy; the biggest death counts happened before the inhabitants had met the colonizer carriers. The viruses came ashore from Atlantic fishing boats and Pacific fur-trade boats; they marched ahead of the Hudson’s Bay trappers and came up the Mississippi with De Soto’s pigs. And tribal people had no notion of where or how they came down with the measles, smallpox, flu and other European maladies. Oftentimes the sweats and communal closeness that had served them well through injury did the opposite with these foreign diseases.

Indians must have been accustomed to death by scarcity and conflict. The fear of imminent death by disease seems to me qualitatively different from the fear of death in battle or in hunger. There is, in battle, the chance of winning, and the opportunity to go down in glory. There is the opportunity for elective self-sacrifice and honor in living and serving in a starving community. Individual actions must have seemed futile in the case of smallpox and measles.

If disease in our modern era gives us one thing the Indians did not have, it is the opportunity for individual sacrifice and even heroism in the face of disease. Medical personnel across the world are serving—and sometimes dying—as they work to confront coronavirus.

There are other, more global kinds of heroism. The crisis has political and social leaders in Israel and Palestine working together in common cause to halt the spread of the disease. Israelis are finding housing for Palestinian workers so that they do not have to cross the border daily. Negotiations to release Israeli-held Palestinian funds and aging prisoners are ongoing.

Can we hope for such cooperation to infect nations and divisions within nations as we all adapt to this new, tilting planet?

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Immunity--and American Indians

Measles, smallpox, influenza—what a tragic and painful experience the first European contacts must have been for the first Americans!  We now know that huge numbers, unfathomable numbers, of American Indians were killed by European diseases.

Imagine Tisquantum (Squanto) coming back to his homeland after years in Europe as a slave, making his way to England and then coming home, where he finds his village deserted, his tribe gone to disease.

Imagine the families of Willamette Valley Indians dying quickly in each other’s arms from an unknown malady that has crept ashore from British or Russian ships in the 1770s and 80s. Imagine Nez Perce and Umatilla families doing the same in the 1780s—long before Lewis and Clark, long before they saw a white man—dying by the thousands from smallpox or measles, apparently carried by the Shoshone from the Southwest north to the Blackfeet and then along the Columbia River. Author Charles Mann quotes a Blackfoot warrior of the time: “We had no idea that a Man could give [a disease] to another anymore than a wounded Man could give his wound to another.” (1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus) Europeans, who had wrestled with the Plague, had the notion of quarantine; the Indians did not.

I think about the anxiety and fears that many Americans feel now with the threat of a disease that has been identified, that leaders are attempting to quell with social distancing and quarantines, that researchers have isolated and now can and do rush to find treatments and vaccinations. There are still unknowns, enough to foster our fears. And there are family tragedies—parents dying alone and isolated from their children. And panics—real ones about how the rent will get paid and the children cared for, and crazy ones that empty stores of toilet paper.

But imagine confronting coronavirus now without rapid communication and the mounting efforts to stem its contagion. Imagine it traveling from Asia to Europe and the Americas without knowing the map.

In Mann’s book he recaps scholars’ arguments about how many people lived in the Americas before Columbus. He talks about “high counters,” who guessed 100 million or more, and “low counters” who thought that too high by factors of 10. The high counters argued that disease had taken as many as 95 percent of the people.

Mann meticulously follows the scientific research of the past 50 or 60 years, which has shown how Native American immunities—or lack of immunities—were due to their lack of contact with the domestic animal incubators of viral diseases. There had been no camels, cows, or chickens, and thus no camelpox, cowpox, or chickenpox. They were further disadvantaged by long isolation and a limited range of genetic defenses against all viral infections that Africans and Europeans enjoyed.

The cynic in me says that our current war footing as re COVID-19 is vigorous in part because the disease pays little attention to rich and poor, color or ethnicity. Old white men, who still control most of the purse strings in America, are at risk; two Congressmen have tested positive! Would the response have been this strong to a runaway version of sickle cell anemia that settled disproportionately on Africans and African-Americans? To some virulent plague that attacked dirty, crowded refugee camps and/or slums in the Middle East and South American barrios?

My better nature joins Nixyáawii Longhouse Leader Armand Minthorn in asking us all to be strong together. He says that “there is never a wrong time to pray… to do right… to sing.” You can watch and hear Armand here:

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Braiding Sweetgrass #3 –The Religion of More

The book—and the evening discussion of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants on Monday night is lodged in my mind. And it bumps up against today’s headlines again and again.

“The air in China is cleaner than it’s been in years,” and when China slowed economic and industrial activity that polluted the air for Olympic games, babies were born heavier and healthier. The traffic is light in Seattle, and crowds in Italy, at the Coliseum and the Vatican are small enough so that the few who are there can enjoy. You can, one commentator announced, enjoy a nice restaurant meal in Milan.

In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Kemmerer gives story after story of American Indians taking what they need, leaving enough to serve others and to replenish the stock of sweetgrass, Black Ash, fish, game, and strawberries. And then giving thanks for the generosity you’ve enjoyed.

We’ve grown addicted to the gospel of more, to bigger and faster. What coronavirus—mother nature’s slap back, as one friend says—is showing us is that uncontrolled growth is not healthy, that linking and interconnecting, finding the cheapest labor here and cheapest materials there to build a car or computer for me somewhere else is creating fragile networks that can collapse with a bat’s version of the flu. The stock market doesn’t know whether to go up or down; we don’t know whether to travel or not, go to work or not, go to the show, or watch the game without a courtside audience on TV.

American Indians were caught unawares with white European diseases 500 years ago. And then there were wars, treaties, boarding schools, and termination policies. But Indians have survived—incredibly, miraculously—in part because there were always elders who remembered that the first salmon goes back, the huckleberry patch gets picked in a different place each year, and that land that has sustained us forever needs us but warns us: take care of water and the fish and the plants, and never take more than you need.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Braiding Sweetgrass #2

By my count, there were 14 of us at the Josephy Center talking about Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, writer Robin Kemmerer’s prayer that we look through scientific classification and dissection to indigenous knowledge of plants--and all of mother earth, For her, the earth--all of it--is gift, and we human beings are bound up in it in what can and should be reciprocal relations of gratitude and care. Sweetgrass grows lush when we harvest it.

People took away different lessons--"I’ll look at the world I tramp in with new eyes"; "we shouldn’t worship growth"; "how can I live more sustainably?"; "this book will get passed on--and we will send copies to friends and children.” And all of us got bound up in this discussion of the “Thanksgiving Address" of the Onondaga, which puts gratitude and sharing the gifts of earth at the center of our lives.

A question to blog readers: what books explore relationships of indigenous people to earth and each other in other parts of the world? In Australia. Asia, and the many regions of Africa?

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Sunday, March 8, 2020

Braiding Sweetgrass

Our Josephy Center book group is reading Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, by indigenous writer and professor of botany Robin Wall Kimmerer.  We’ll have a discussion of the book on Monday night, March 9, at 7:00 p.m., at the Josephy Center, but anyone is invited to listen in—and at least comment by email—

I came to the book reluctantly. It’s about plants and ponds, and not, at first blush, about the human dramas that always grab my attention. Friends persuaded me and voted when given a chance that this would be our next book. I started slowly, and am still just past the half-way mark. And I love it!

If there’s a lesson in those pages that my human-focused mind can get around, it is that the indigenous way of looking at the earth and its living and un-living occupants—and even at the heavens that surround us—is to see it all as “gift.” This is radically opposed to the modern view of a world of commodities, where the pieces are all interrelated yes, but by rules of economics and physics. There might be awe in the stars, or in the neatly fitted chain of materials and processes that put a car or computer together in China so that I can drive it or Google it in Joseph, Oregon. But where are thankfulness and grace and reciprocity?

I don’t know where I go from here. I’ll finish the book, and listen to others tomorrow night. And to you blog readers and your thoughts on this gift of a book.

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Sunday, February 2, 2020

Resilience of Indians

A friend asked me recently how I remain cheerful. She’s older than my 77 years, and we were both visiting a yet older friend in the hospital. It took me fewer than 30 seconds to almost automatically reply “Indians.”

Indians have put up with every abuse, had their lands taken away from them and their languages, religions, and cultures stripped away. They have been demeaned in every way and described as a “vanishing race,” even by supposed friends.

And they have survived. Some historical periods were harsher than others—think the 1880s with the rise of boarding schools, the General Allotment Act, and the Courts of Indian Offences; think the 1950s and Eisenhower administration efforts to “terminate” all tribes and to “relocate” young Indians to cities for education and work.

Indians have survived with respect for and trust in elders, with ties to lands, diminished lands but tribal lands nonetheless, with adaptation and with humor. They have used traditional lands in traditional ways, and although their fishing and wild rice and root gatherings and buffalo hunting have been mocked and belittled in the past, they now get respect. Indian practices and philosophies are now lauded by white writers, even authorities: maybe fire is a natural part of the biological order; reciprocity demands that we take care of the fish and its habitat and not fish to the last fish. Indians now work to restore beaver, wolf, and lamprey, and many of us, including many non-Indians, do not know now the places they once filled in the natural order of things, but believe that they all have their places and that it is arrogant of humans to take something away without knowing the consequences.

And humor. I tell people who have never spent time with Indians to watch “Smoke Signals,” the bittersweet film written by Sherman Alexie. I don’t, by the way, know or understand what happened between Sherman and some young women writers. Because he is such an observant and fine writer, I wait for him to address it in his own words sometime soon. I also know that Indian men are not immune to practicing the bad behaviors of men everywhere. Nevertheless, the humor with which Sherman has addressed modern Indian living resonates, for me, with the humor I cackle with when I am around Indians. When I tried to explain to my Nez Perce friend Charlie some of the racial treatment that my half India-Indian grandson was getting at school, he said I didn’t have to explain it to him. “I’ve been brown for 80 years,” he explained.

So we find ourselves nationally in a bad situation, with a president who bullies his way around the capital and the world, driven, apparently, by his own narcissistic obsessions. Our corporate leaders build systems to track our private lives for profit and gain riches by helping us degrade each other with tweets and posts. Our government leaders pledge attention to a changing climate, but vote for and with fossil fuel and growth above all.

Indians have had plenty of experiences with bad presidents—start with Jackson?—and dishonest corporations. The railroad empires and their corporate customers that hunted to the last buffalo for hides and bones almost depleted that species forever, and the canneries that scooped fish out of the Columbia kept taking salmon until even the white fishermen made them stop using their giant fish wheels. And the tools and fools of growth and greed as ultimate values in private and public sectors have opposed Indian practices as archaic, unscientific, and uncivilized forever.

But Indians are still here. In these dark times, I suggest you read Indian writers, check out “Smoke Signals,” take in a powwow or a root feast, buy salmon from a tribal fisherman along the Columbia, go to church in a Longhouse.

And, together, thank the creator for getting you this far, and ask the creator to get us all home safely.

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Friday, January 17, 2020

Fire in Australia

In a dispatch from Cooinda, Australia, Robert Fuller writes in the New York Times today:

"Many forests were thinner than those that exist now and were more resistant to hot-burning fires. Early explorers described the landscape as a series of gardens, and they reported seeing near constant trails of smoke from small fires across the landscape.

"As Europeans took control of the country, they banned burning. Jeremy Russell-Smith, a bushfire expert at Charles Darwin University, said this quashing of traditional fire techniques happened not only in Australia, but also in North and South America, Asia and Africa.

“'The European mind-set was to be totally scared of fire,' Mr. Russell-Smith said."

In the end, the aboriginal ways send less carbon into the atmosphere, and allow animals and humans to live and thrive, as today’s conflagurations in Australia do not. The question there—and in California, Washington, and Oregon—is whether reviving ancient ways and wisdom can have a significant impact on hundreds of years of  the “European mind-set” on fire.

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Thursday, January 16, 2020

Climate change and migrations

With fires raging and people fleeing to the sea in Australia, and evacuations in the Philippines in the face of volcanoes, I think about all the instances of weather and climate that have changed the shape of world populations. The few that I know about are certainly samples of many.

I started thinking about this when I read that half of the European immigrants to North America from Plymouth to the formation of the U.S. were indentured servants. Europe was caught in the throes of the Little Ice Age. It was cold and crops failed or yielded little. Fathers would take their sons and daughters to the dock and turn them over to a ship’s captain. The captain would sail them to the “new” world and recover their passage with their sale to waiting farmers and settled and prosperous families.

In my research, I read Brian Fagan’s The Great Warming, a history of population ebbs and flows with planet warming circa 800-1400. The Vikings went across the seas, colonizing Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland. European populations swelled as farmers grew wheat in Norway and wine grapes in England. The moldboard plow was invented to turn up new ground with the exploding populations.

But in the Americas at that time, indigenous populations were decimated by heat and drought. Half the people of the California coast died as their acorn-based diet died. The Mayan cities, reliant on sophisticated irrigation systems, collapsed with drought and the people scattered and survivors scratched livings in small villages. And I think this was the time that the very sophisticated society at Chaco Canyon collapsed. People dispersed; we have no record of where they went, and how many died in getting there.

The mound cities, including Cahokia, near present day city of St. Louis, and circa 1100 c.e., larger and more sophisticated than London with 10,000-40,000 people, grew and collapsed during the Warming—overuse of resources? Floods? Climate? Not sure.

The planet cooled, populations in Europe shrunk rapidly with the plague, and the generations of survivors literally shrunk in size. Charlemagne, King of the Franks in the late 700s and early 800s—the very beginning of that Great Warming period, commanded an army of six-footers. Napoleon, who ruled, fought, and lost with an army of soldiers of five-footers, had his run towards the end of what is called the Little Ice Age, the period from roughly 1300-1850.

Which is of course a period that encompasses the colonization of the Americas by Europeans (and the demise of the Vikings settlements in Newfoundland and Greenland). North America apparently recovered with the cooling. Population, including that of the Mound cities and the Pacific coast, might have fallen rapidly, but corn and agriculture had moved from Central America north; agriculture, and very sophisticated hunting, fishing, and gathering, served populations well. As crops and agriculture moved, so did people. And until modern genetics, we best traced that with linguistics. John Wesley Powell commissioned a language study in the late 1800s at the Smithsonian, and came up with 45 or 48 language families in North America. Alvin Josephy started with languages in The Indian Heritage of America, published in 1968, long before modern genetics. The language maps show Athabaskan—or dene—languages in present day Canada, the North Pacific Coast, and in the Southwest, with Navajo and Apache among others. It would be interesting to correlate Athabaskan languages and peoples from north to the south, and the Algonquins from the Northeast to the Pacific coast with climate and weather events.

There were of course conflicts and wars too. But even wars can own to climate. There is now good evidence that the turmoil of the Arab Spring and upheavals and eventually war in Syria had to do with drought. Drought chased farming rural people into cities, where jobs and food were scarce for many and created a swelling population ready for any radical change that might mean bread.

Now the people of Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, and Central America scurry north, to milder climates where agriculture and industry still thrive. We can blame mass migrations on corruption, mismanagement, overpopulation, and wars, but somewhere in the mix is drought and hunger.

With heat and drought come fire and sporadic flooding of vulnerable lands. With rising tides, more dramatic shifts of rains, snows, and temperatures; with winds, hurricanes, typhoons, fire and flood (add earthquakes and volcanoes), the populations of the world are probably in the beginning of rapid transformations. What parts of Australia will survive—and where will its populations go? How many islands in the Philippines will go under? How long can New Orleans stay above water? How much air conditioning can Phoenix afford? Where will Phoenix—and much of California—get its water as the Colorado gets overtaxed and evaporation sucks its waters? And where will all the people go?

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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——and take in some of our shows and events when you come to town. Or click on 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 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 )

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.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Race—yes, it matters

And immigration too. If we think about it, we, as individuals, families, communities, and a nation are conflicted about both race and immigration, and always have been. This came to mind this week with news that White House advisor Stephen Miller was exposed as having advocated blatantly white nationalist literature. This is the same Miller who designed many of the president’s border and overall immigration policies: the anti-Muslim travel bans, border policies on separating children and families, etc.

I say we are conflicted about immigration and race because most of us in this country trace ourselves—proudly—to immigrant forbearers. My family arrived from Germany and Norway in the late 1800s and early 1900s. When I lived in California, many of my Mexican classmates and neighbors lived in ancestral places and houses, when they were part of Mexico! Anyone who can trace ancestry to African-American slaves has, along with the Mexican-Americans sited above—and many more in Arizona and New Mexico—been “American” in family much longer than I have. “Immigrant” is a conflicted term!

We are conflicted about color and race because white has not always been white enough. When Irish, Greek, and Italian immigrants came to America, most of them huddled in ethnic enclaves in Eastern cities, took jobs that proper white Americans did not want (sometimes jobs that had been done by slaves before our grueling Civil War). The promulgators of Manifest Destiny, like all but seven or eight of our 45 presidents, were “Anglo-Americans” who saw this country as the natural heir to the British Empire, the new arrow of Civilization.

Jewish immigrants have their own sad stories of not being white enough. In the run-up to WW II, in 1939, a ship with 937 refugees fleeing Nazi Germany landed in Havana, Cuba, where 28 passengers were allowed to debark—The US and Canada then refused to allow any departures, and the ship returned to Europe, where the
Holocaust was unfolding.

Subsequent American actions helped staunch the Nazi Anti-Semitic Aryan nationalist movement, and, in the process brought white Italian, Irish, Scandinavian, German and Jewish Americans together with Anglo-Americans and called them all white. Black troops served in a segregated military through that war; integration of the military occurred in 1948.

Majority society’s attitudes about ethnicity are most conflicted when it comes to the original Americans—misnamed from the beginning, “Indians.” The Indians were ravaged by European diseases, and drastically reduced in population as the country moved west and appropriated Indian lands through wars, fraudulent treaties, and overwhelming numbers.

There were always partisans who acknowledged these takeovers with minor or major misgivings. Official policy—and the accepted attitude of most Americans—became one of “assimilation,” making Indians white. The most generous advocates for Indians thought their cultures interesting and worthy of holding in museums, but also thought that the only way to save them was to “kill the Indian and save the man” in boarding schools and through policies that would make Indians farmers, make them city dwellers, make them white.

The Indian population of the country has rebounded from a low of 237,000 in the 1890s to over five million today—a population intent on saving and advancing ancient languages and cultures. Maybe most telling is the number of white Americans who now proudly claim a half-Cherokee grandmother or some other tie to the original Americans. Conflicted on ethnicity.

Not Stephen Miller. The new information about him follows an election and three years of rhetoric from the president and advisors that touches on—or settles squarely on—race. I believe that the election and support of this president is firmly rooted in race. Italian -Americans and Anglo-Americans, who once were divided by concepts of race, have made up and married and now fear the day when non-white Americans will be a majority in the country.

Yes, some religious conservatives look past anti-immigrant policies and continuing convictions of corrupt officials to the appointment of anti-abortion judges. And other traditional conservatives look past offensive remarks and actions to tax cuts and robust returns on investments. But the hard core of support for the current political regime is racial fear.

And that fear of becoming some kind of minority in “our own land” allows the likes of Stephen Miller to advocate racist policies in the White House and, importantly, engenders a quiet acquiescence to overt white nationalism and white supremacism among a large number of Americans.

In Wallowa County and majority white communities like ours, we support our Mexican, Thai, and Chinese restaurants, and hire Mexican crews from outside the area to sheetrock our homes and work in our fields, but fear the floodgates of new immigrants and the tilt of the nation-wide racial balance.

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Thursday, October 31, 2019

Alvin Josephy papers at U of Oregon Library

The Josephy Library, here at the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture in Joseph, Oregon, has a good share of the books from Alvin and Betty Josephy’s home libraries in Greenwich, CT and Joseph, OR.  This includes personal copies of most of the books and journal articles he wrote over his long career as a journalist and historian. We even have a smattering of WW II audio recordings, and a few clippings and “ephemera” related to history, and especially to the Nez Perce.  

The books are cataloged on the SAGE library network-- -- and we are working to annotate the books Alvin wrote and edited, and those he has forwards or chapters in,  and to relate them to the journal articles, the book reviews, articles about Alvin, etc. into a system so that you can easily retrieve information on  "Alvin, Nez Perce, and Salmon,” or “Marine Corps, WW II, and Alvin,” or on “Nez Perce and fish,” etc.

Meanwhile, Alvin sent boxes of materials--correspondence, book and article drafts, research notes, discarded chapters of books, etc to the Knight Library at the University of Oregon over more than three decades. They have all now been professionally cataloged, and here is the link to what is in the collection with detailed notes on where in the collection it is located. The librarians at U of O have been very helpful in locating materials, and I am sure they will do so for all of you who need a closer look at the extensive work that Alvin Josephy did over his long career. I was in awe as I scrolled the pages:

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Fire--and Climate Change

About 700 or 800 years ago—more detailed times and accounts of them are in a book called The Great Warming, by Brian Fagan—California shriveled in drought, and much of it died. Half the live oak trees and half the people who depended on them as a major food source died. One can imagine fire accompanied the years, decades, of drought.

I can’t help thinking about this as I read reports and see pictures and video coverage of the fires in southern and northern California. Beyond today and California, I think about how vulnerable we make ourselves by where we live, and how far we reach for water and food. When my son, who lives in Phoenix, calls to report a temperature of 117 degrees, I think that he and his city could not live without air conditioning and electricity. And I think of how far some people have to reach for electricity—to the shale fields of North Dakota and Canada, to the wind turbines in the Columbia River Gorge, to the stored water behind the Columbia River dams.

But fire, it seems to me, is like a burning truth kernel in this story of interdependence that we humans have created over centuries. Today in California fire and electricity are crossing paths—electrical sparks causing fire; electrical shutoffs trying to stay ahead of the fires.

Fire has always been with us—In World Fire, Stephen J. Pyne argues that we became human when we learned to start and stop—sometimes—fires. Fire was one of the first elements in early cosmologies; it has changed landscapes and scarred and killed life—and generated new life—forever; it has even been, as Pyne points out, used as a weapon.

A recent piece in the New York Times, “A Forecast for a Warming World: Learn to Live With Fire,” centers on the fires in California this week, but talks broadly about fires, and notes that we humans’ current favored building places are at the edge of “wild lands,” in fires’ natural paths. Almost in an aside, the writers, Thomas Fuller and Kendra Pierre-Louis, say that the Forest Service  “notes that Native Americans used prescribed burns to help with food production.”

In pre-colonial times, the tribes of what is now the Northeastern United States used low-intensity burning of their fields to sequester carbon and enhance the growing of corn, beans, squash and the myriad of medicinal and food plants colonial newcomers saw as weeds. In the west of the continent, the Plateau peoples of what are now parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, relied on naturally caused fires and started some of their own to clear underbrush and condition the lands that grew the roots and berries and fed the deer, elk, antelope and birds that sustained them.

Without crediting American Natives, the authors say that

"Before the era of fire suppression, north Georgia around Brawley Mountain used to burn roughly every three to five years…. Those blazes allowed species that could withstand some fire, like the longleaf pine, to proliferate and flourish, shaping local ecosystems… Some of those fires were caused by natural events like lightning; others were caused by human activity… These smaller fires act as a kind of incendiary rake, clearing out grasses, shrubs and other plant matter before they can overgrow to become fuel for bigger, more extreme fires."

Which is a pretty good description of native use of fire, of “living with fire.” When we get to the crux of things, our hubris in building and living at the edge of wild lands, in fires’ natural paths, and in thinking that we can always suppress fire, can manage and master nature to our human needs, only exacerbates the dangerous conditions brought on by regular cycles of hot and cold, wet and dry. Add climate change…

I’d argue that indigenous peoples who live close to those regular cycles learn how to deal with them, learn to listen to the changes in weather, the needs of plants and animals and the earth itself in their hunting, gathering, farming, and everyday lives.

But that could not help the Indians of California a thousand years ago, or the residents of Chaco Canyon, or the Mayan cities and civilization. They did not have the tools to deal with massive climate change. Do we?

# # #

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Columbus Day?

Hang around and keep listening and you keep learning.

For a long time it has struck me that North America and the United States, from the beginning of colonization, have been dominated by Anglo culture. I have said before that Slavs and Greeks, Italians and the Irish, were not really white until World War II, when the residents of little Italys and Irish neighborhoods joined Greek and German Americans in an army that segregated only blacks.

Germans, the largest contingent of immigrants from the Civil War until 1900, had busied themselves with making bread, beer, and sausage, building middle-American cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis. But Anglo-Americans dominated our politics and our literature, and were, I guess, the mavens of most of our news media. And the doctors of the policy of “assimilation” of American Indians.

Today I learned, in the New York Times, from Brent Staples, author of  “How Italians Became White,” that "President Benjamin Harrison proclaimed it [Columbus Day] as a one-time national celebration in 1892 — in the wake of a bloody New Orleans lynching that took the lives of 11 Italian immigrants. The proclamation was part of a broader attempt to quiet outrage among Italian-Americans, and a diplomatic blowup over the murders that brought Italy and the United States to the brink of war."

The story is longer and more complicated, but when Italians in the 1800s came to the United States they were often labeled as “black,” were shuttled to jobs in the South that had once been done by slaves, and were in general, even in the eyes of “enlightened” Northern newspapers and academics, considered evolutionary inferiors to the real white race—read Anglo-Americans.

Staples is deeply embarrassed by the newspaper he now works for, which once said that “There has never been since New York was founded so low and ignorant a class among the immigrants who poured in here as the Southern Italians who have been crowding our docks during the past year.”

Staples says that “The editors reserved their worst invective for Italian immigrant children, whom they described as ‘utterly unfit — ragged, filthy, and verminous as they were — to be placed in the public primary schools among the decent children of American mechanics.’”

So Harrison proclaimed Columbus Day, and it hung on, and helped the Italians become part of the American “founding myth.” We know about all of that now, know that Columbus never set foot on the mainland, know that he subjected the indigenous people he met to slavery and exploitation of the worst kinds—some call it genocide. But the story of Columbus’s “discovery” of America and its annual celebration has raised Italian-Americans from their own horrible exploitations, harassment, discrimination, and lynchings, to respectability as White Americans.

The world turns. South Dakota might have been the first state, in 1990, to declare October 12 Native Americans or Indigenous Peoples Day. And now at least eight states, 10 universities and more than 130 cities across 34 states observe Indigenous Peoples Day as an alternative to the federally recognized Columbus Day.

There is no need to justify a day set aside to honor the original peoples, but it is a time to take some satisfaction in the fact that, for all the diseases that Columbus and other Europeans brought, all the torment and the attempts to kill them literally and with assimilations, Indians are still here, in the United States of America.

# # #

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. ( for the full article)

*  *  *
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.

# # #

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.

# # #

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

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


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.

# # #

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


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:

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