My friend Tony Robinson, a retired pastor with deep roots in Wallowa County, recounted his church and civil rights journeys in a blogpost yesterday, as answers to a grandson’s queries. The history begins with memories of growing up in suburban Washington D.C., and serving as an usher for the inauguration of John Kennedy when he was 12. And then being at the front, watching JFK’s funeral procession pass by just three years later. He told his grandson that his church, in a segregated suburb, introduced him to area black churches, and sent him to interracial summer camps, setting him on a path of pastoring to Hmong refugees and AIDs patients. His regret was not being at the 1963 March on Washington and hearing Martin Luther King’s famous words. His parents, like most of white suburban D.C., had feared violence. Read The Article
Over 400 men and women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s who were adopted by American parents from Chile during the reign of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) are finding each other. They are learning that their biological mothers were told that they had died in childbirth, and that their numbers might be in the thousands. It was apparently an effort by Pinochet to reduce the numbers of poor children and bring in US currency, an effort aided and abetted by Chilean bureaucrats and medical personnel. Read The Article
It struck me first in the wake of the Vietnam War, when hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, Laotian, Thai, and Cambodian refugees arrived in America—and began opening restaurants. Even then I thought back to small Mexican restaurants in 1950s Southern California, and the ubiquitous pizza places and Italian restaurants that I ate in in the 60s and 70s from Oceanside, California to Washington D.C., and west to Oregon. I thought then and think now that food can bring people together with less rancor and more joy than any other thing or idea I can imagine.
Fifty years ago, In 1971, dining out in Wallowa County was bacon and eggs, hamburgers and fries at the Circle T and pie at the Pie Shop in Enterprise, steaks and Snake River Omelets at the Gold Room in Joseph. A smorgasbord rose and fell at the Wallowa Lake Lodge, with slightly upscale versions of Standard American Foods—potato and green salads, deviled eggs, baked beans, Read The Article
With the wind blowing hard, the lights flickering and the internet down, I’m reminded of the wisdom of Natives living for thousands of years in this land before the European invasion.
The snow paths that we had carved to cars and dog’s pasture are blown shut, and our Josephy Center, Davis Body Shop, and Vemco Fabrication are closed for the day. There are certainly others, but that’s what I got early from Facebook, before my internet went down. Read The Article
A friend gave me a new book, We Had A Little Real Estate Problem: The Unheralded Story of Native Americans & Comedy, as a Christmas gift. She knows that most of my reading these days is by Indian authors and about Indian history and culture. She’s heard me exclaim about boarding schools and broken treaties. She thought it might give me something about Indians that was a little lighter to read. Read The Article
The following piece appeared in “Indian Country Today” in September of 2018, an “update” of the original obituary of 2005. It was entitled “The life of Alvin M. Josephy Jr., authoritative interpreter of history.” Read The Article
I remember a long time ago, maybe 40 years ago, when I had the bookstore in Enterprise and waited each summer for the Josephys to arrive from the East. Betty would drop Alvin off at the bookstore and go visiting. Alvin would begin browsing the “local” section, and ask me about all the new titles. He loved the small family stories, the diaries, and the amateurs who wrote about the railroads, the post offices, a piece of land or a family tree.
He often derided the academic historians and the writers of textbook and popular histories of the West, who, when they wrote about Indians at all, passed on old tropes and omitted most things that made the Indians intelligent beings intent on making the most out of desperate situations. Read The Article
Here’s how I found my way to The Way to Rainy Mountain
For the past few years, the Josephy Center has had a book group. It started with small, in-person meetings, and moved online with the coming of Covid. Our last book was Murder at the Mission: A Frontier Killing, Its Legacy of Lies, and the Taking of the American West, by Blaine Harden. We were blessed to have Harden and Bobbie Conner and Chuck Sams join us for the discussion. Conner and Sams have Cayuse roots, and were consulted by Harden as he researched and wrote the book. Read The Article
“Rumble” is a 2017 Canadian documentary film that I’d missed until it hit public television. I watched it twice, taking notes the second time, wanting to get in my mind the names of Rock n’ Roll, jazz, and blues musicians I’d listened to—and many I had not heard or heard of before.
I’d have to slow it down and stop action to get all the names and dates, but I know enough now to know that once again the roles of American Indians in the American story have been hidden or muted, and that there is again the story of resilience. Joy Harjo, our current national poet laureate and a member of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation, says, as the credits roll, that “We’re still here; we’re still alive; we’re still singing. Read The Article
My last rambling blog post tried to link missionaries Whitman and Spalding, Catholic and anti-Catholic Northwesterners, Yale historians, Manifest Destiny, the Fur Trade, Whitman College and Bison Books into a tidy essay on history and historiography. I could have done a blog post on each, I imagine, rather than make that untidy bundle. Read The Article
When I had the bookstore all those years ago, I kept a big supply of Bison Books from the University of Nebraska that told the tales of the fur traders and mountain men. It was not my thing; American history was not my thing. I read fiction and short stories, mysteries and books from and about the Ottoman Empire and the wars on the Eastern Front. Read The Article
On Saturday, Indian elders helped dedicate the “side channel project” on the Nez Perce Homeland grounds in Wallowa. The Wallowa River, Nez Perce Fisheries workers told us, had been shoved to a side, channelized decades ago, probably in the 1940s and 50s, so that more land would be free for pasture and crops. This narrowed, straight flowing river has scoured the river bottom and eaten the banks, and in so doing destroyed places for fish to rest while migrating, and places for them to spawn. The side channel does not change the course of the main stem, but allows water to drift to and through some of the river’s old territory. In spring runoff, water will spill over the side channels and recreate marshlands, where tule and other native plants can grow. There have already been fish and lamprey in the side channel waters. Read The Article
October 5, 1877 is the day on which the wal’wá·ma band of the Nez Perce and members of other non-treaty bands lost their freedom. They’d intended to go quietly from the Wallowa to the reduced Idaho reservation, leaving and losing their homeland but continuing to live in nearby country among relatives from other bands. They crossed the Snake River into Idaho in spring runoff, and there the grief-stricken actions of some young Nez Perce in killing Idaho settlers—settlers known for their mistreatment of Indians—set off a fighting retreat of more than 1200 miles. It ended on this day 144 yeasr ago at the Bears Paw mountains in Montana, just 40 miles short of safety in Canada. Read The Article
I sat down to a long cup of coffee with Leif Christoffersen, a Norwegian-American with long experience in African and Latin American countries and international aid organizations. It was at the time of the American pullout from Afghanistan, and I asked Leif what he thought about it.
Leif went immediately to “nation building,” and saw Afghanistan as the latest in a long line of big, mostly Western, often American attempts to “develop” what we once called “third world” countries from the top down. We fly into less developed or underdeveloped countries—and pay no attention to their own long histories, cultures, and stories of internal development. We find partners willing to play by our rules, and then pour resources—and oftentimes military assistance and our own troops—into efforts to wrestle the country into some political-cultural replica of our own. Read The Article
In my last post, at the urging of a Nez Perce friend, I compared our nation’s current “longest war” with the wars our government has fought with Indian tribes. The nineteenth century and Indian wars seem a long way away to us now, and the Indians, with many tribes somewhat intact, have been largely missing from the American consciousness for at least that long. The recent revival of Indian histories, based on long hidden, lost, or neglected documents, the Boarding School scandal in Canada, and the recent appointment of Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior have tilted the table in favor of acknowledgments, “land-back” programs, have brought us the voices of Indian scholars. Read The Article
My friend Charlie texted me this morning to remind me that President Biden will announce today that he has ended America’s “longest war.” Charlie says that the Indian wars went on longer, that his people’s war, what we call the Nez Perce War, was one of the last of a continuing string of them, and that the suffering caused by Indian Wars cannot be measured. Read The Article
Our number one Josephy Library volunteer, Elnora Cameron, just returned from a trip across the North, and into the Midwest. She spent a few hours in Louise Erdrich’s Minneapolis bookstore, Birchbark Books (https://birchbarkbooks.com), and came back with a very interesting box of books by and about American Indians. Read The Article
Chuck Sams, Jaime Pinkham, and Deb Haaland Federal Government appointments were my good news last week. It turns out I stopped short in my research into what is going on in the Biden Administration, and made an error regarding government agencies at the same time. Thanks first to my friend Geoff, who advises that:
“The Army Corps of Engineers is within the Department of Defense, not Interior. Mike Connor, who will be the Asst. Secretary of the Army for Civil Works after confirmation… is Native too, Taos Pueblo. Jaime [Pinkham] Acting in his position, will be one rung below him, so both Native. Bob Anderson, also Native, is the Solicitor to Secretary of Interior, a critically important position, was Senate confirmed.”
And friend Elnora caught another of my misses—Brian Newland. Read The Article
With fires and covid raging, and the messy retreat in Afghanistan, it’s a murky time. So good news in the Department of the Interior is welcome!
Chuck Sams, enrolled on the Umatilla Reservation, where he has served in several tribal government positions and as a recent Governor Brown appointee to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, will, if confirmed, direct a National Park Service system made up of 423 national park sites throughout the United States. Among the national park sites are 63 national parks, 85 national monuments and other sites such as national battle sites and national shorelines. Read The Article