Blog

Riding a wave

I’m privileged, I tell visitors to the Josephy Center, to be at this place in this time, riding a wave of good feelings and sympathies for Native Americans. We see the Yuroks buying and rehabbing land in Northern California, managing for wild flora and fauna and education, reintroducing giant condors, contracting to revegetate the lands left in the wake of dam removal on the Klamath River. I listen to Nez Perce Tribal leaders negotiate with US officials over dam removal on the Snake River. We read books of indigenous history and culture by Indian professors at Yale and Harvard—places and subject matter deemed important in those illustrious history departments only recently. We watch Lilly Gladstone, the Blackfoot-Nez Perce actress, playing a starring role in a historical drama about the insane and greedy plots and the killings of Osage women to steal their oil inheritances in “Killers of the Flower Moon.” We marvel at Deb Haaland, the first Native cabinet secretary in history, as she seeds the Department of the Interior with Native talent—and, importantly, brings the disgraceful practices of the Indian Boarding Schools to national attention.

How can these things have escaped us for so many years, decades? And how did I get here? How am I able to talk with Nez Perce friends about what this Wallowa place must have looked like before they were torn from it 147 years ago? How did I end up atop the books and the research that Alvin Josephy produced in a long career of scholarship and advocacy for American Indians, beginning in the 1950s, when I was a young student wrestling with grades, sports, and a mysterious social world?

I know now that although American Indians were not part of my known world, they were next door neighbors in Minnesota and California as I grew up. Like most Americans of the time, Indians were long ago in history books, or were a game you played as children.

I tell people that when I came to the Wallowas in 1971, I did not know the Nez Perce from the Navajo. Chief Joseph was on the masthead of the newspaper, his image on the advertisements for the Chief Joseph Days Rodeo, a town—Joseph—named for him, and a Chief Joseph in a graveyard at the foot of Wallowa Lake. I had to learn that there were two Chief Josephs, that it was the father’s grave at the Lake; Young Joseph was buried in Colville, Washington. Why? And why am I sorting this out?

I came here with a one-year contract with the Extensions Service; my job was to increase employment. One year stretched to five, and then—I could have moved to Ontario or Hood River with Extension—we decided to open a bookstore in Enterprise. I was still not much attuned to Native matters—and in 1976 the country as a whole was not sympathetic to Natives in the wake of Black and Brown power movements, the Indian occupation of Alcatraz, and the confrontation between AIM—the American Indian Movement—and the FBI in South Dakota.

And then Alvin Josephy entered my life. The bookstore was always an early stop when the Josephys came to the County, and I gradually learned his career with Indians as he helped to shape mine. In those Bookloft conversations, I learned about Alvin’s meeting the Nez Perce, his books, and his work on what would become the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. He was my mentor, and we became friends.

My first meeting with Nez Perce Indians was in the basement of the Enterprise Library. Alvin was there too, and I watched and listened to him as he and they talked about expanding the Nez Perce National Historical Park into Oregon. It did!

In 1988, Alvin helped launch Fishtrap. We brought writers from across the West, but always tried to have an Indian presence, even workshops on Nez Perce language and culture. Fishtrap, which holds its 37th annual Summer Gathering this week, still brings diverse and Native voices.

And then Terry Crenshaw, Taz Conner, and what would become the Nez Perce Wallowa Homeland—now 320 acres with dance arbor and The tensions and mistrusts of the 1970s were dissolving, and Wallowa County was beginning to welcome the original inhabitants home!

Now I live with Alvin’s books in the Josephy Library. And I tell and retell the story of Alvin, the WW II combat correspondent and then Time Magazine editor, being told by publisher Henry Luce in a brief telegram to “Forget Utah, Do Idaho.” Luce’s plane had been put down in an emergency in Idaho, and he had been treated well. The boss sent Josephy to Idaho, where he met the Nez Perce—and the rest of the story plays out again and again in my mind and work.

Sometimes life seems complicated, and sometimes it seems like luck of the draw. The reasons that brought me to Wallowa County all those years ago are too long and complicated to go into here. But the meeting with Alvin and the Indians, Fishtrap and Indians, the Homeland Project and Indians, and my perch in a library filled with books and papers about the West and the Indians—especially the Nez Perce Indians—was the luck of a good draw.

I tell folks I feel like a surfer riding a good wave in a stormy sea in a troubled world.

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Photo if Alvin Josephy and his friend, Allen Pinkham Sr.

Indians right again!

My friend Mark, a retired woodwind player—sax and bassoon—dropped a book off for me that he said I had to read. The book is Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, and the author is James Nestor.

Nestor was a middle-aged man with a number of respiratory maladies who’d just recovered from a bout of pneumonia and still coughed and wheezed enough so that his doctor recommended a breathing class. The class, held in a small, dusty, four-flights up room, featured a staticky recording of a man in an East Indian accent guiding breathing. After a few minutes, Nestor was ready to quit, but his doctor had suggested—and the class was free; after 30 minutes, he actually felt better.Read Rich’s Post →

Indians and Indians

This blog post is dedicated to my new friends from India: Ritesh and Yojana Jindel; Biswajit and Anjali Pati; Raj Dubey, Siddharth Varvandkar; Anjana Miatra; and Sidhu Kuljit. They are from Rourkela in Odisha State and Raipur, the capital city in Chhattisgarh State in central India. They were here briefly this week on a Rotary Friendship Exchange with clubs in Oregon and Vancouver, Washington. Four men, four women, ages from forties to seventies, from states and cities populated by millions in a country with 1.4 billion people, almost one-fifth of the world’s population!Read Rich’s Post →

George Washington and the Indians

There are new revelations on every page in Ned Blackhawk’s ambitious The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History. In putting Indians back into the history of the country, rather than treating the trials and tribulations of Indian peoples as a separate discipline, he changes the way we understand the past. Indians, he says, had “agency,” were party to the actions and decisions that shaped the country. His is a different understanding of early founders Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and especially George Washington.Read Rich’s Post →

Caitlin Clark, Rez Ball, and the Pros

Caitlin Clark will play her first pro basketball game tonight for the Indiana Fever of the Women’s National Basketball Association. In her four years at the University of Iowa she had already broken records and helped create a storm of interest in the women’s game. And she already has endorsements—now legal for college player—which make her a millionaire, but her starting salary as a WNBA rookie number one draft pick is set at $76,000.

This—and the millions of dollars that the men receive as rookies, and the hundreds of millions they receive as stars—is cause for conversation in the world of women’s sports. So too is the fact that Caitlin Clark is white in a game of African-American stars. The press is comparing this to the coming of Larry Bird—another white Midwesterner—into men’s professional basketball more than four decades ago. Bird and his rivalry and friendship with Magic Johnson vaulted professional basketball into the mainstream of men’s professional sports. Until then the NBA was an afterthought to major league baseball and football. Some see Caitlin Clark doing the same for the women’s game.Read Rich’s Post →

Julia Keefe’s Indigenous Big Band

ta ‘c meeywi folks (good Morning)

The Joseph Center was fortunate to have Julia Keefe’s quartet perform here in February. For those who have not followed this Nez Perce musical thread, here is a press release about Julia’s Indigenous Big Band’s upcoming performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

This press release captures many things that we have worked on at the Center, first and foremost our “Nez Perce Music” exhibit, which traces the use of music in assimilating Indians, and Native peoples’ use of music and the tools of music to resist. That exhibit–which features photos of the Carlisle Boarding school band and an 1890 Nez Perce musician there to Julia Keefe today, photos of an 1800s Spalding Nez Perce hymnal and of Nez Perce drumming and dancing on the Colville Reservation in the early 1900s–just came black from display at Eastern Oregon University, and is available for display elsewhere. Call or email us!

Here’s the link to Julia’s press release:

https://www.juliakeefe.com/so/bcOyxB8d4?languageTag=en&cid=9d221399-b4b1-43c9-a348-807f7d32f0f8

Ned Blackhawk: a New History of America

I’m only 107 pages into Ned Blackhawks new book, The Rediscovery of America, and am already taken with an entirely new approach to American history. I’ve read Jill Lepore’s These Truths, and found it fact-filled, well written, and engaging, but, in the end, I found it limited, a kind of “Jeffersonian history.” In large part, Lepore takes the opening words of the Declaration, “We the people,” and sees the march of American history as the gradual expansion of “we.” It starts with male property owners, then embraces all (white) males, and gradually adds freed slaves, women, and, finally, in 1924, American Indians.Read Rich’s Post →

Replacement theory and American Indians

“Replacement theory” comes to my mind often; it has since I first heard the idea that at some point in the near future, white people are going to be a “majority minority” in America. In other words, we white folks will no longer be 50 percent of the total population, but we will be the biggest of the several rainbow groups that are “replacing” us. The fact that white now includes people of southern and eastern European extraction, Italian Catholics and Greek Orthodox—folks who a few generations ago, roughly before WW II, were not the Northern European, Scotch and English who had dominated the first century or two of white settlement—is not discussed.Read Rich’s Post →

Measles

The recent upsurge in measles cases in Florida and the US in general has doctors and public health officials scratching heads. Apparently, there is a big difference in infection rates when the percentage of children who receive the MMR—Measles, Mumps, Rubella—vaccinations drops from 95 % to 91%; transmission among the unvaccinated spreads more rapidly, and a few—stats say 3 %–of the vaccinated still get a mild case of the disease. That, in my understanding is in a nutshell what is happening in Florida and threatening elsewhere as measles cases in 2024 rise.Read Rich’s Post →

Native Gains: Deb Haaland, Joe Biden, and Harry Slickpoo

It’s hard to get a handle on it. So much has happened in and for Indian Country since Biden took office and appointed Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) Secretary of the Interior. Haaland had held tribal offices, headed the New Mexico State Democratic party, and had served in the US House of Representatives before she became the first Native American to be a US Cabinet secretary. She knew the ropes, and she hit the ground running.Read Rich’s Post →

Julia Keefe and Native American Jazz

What a treat! What a performance! On Saturday, wrapping up what looks like it will become an annual “Josephy Fest,” Julia Keefe, the Nez Perce jazz singer, brought her quartet to the Josephy Center, and closed the show. She and her New York drummer, Adam Benham, U of Idaho piano player, Kate Skinner, and Mali Obomsawin, an Abenaki First Nations bass player who also plays in the Julia Keefe Indigenous Big Band, were stunning.Read Rich’s Post →

Political parties, armies, and nations change

Segregationist Southern Democrats had a grip on the party—and in some cases the country—for years. Lyndon Johnson’s embrace of Civil Rights legislation alienated Southern Democrats, and chased them into the Republican Party—which had been the party of Lincoln and abolition!

Germany’s radical Nazi government gained power in fewer than twenty years, was defeated, and went from genocidal rampage to conversion to Western democracy in a few years; Japan’s Imperial aggression transformed itself into a Western leaning and anti-militaristic state.Read Rich’s Post →

Northwest Fisheries: 50 years of Boldt!

Yesterday was Superbowl Sunday—and a fine game it was. Congrats to the Chiefs! Today is Abe Lincoln’s birthday, which we celebrated separately until we bundled him with Washington and made it Presidents’ Day.

Today is also the fiftieth anniversary of the Boldt Decision, made in Federal District Court, which upheld Northwest Indians’ treaty rights to fish off reservation in their “usual and accustomed places.” Read Rich’s Post →

Blessed are the peacemakers

This history blog of mine usually focuses on Nez Perce, Native American, and American history and history telling. I like to find the missing pieces of our history—my current obsession is the under-told story of the beaver’s place in the US economy and Euro-American Westward expansion. I highlight the places where historians have found new links and chinks in old stories—in my student days, the role of disease in depopulating Indigenous America was not taught, the roles of the plague and the Little Ice Age in European expansion and emigration not seriously treated. Today they are routinely credited with major impacts on US history and world events.Read Rich’s Post →

Elders

The Kiowa writer Scott Momaday passed this week. He was 89. I met him once, when he came to Wallowa County to make the presentation of a horse by the Wood family to the walʔwá ma, or Joseph Band Nez Perce. He’d come across the story of the horse that Chief Joseph told Erskine Wood he’d like when the 14-year-old boy stayed with him at Nespelem on the Colville Reservation in Washington. Erskine’s father, C.E.S. Wood, who had served under General Howard in the Nez Perce War and become a friend of and advocate for Joseph after the war, told the boy to ask the Chief what he might do for him in gratitude for hosting his son. Joseph said he’d like a good pony; the boy thought that his father was a powerful man, and that the Chief should have asked for something more glamorous than a horse, so did not pass the message on to his father. He told the story, and published a diary of his Days with Chief Joseph, years later.Read Rich’s Post →

How the Holocaust resonates today

I recently watched the Ken Burns documentary on “The US and the Holocaust,” some of it for the second time. I have visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. multiple times. I had a good friend, now deceased, whose US Army Tank unit liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945. The images of the Nazi genocide from these three sources haunt me. I remember the piles of glasses and shoes at the museum, collected as prisoners were loaded onto trains and into gas chambers. I remember the spiraling towers of photos of communities lost, and the videos of Josef Mengele’s experiments on prisoners—experiments with diseases, amputations, and freezing temperatures. And I can’t get the image of friend Jack recounting a scene at Buchenwald: hand scratches on a wall that prisoners, supposedly dead and hung like animals on a rail, put there on the way from gas chamber to crematorium. Jack scratched an imaginary wall with his own hand as he told the story.Read Rich’s Post →

Sea Otter–filling in the pieces

The new issue of the Oregon Historical Quarterly just landed on my desk—and sent me back to the Fall 2023 edition. I am always amazed at the scholarship and the range of topics in OHQ. And sometimes kick myself for not digesting them whole as they show up. There is always something new about the old that helps me understand where we are today.Read Rich’s Post →

Migrants

My family doesn’t trace lineage to the Mayflower, played no roles in the Revolutionary War or the Civil War. And I don’t remember anyone referring to our grandparents and great grandparents as “migrants”; they were “immigrants,” people from specific European places seeking new lives in America. And, in those days, roughly from the Civil War to 1900, the biggest groups of immigrants to the United States were German speaking people from war-tossed, shifting borderlands across Northern Europe. Further north, Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians joined the emigration to America, theirs an escape from family farms that had been whittled, generation by generation, to parcels unable to support families.Read Rich’s Post →

Marc Jaffe

I just got a brief and beautiful note from Vivienne Jaffe that her husband, Marc Jaffe, had passed on December 31 at the age of 102. Images of Marc, walking in from his morning horseback rides to breakfast at Fishtrap, addressing the Fishtrap audience to tell them about the special place and literature they were part of, driving me from Alvin Josephy’s house in Greenwich Ct to his place in Williamstown, Massachussettes in our last real visit, come flooding back.Read Rich’s Post →

A Good Wallowa County New Year’s Story

About twenty years ago, a group of us started swimming at the foot of Wallowa Lake in June. We swam almost every day, some with wet suits, some bare-skinned. I was always the slowest swimmer in the group, and my distances didn’t match those of my friends. But I was relentless, and soon gave up the wobbly wet suit and still get in over 60 days of summer swims each year!Read Rich’s Post →