Blog

 luk’upsíimey and the Treaties Exhibit

A group of seven Nez Perce artists and writers who call themselves luk’upsíimey—“North Star”– Collective has been together at the Nez Perce Wallowa Homeland for the past week, practicing their art, learning and relearning their language together. They are college professors and language teachers, visual artists and wordmakers, from California and Arizona, Philadelphia and Lapwai, who came together in this Wallowa place that echoes their ancient common nimiipuu –Nez Perce–language. Read The Article

ta ‘c meeywi and qe’ci’yew’yew’

I don’t know very many Nez Perce words, and will never be a speaker, but it I love the sound of the language and hope to learn a few more. For now, Good Morning and Thank You are enough.

Tac meeywi to all, and qe’ci’yew’yew’ to the many who responded to my blog post about whites writing about Indians. A few things stand out: people are interested in learning the history of Indian peoples—and all American history—that is true and real. They are tired of the omissions and outright lies taught for years in our school textbooks, dismayed by what most of us learned as children. They are very upset about the current boarding school revelations, and wonder how this could have gone on and not be known about in our own times. Read The Article

White Men Writing about Indians

Nez. Perce Reservations: 1855, 1863, 1873

I’ve been writing Josephy Library blog posts for ten years, telling stories of lies, outrages, and omissions regarding Indians in American history. From time to time, I’ve thought I should make a book, comb and clean the posts up a bit, sometimes combine a couple or three of them, write a few new episodes in my own growing understanding of a broader and more inclusive American history.

When I mentioned this to a publisher friend, he told me that Indian stories are indeed in demand, but people want to hear from Indians themselves, not from white interpreters. I stepped back from the book idea, but have continued to post on this blog, and I continue to bring Indians and their stories to the Josephy Center where I work. In fact, we recently put up an exhibit on “Nez Perce Treaties and Reservations From 1855 to Present.” Read The Article

Custer and other lies

June marked the 145th anniversary of Custer’s debacle at the Little Big Horn. Custer’s death as a hero fighting for white dominance of the Plains against savage and hostile Indians contributed to the increased military pressure that ultimately did clear the West for white expansion. The true history of that day and Custer, shrouded in the hero mythology promulgated by, among others, his widow, Libby, has been debated and recreated in more books and movies than almost any event in American history.

We now know that Custer was a blunderer and a boaster, a man who had promulgated atrocities against Indians and led his troops into certain death; in less than an hour, the Sioux and Cheyenne had won the Battle of the Little Bighorn, killing Custer and every one of his men. The country was shocked—and ready to believe a story of heroism against the savages.

***

Alvin Josephy often blasted standard and textbook American histories that “omitted Read The Article

Fourth of July-Nespelem

I’ve written before about how Indians, and especially the Nez Perce exiles on the Colville Reservation, used the holiday as a day to bring out drums, regalia, and songs that had been suppressed in the 1880s rush to assimilation. In an exhibit two years ago on “Nez Perce Music,” we used images from a 1903 Fourth of July Celebration on the Coville Reservation in Washington. There were photos of drummers and dancers, but when I asked elder Albert Andrews Redstar to comment on the event, he focused on the photo of a horse procession. It seems to me that this photo and his words are an appropriate way to remember that “Independence Day” does not celebrate or remember “independence” for all of us. Read The Article

Living on Stolen Ground

Above the Clearwater: Living on Stolen Ground is Bette Lynch Husted’s memoir of growing up on a dirt-poor, white, family farm in Nez Perce Indian country in Idaho. Their meagre plot had once—and long—been Indian country. Nez Perce Reservation lands were reduced by 90 percent from those promised in an 1855 Treaty in an 1863 Treaty. The Allotment Act, which sought to put individual Indians on Individual parcels of land, declared “surplus lands” open to white homesteaders. Whites gobbled up 90 million more acres of Indian land, That, as I recall, was the origin of the Lynch farm. Read The Article

Boarding Schools

A few years ago, I taught a class for Oregon State University at Eastern called Northwest Tribes and Ecosystems. It was a three-year teaching—and learning—experience for me. We covered the times and the territory, from the earliest introduction of European diseases through horses, explorers, fur traders, missionaries, and treaty-makers to dam builders and Indian assimilation programs. Read The Article

Reparations and “Land-Back”

It’s complicated—but here are some first thoughts:

In 2014, Ta-Nehisi Coates made the argument for reparations to the descendants of African-American slaves in The Atlantic Magazine. The country, he said, would never be “whole” until it came to terms with the bad chapters of slavery, Jim Crow, and racial discrimination in our past. Read The Article

Missing children, missing history

The descriptions of a church-run Canadian boarding school for Indians in Richard Wagamese’s brilliant novel, Indian Horse, were brutal. The book was published in 2012; a movie released in 2017. In today’s news stories, echoing Wagamese’s book, a mass grave containing the remains of 215 children has been found on the grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. Read The Article

The Demise of the Buffalo

History’s a complicated mosaic, and the more I read and hear from Indian elders, the more complicated it gets. But also, more interesting. Historians have tales to tell, arguments to make, which means that they sometimes miss the nuances—or even the major protagonists—in their stories. In the texts I grew up with, diseases were missing, climate was missing, and in almost all cases in American history, Indians were missing. They were a sidebar, friendly at first in sharing foods, then hurdles overcome as the nation moved across a continent. Fortunately, new histories are giving us old and neglected stories of the trials of Indians, Blacks, Latinx and Asians—and recounting their contributions to the current world. Read The Article

How much was a beaver pelt worth?

We know now that the fur trade in North America began in the 1500s with English, and French and Spanish Basque, fishermen off the Atlantic coast. When the fish weren’t enough—or when economies suggested—the fishermen went ashore and took and traded for beaver pelts and other animal hides, and Indian slaves. (That’s how Squanto got to Europe, learned English, and returned to become a translator for the New England colonists.) Read The Article

The words were always there

Every day of reading and rethinking our country’s history brings new ideas; some days, epiphanies. Today’s epiphany is about words—who has them, keeps them, and pays attention to them. What they might mean for tomorrow.

Claudio Saunt’s Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory, sparks today’s thoughts. The message of the book is in the title. For approximately ten years, from 1830-1840, the Indian Removal Act legislated and then aimed to carry out the removal of all—supposedly about 80,000—American Indians remaining east of the Mississippi River to the West, to some vague but increasingly real place called Indian Territory. The Act destroyed the lives of scores of tribes and thousands of Indians, while it enriched others. Read The Article

An elder passes

In my understanding of how things work in Indian country, names of elders who have recently passed are often not said aloud for some time–or only carefully. But I think in this case it is important to use a name, because Mary Schlick was known to many in Northwest Indian country for decades, but she has been largely silent for some time, and  her recent death, at 94, at the end of a long and important life, should be noted. Her name will bring a smile to many Indian face, and to soyapu faces as well. Read The Article

The “Roaming Nez Perce” on a level playing field

Our national founding documents talk about all men being created “equal,” and many see the history of the country as a gradual expansion of “all men” to include black men—14th Amendment, 1868; women—19th Amendment, 1920; and, in 1924, when they were finally given citizenship in the country that had swallowed up their native lands, Indians. Read The Article

Rez Ball

There was a time in America—a century ago—when Indian athletes were courted and celebrated. The most well-known of those early twentieth century athletes was, of course, Jim Thorpe, the Carlisle football and track star who won Olympic medals, played professional football and baseball—and eventually had to give the medals back because he had done what many other “amateurs” had done, taken small amounts of pay for semi-pro baseball. But he was then, and is still among some, thought to be the greatest American athlete ever. Read The Article

Bury my heart…

In the fall of 1971, just months into my life in the Wallowas, my mind muddled with the Peace Corps and Washington D.C. lives I’d only recently left, I got a copy of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee in the mail from Barb, my old Peace Corps partner. Her note said she was working in a bookstore in Sun Valley, and thought the book was “great but terribly maddening.” Read The Article

Reading History

I’ve been on a history reading jag the last few months. It started with a comment I heard from Alvin Josephy many times—that the “standard” histories of America leave Indians out when they don’t lie about them.

My first book was These Truths:  A History of the United States, by Harvard historian and regular and prolific New Yorker writer Jill Lepore; I looked for Indians. Although she has apparently written a book about the Pequot—which I have not read—in her new “History of the United States,” Indians get little mention. She is on a mission to tell us how we got—or are still getting—from the words in the founding documents about “all men created equal,” to the place where non-property-owning whites, former slaves and their descendants, and women are all included under the equality umbrella. Note the presumptuous title of her book—A History of… implies The New History of…. Read The Article

Of Lands and People

This photo from the air was taken by Leon Werdinger and used in Wallowa Land Trust’s campaign to save the Wallowa Lake East Moraine. Photos of Wallowa Lake are ubiquitous; photographers from around the world vie to get some special vision of it to take home to Los Angeles—or London or Berlin.

This one, in which you can clearly see the East, West, and terminal moraines, traveled far enough and well enough to help raise the money to buy most of the East Moraine and forestall further development Some grazing is allowed, and hiking; the deer—and someday, maybe, once again, the antelope—will play. Read The Article

Covid-19 and American Indians

Since the beginning of this pandemic, I have been struck by the outsized impact of Covid-19 on American Indians, and by the lack of serious discussion of their apparent special vulnerability to the disease. The stories we read and hear are about bad water and poor living conditions among the Navajo and the Ojibwe—and in Black and Latino zip codes. I understand—and want nothing more than to make sure that everyone in America has clean and lead-free water and access to good health care. And I believe, with my liberal cohort, that it is government’s duty to ensure clean water and good health care. We cannot, in today’s world, be our own water testers and doctors. Read The Article

Oregon and slavery—and Indians

Greg Nokes ends his 2013 book, Breaking Chains: Slavery on Trial in the Oregon Territory, with a quote from Alvin Josephy’s essay, “The Forked Tongue in U.S. History Books.” Alvin wrote it in the early 1970s, coming out of a conference at Stanford University examining California textbooks:

“The writing of history, done by the white intruders, conquerors and dispossessors, has been self-serving from the start—meeting the needs, generation after generation, of the people who were pouring in from Europe, first erecting colonies and then building a new nation. Little attempt was made to understand—and much less explain—the different and unfamiliar Indian cultures against which the newcomers rubbed. Because they were different, they were deemed inferior and dangerous.” Read The Article