Blog

“Side Channel”at Nez Perce Homeland

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; On this day…

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

Afghanistan and the Indians

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

A Map and a Book

I have two proud shoutouts this morning, First is the map of the wal’wá·ma country produced for our wall display at the Josephy Center. The graphic artist is Rob Kemp, a local man with a string of graphic credits at US News, National Geo, etc. He based the map on the work of the Sahaptin place names produced by Phil Cash Cash and others. It was printed on wallpaper and people have to touch it to see if it is raised relief.
Read The Article

Indian Wars

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

The Longest War(s)

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

Indian Books

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

More Good News—and old news about President Nixon!

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

Good News!

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

“Like Grasshoppers”

It’s grasshopper season, which in my time and place means mild annoyance at the invading insects and watching the cat play with and eat them. I’ve never seen a real grasshopper devastation, what is called a “plague of locusts,” what God told Moses to deliver to the Egyptians:

“God told Moses to stretch out his hand over the land of Egypt to bring a plague of locusts. The locusts covered the face of the land and swallowed up every crop and all the fruits of the trees. Afterwards there was nothing green in the trees, and all the crops in the fields had been destroyed.” Read The Article

Sacred Lands II–The Yurok

The Yurok Indians in Northern California, decimated by the 1840s gold rush and white settlement, lost or swallowed up by timber companies and Federal agencies and actions, regained federal recognition and 5,000 acres—or one percent—of their traditional land base in 1986. The tribe is now 5,000 strong, and, according to YES Magazine, holds 100,000 acres of tribal lands. Read The Article

Sacred Lands

The recent Nez Perce reacquisition of 148 acres near the town of Joseph was a big event. Scores of walkers and riders with their horses gathered at the school on the hill on one side of Joseph, and made the journey through town and onto the airport road to the place just west of the city they now call Am’sáaxpa, or “place of boulders.” Drummers and singers in a “long tent”—a longhouse—prayed, sang, and spoke to scores of tribal people and local supporters, and reporters. Read The Article

 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. 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