Biden and Haaland and Indigenous Languages

It’s something new—and mostly good—every day. Today, in Native News Online, we learn that:

“600 people attended the Tribal Language Summit at the Oklahoma City Convention Center to hear from leading educators and policymakers in Indian Country on how to protect, preserve and promote America’s Indigenous languages.

“’As Indigenous peoples, our languages are the heart of our identity and the source of our strength as the first peoples of this continent,’ Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Wizipan Garriott said during Tuesday’s opening presentation.”

“The summit is in its eighth year. Its funding is mandated by the Memorandum of Agreement on Native Languages, signed by ten federal agencies in the Biden Administration in November 2021, including the Department of the Interior and the Department of Education.”

It is so far removed—and yet so close in time, that we, as a country, were suppressing and trying to eradicate Native languages. It was a principal objective of the boarding schools; it Read The Article

Historical Errors and Omissions

In the new Smithsonian Magazine: “South to the Promised Land,” the “other” Underground Railroad, the one that went overland and across the Rio Grande to Mexico.

Mexico won its independence in 1821. And, fatefully, soon opened its doors to Anglo-American settlers in the northern frontier state of Texas. Some mixed American families—Whites who had freed and sometimes married their slaves—came to the remote lands to ranch, and became stops on that railroad. But most of the new settlers brought slaves, which resulted in confrontations with the Mexican government. In 1824, Mexico banned the importation of slaves. Anglo settlers called for a revolution, and in 1836 won independence from Mexico and wrote slavery into its constitution. The Alamo wasn’t all about freedom, especially for slaves and former slaves. Read The Article

Help from the Natives

It’s a heavy job to give to Indians—and I use “Indians” here in deference to older tribal people who still use that term comfortably—but I don’t know who else we turn to. Young white men are killing African-Americans and Asian-Americans. Young Blacks are killing each other on the streets, and I don’t know about today but know that in the past Latino and Asian gangs also killed their own. Read The Article

Alvin Josephy and the “new” science on Native American origins

Several friends quickly sent me the NYTimes review of a new book on the old subject of human origins in the Americas. The book is ORIGIN: A Genetic History of the Americas, and the author is Jennifer Raff. According to the reviewer, Raff consulted the sciences of “archaeology, genetics, and linguistics” in her book—which I have not read, but have ordered! Read The Article

Fictions

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

“Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World”

“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

The Catholic Fur-Trading North

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

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

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

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

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

Slavery is not our Original Sin

“No adverse impact visited on the 1492 voyage of “discovery” was more profound in its consequences         in every nook and cranny of the Americas than Columbus’s introduction of Western European ethnocentricity to the Indians’ worlds. Asserting the superiority of the white aggrandizers’’ religious, political, and social universe over each of the many indigenous peoples from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America, this ethnocentricity was an arrogant vice, backed by superior firepower and boundless gall, that never faltered or weakened. It continues unabashedly on both continents today, and its impact has been felt long after the conquest of the continents was complete.”

Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., America in 1492: The World of the Indian Peoples Before the Arrival of Columbus, page 4.

There’s the sin, the hubris, the tragic flaw in our origins. 

It is popular—almost automatic in some circles—to say that slavery is America’s Original Sin. It is Read The Article

Paddling Upstream

Alvin Josephy passed away almost two decades ago, but time and again, during this coronavirus/Black Lives crisis, I have heard him shout in my ear that when our history books don’t lie about Indians, they ignore them.

When the NYT sends a reporter to the Navajo Nation to document the terrible impact of Covid-19 on the people, the world reads and sighs—and then the story goes to the back pages or to no page at all. When George Floyd is killed by police in Minneapolis, and Indigenous singers and jingle dancers from many tribes go to the site of the killing to pay homage and honor the man, a video from Indian participants sneaks out on Facebook. Indians and their tribute are barely visible in the national press.

When people come into the Josephy Center where I work and get the first pages of the Nez Perce story—the one about Wallowa lands left to the Joseph Band of the Nez Read The Article

“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. Read The Article

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–https://sagelib.org — 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
Read The Article

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 Read The Article

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 Read The Article

At Mid-winter

Dear Friends,

It’s hard to know where to start. Should I tell you about kids and grandkids, triumphs and setbacks over the past year? Or muse about the state of the country and the world, the places I visited or lived in years ago—and are still close to my heart—that are now in turmoil or in ruins? Or should I tell you about the peace and hope that I find in my work with American Indians, how my old mentor Alvin Josephy, gone now for a dozen years, gets smarter every day as I learn from Tribal people? And learn not just about the past, but get glimpses of hope for tomorrow.

Yesterday there were visitors at the Library. Two families from McMinnville, Oregon and their two YES exchange students, one from Pakistan and the other from the West Bank in Palestine. YES, or “Youth Exchange and Study Programs,” brings students from predominantly Muslim countries to the US, and sends Read The Article

Invisible Indians; Invisible Nez Perce

Alvin Josephy said many times that the greatest injustice done to the Indian people in this country was not the takings of land, language, and culture, but a continuing failure to acknowledge that they existed—or at least that they ever existed as people in their own right.  For the Euro-American, Indians were important for a moment—to teach them tools of survival, but then immediately became hurdles to their domination of the continent. Those other terrible thefts—of land, language, and culture—pale when compared to the taking of history. That taking means erasing the unique lives of individuals and tribes as agents, actors in their own stories, reducing them to asterisks in the Euro-American story of conquest.

If that. In the introduction to America in 1492, Alvin quotes from the 1987 edition of American History: A Survey, a popular text written by three prominent historians: “centuries in which human races were evolving, forming communities, and building the beginnings of national civilizations Read The Article