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

A pitch into the future

Dear Friends,

(Uh oh! Sounds like he is going to ask for money—yes, but nicely.)

First, I want to tell you what a privilege it is to work at the Josephy Center.  Exhibits are fun—and fun to be a part of. Seeing classes and students, from pre-schoolers to adults, trying paint or clay for the first time can make my day.

And the opportunity to work with the books, papers, and people that are all part of the Josephy Library is just too good. It is humbling to listen to Nez Perce elders who remember their War and exile generationally, as if it were yesterday. It is exciting to hear an elder tell us that some of the kokanee in Wallowa Lake—“The ones trying to get out at the base of the dam”—will find their way to the ocean if given a chance, that a sockeye salmon run, gone for 130 years, is possible again with fish passage at a Read The Article

Forked tongues

American Indians have little reason to trust the written word. They are buried in broken treaties and false history texts—words, as Chief Joseph said and Alvin Josephy reiterated 100 years later, spoken with “forked tongue.” Alvin also said that Indians have been and are still disserved by the omission of words, by historical accounts that omit the Indians who were here, and contemporary accounts that forget that they are here still.

Our Josephy Center sculpture project aims to right a local omission, that of an Indian artist on Main Street in the town of Joseph. Four bronze statues in our town depict Indians—none of them the work of an Indian artist.

We selected Doug Hyde—or Doug Hyde selected us! Doug was born in Hermiston, grew up in part at Lapwai, Idaho, was packed off to the Indian art school in Santa Fe when he was 17 after a high school teacher sent a portfolio to the school.

The road wasn’t Read The Article

The Josephy Library

I had the privilege of writing a piece on the Josephy Library for the latest edition of the Oregon Library Association Quarterly. Here’s a bit of info and the link to the journal. Mine’s the last article. You can click on a link to a pdf of it–or the whole thing. Here it is from the OLA President:

The latest issue of the OLA Quarterly is now available!

The theme for this issue is Small Libraries, BIG Ideas, and the Guest Editor is OLA President Buzzy Nielsen. From Buzzy’s introduction:

“The Oregon library community consistently amazes me with its innovative, enterprising, and patron-focused activities. Indeed, we hear about these many activities through Libs-Or, OLA conferences, and this journal. While certainly not by design, many of the voices we hear come from libraries along the I-5 corridor. Cool things happen in those libraries, of course, but this issue of the OLA Quarterly amplifies voices we hear less frequently: the rural institutions that constitute
Read The Article

The Early Assimilationists

Pocahontas–aka Lady Rebecca

I don’t know when it started—maybe with the very first meetings of Europeans and the Indians of North America. The Powhatan child, Pocahontas, at the Jamestown settlement, is certainly an early example of an Indian captured, converted, and assimilated by the English.

(A caveat: I am thinking of the English and other Northern Europeans’ colonization of North America, and not of the Spanish and Portuguese in Central and South America, where other, often brutal, modes of assimilation were carried out.)

Although Pocahontas probably did not “save” Captain John Smith, she was familiar to the colonists at Jamestown, and in 1613 was captured and held by the English. In captivity she was instructed in Christianity and baptized “Lady Rebecca,” and apparently fell in love with one of her captors, John Rolfe. Wahunsonacock, her aging father, who had a complicated relationship with the colonists, at this point had them under siege, but in order to see his daughter again, Read The Article

In-mut-too-yah-lat-lat at Christmas

In-mut-too-yah-lat-lat—Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce to the world, wondered about the white man’s religion. Henry Spalding, the Presbyterian, had baptized his father, Tuekakas, and given him the name Joseph, and on his father’s death he had taken leadership of the band of Nez Perce—Nimiipuu—who called the Wallowa Country home, and he had taken his father’s name. At least that is the name the whites called him. What he wondered about was a religion at odds with itself—Presbyterians and Catholics had fought bitterly over theology and converts in his Country from their arrival in the 1830s.

In-mut-too-yah-lat-lat saw and understood many things that whites gave him little credit for; they always managed some workaround of the Indian’s intelligence and logic in pursuit of their own agendas.

At the Josephy Library we give copies of the famous Chief’s speech at Lincoln Hall in Washington D.C., delivered in 1879, just two years after the sad conclusion of the Nez Perce War in Read The Article

Indians, their land, and refugees

Alvin Josephy said that reservations and the continuing attachment to land they afforded have been instrumental in the survival of American Indian cultures. Reservations were, for the most part, diminished versions of ancient tribal landscapes, but however diminished, they were pieces of those larger lands—particular lands that had sustained particular tribal peoples for millennia.

Policies of removal and assimilation have of course taken many—most—Indians away from ancestral grounds over the last five centuries. There are now more urban Indians than rural Indians, and tribal enrollments are covered in confusion, with each tribe establishing its own enrollment requirements, and individual Indians finding themselves descendants of many tribes and sometimes living on a reservation where they are not, maybe cannot be, enrolled.

There have of course been movements of indigenous tribes through history, brought on by famine, weather, natural catastrophe, intertribal warfare and European colonization. Alvin Josephy began his landmark book on American Indians, The Indian Heritage of America, published in Read The Article

Manifest Destiny and white identity

American Progress, by John Gast 1872

Manifest Destiny was an idea long before it had a name, and what it was really about was not the “white man’s burden,” but an Anglo-American one, the idea that the arrow of civilization and mantle of world leadership had passed from the British Empire to the emerging Anglo-American Empire. The accession of Mexican lands and the Philippines, adventures in Central America, and most importantly for our own national history, the Westward Expansion that displaced Indians and seized tribal lands across the continent, were all part of a grand idea that Anglo-American civilization was destined to lead the entire world.

From the founding of the United States forward, Anglo-Americans were in political control: immigrants from other European places grouped themselves in Eastern city neighborhoods and on Midwestern farms—Greeks, Irish, Scandinavians, Bohemians, Slavs and Jews from Central Europe and more. German immigrants—the largest share of all immigrants between 1850 and 1900—built factories and Midwestern cities. Read The Article

Eli Parker and Robert E. Lee at Appomattox

Ulysses Grant and staff. Parker at left.

The most amazing thing to come my direction after the Charlottesville disaster was a piece by Mark Trahant in High Country News. Trahant is enrolled Shoshone-Bannock, the author of a book on Scoop Jackson and Termination, and, currently, a professor of journalism at the University of North Dakota. And, I am proud to say, someone we had at Fishtrap during my tenure there.

On reading Trahant’s “History Tells Us Donald Trump’s Presidency is Over,” I thought immediately of Alvin Josephy’s contention that Indians have been systematically omitted from the standard version of American history. They are, Josephy contended, seen as impediments to Euro-American progress across the continent, or as a side show, literally or figuratively participants in Bill Cody’s Wild West Show.

But Trahant reminds us that “Eli Parker, a Seneca Indian, drafted the documents that spelled out the surrender to be signed by General Robert E. Lee on April 9, 1865.” Read The Article

JFK on Indians

In 1961, Alvin Josephy moved from Time Magazine to American Heritage, where The American Heritage Book of Indians was his first major assignment. The text was written by William Brandon, but Alvin oversaw designers and assistant editors who fact checked and copy read, and I am sure it was Alvin who scoured the country’s libraries and museums for images to accompany the text. The early reviews, neatly summarized by American Heritage staff members and stuffed behind the cover of Alvin’s own copy of the book, which sits in our library, extol the effort, and comment on the breadth and depth of text and illustration. General readers will love it, one reviewer says, but even scholars will find something new.

I think I’d glanced at the one page introduction by President John F. Kennedy at some point, but recently found myself reading it again—and it struck me that Kennedy’s message was or became Alvin’s message throughout his long career as writer, Read The Article

Canoe notes #2

My childhood recollections of New World history move quickly from Columbus and the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria to Squanto and the Puritans on the other side of the continent. In neither case did we get much real history, but rather sloganeering echoes passed from teacher to student for decades, now centuries. And we got holidays—Columbus Day and Thanksgiving—that were and probably still are occasion for grade school pageantry.

But Allen Pinkham, Jr., our Nez Perce canoe carver, sends me back to Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., my mentor and the “Great Reminder.” Alvin reminds us that Indians were here for millennia before Columbus and the Puritans, that they had fashioned high civilizations as well as many simple but effective ways of living on their lands, that there had been catastrophes even before the Europeans came with the great upset, but that Native peoples and the land have been resilient. (I mistakenly typed “had” in place of “have” in that sentence; Read The Article

Civil Rights, Treaty Rights

Alvin Josephy told me once that liberals just didn’t get it with Indians.  In the sixties, after legislative victories on voting and discrimination issues, some liberals, according to Alvin, were ready to “move on to Indians.” But when they took their good intentions into Indian country, they were told that Indians weren’t so concerned with Civil Rights; Indians were interested in Treaty Rights.

I think the story tells us something about the confusing and sporadic nature of liberal support for Indian issues. We don’t really get this stuff about treaties. Look at Standing Rock, which was a great liberal rallying cry only months ago, but is now on the back burner again—do you remember seeing anything recently in the New York Times or other bastions of the liberal establishment press about the situation in the Dakotas? Indians are still there. The pipeline is under the river, and there are, I believe, cases pending. But a quick Google search of Standing Read The Article

The Josephy Library at the Josephy Center

Many of you in this blog-land get other information about the Josephy Center and our programs through newsletters, press releases and letters—including fundraising letters. Thanks to those of you who have made donations, attended exhibits and workshops, and brought children to Josephy Center classes. Thanks to all of you who read the blog posts—and sometimes even comment on them.

What follows is a brief account of what the Josephy Library does beyond the blog—and a specific appeal for Library support.

First and most importantly, we live the legacy of Alvin Josephy. Every day we tell people that American Indians are still with us; that Indians have always been agents and actors, and not wooden standbys in American History; that the history re Indians we’ve been fed in school texts is incomplete at best and often wrong; that Indian treaty rights are real and legal; and that Indians continue to contribute to the common good with activism and hard work, especially Read The Article