A couple of weeks ago I went with friends to an art opening for Judd Koehn at the Pendleton Arts Center. Judd is a retired art professor who taught for many years at Eastern Oregon University. Once, a long time ago, when we bought the building that became the Bookloft in Enterprise (and still is!), we donated all of the old heavy heating radiators to Judd and Eastern to be turned into molten metal and student art projects.Read Rich’s Post →
I’m often surprised to find out that friends who follow political and cultural affairs closely still do not know who Deb Haaland is. With a hint, some of them come up with “oh yes, Department of Interior, isn’t it?” But her position and her presence are not front and center in their minds.
Things are different in Indian Country. When Haaland visited Idaho a year ago to turn over the federal keys to the Dworshak National Fish Hatchery to the Nez Perce Tribe, it was a big celebration. I said to a Nez Perce friend that Deb Haaland is some kind of saint. “Yes,” she said, “and superwoman.”Read Rich’s Post →
There is much worrying and gnashing of teeth at today’s election. I am tired of the daily solicitations for money from my liberal allies—it seems that once you have given to one political person or cause the money seekers from that edge of politics find you and torment you with requests for more. I am sure my conservative friends get the same treatment. Yet, the amounts of money raised by all sides in the current election cycle means that it works, no matter how offensive many of us at our far ends of the money-raising lines find it.Read Rich’s Post →
“HARBOR SPRINGS, Mich. — The second stop on the Road to Healing tour by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) and Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland (Bay Mills Indian Community) will visit the lands of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in the northern part of the Michigan’s Lower Peninsula on Saturday, August 13, 2022.
“The Road to Healing is a year-long tour across the United States to provide survivors of the federal Indian boarding school system and their descendants an opportunity to share their experiences. The Road to Healing tour began at the Riverside Indian School in Anadarko, Okla. on July 9, 2022.”
The Canadian boarding school disclosures brought up old stories that had been neglected by governments and church hierarchies for decades. The stories are remembered well by the targets of religious coercion and victims of sexual and physical abuse who are with us still. The Pope came to Canada to apologize to them.
How does an apology compensate for decades—almost 200 years—of forced conversions, physical and sexual abuse, and loss of languages, cultures, and lives that Catholicism brought to Native North America? (And if we consider South America, make that 500 years!)Read Rich’s Post →
Over 400 men and women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s who were adopted by American parents from Chile during the reign of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) are finding each other. They are learning that their biological mothers were told that they had died in childbirth, and that their numbers might be in the thousands. It was apparently an effort by Pinochet to reduce the numbers of poor children and bring in US currency, an effort aided and abetted by Chilean bureaucrats and medical personnel.Read Rich’s Post →
A friend gave me a new book, We Had A Little Real Estate Problem: The Unheralded Story of Native Americans & Comedy, as a Christmas gift. She knows that most of my reading these days is by Indian authors and about Indian history and culture. She’s heard me exclaim about boarding schools and broken treaties. She thought it might give me something about Indians that was a little lighter to read.Read Rich’s Post →
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 Rich’s Post →
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 Rich’s Post →
The name—its explanation comes on the first pages of the book—pulls you into the story. The writing is measured and strong and beautiful—
“The Old Ones say that our long straight hair comes from the waving grasses that thatch the edges of bays. Our feet and hands are broad and flat and strong, like the paws of a bear… Our talk rolls and tumbles like the rivers that served as our roads.” It keeps you going.
But it’s a rough road. Richard Wagamese, a Canadian Ojibwa writer well known in his own country but not much here, tells a brutal story of old wisdom, a vicious boarding school, the grace and beauty in sport, and the depth of irrational racial hatred.
I’ve said before that slavery is not the original sin; the racism that produced and supported slavery is the country’s original sin. And here I include our neighbors to the north, who were part of, and are today, like us, a product of the invasion of White Europeans, who stole, plundered, and installed a system that we are now learning to see as “systemic racism.”
Ideas precede actions, as Ibram X. Kendi says: “race craft” had to be developed before Black Africans could be routinely put in chains. Race craft meant a color hierarchy, with white Europeans at the top; the Brown peoples of the New World were displaced as Black Africans were imported to build an economy on their lands.
The digression on race is because one cannot read Indian Horse without wondering at the viciousness, cruelty, and disdain of Whites towards Indians. And there is no room here to allow our northern friends a pass on racism. Their guilt is as deep as our own.
What Euro-Canada did give to Indians was hockey (as we have given them basketball). What will engage sports enthusiasts in the book are descriptions of the thrill of sport, and not the jaw-dropping crushes routine in hockey or football, or even the pure athleticism of any sport’s best. It is the intuitive knowledge of sport, and the grace with which the best go about it.
Saul Indian Horse sees “the rink”—from the shabbiest coldest outdoor rinks in backwoods Canadian Indian hockey to the indoor, Zamboni-groomed rinks of the pros—and the puck and all the skaters as they are and as they might or could be in the next micro-seconds. Saul scores, but more profoundly, he passes and makes other players and his teams better. Teammates learn to skate where he will find them, and defenses are befuddled by the eyes in the back of his head. He sees the hockey rink as his grandmother saw the lakes and rivers—and a hard route in freezing cold that saved Saul’s own life.
Hockey is Saul Indian Horse’s ticket out of the boarding school—and into other worlds of discrimination and cruelty. I was in tears at book’s end.
And Richard Wagamese, the writer? He’s a Canadian Ojibwa, so there are two counts against him in the American (read US) book world. I think most of his books are only available from Canadian publishers. Milkweed from Minneapolis brought this book out in a beautiful edition.
The man’s story. The scenes in Indian Horse must be close to those Wagamese lived—parents and their generation were forced into boarding schools; he himself was removed from them and placed in foster care. He ran away from abuse and intolerance at 16, lived on the streets and in prisons until finding his story-telling voice.
I sometimes feel doubly and triply robbed: robbed of the stories that were all around me when I was young—the Minnesota Ojibwa were my neighbors; robbed of any true accounting of the racism that has permeated White America from its onset in 1492; and robbed of the work of fine artists because of political, ethnic, and cultural boundaries observed by the American literary establishment and publishing industry.
Oh—one more: I should have known and invited this man to Fishtrap when I was in charge and he was still alive.
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|Alvin Josephy with Allen Pinkham Sr. at Betty’s Memorial
In a talk at the Josephy Center on Saturday night, Nez Perce elder Allen Pinkham Sr. said that non-Indians have never understood that Indians, even while succumbing to Euro-American diseases, arms, numbers, and policies aimed at their cultural destruction, continually borrowed from and adapted to European science and culture. His examples included learning to use horses, cattle, guns, iron, and words on paper.
He had a different take on missionary zeal and the supposed longing for “The Book” that is cited in most histories of Indian-white relations in the West. Indians were sent to Hudson Bay’s school in Red River, Canada, and a group of four was sent to St. Lewis to find William Clark in search of information about writing and books, not “The Book.” But Europeans interpreted all as a thirst for knowledge of their—Christian—religion. What we wanted, Allen’s father had told him, were the “tools,” the way to make words on paper to pass on and extend the store of tribal and human knowledge.
Pinkham said that Indian veterans coming home from World War 2 reignited an interest in treaty rights and traditional culture. Although language, traditional dress, culture, and agricultural habits had been suppressed for decades, they had survived, and it was often the veterans who said, “wait a minute,” we too deserve to speak our traditional languages, practice our traditional religions, and observe practices guaranteed us by our treaties.
Of course those Indian veterans ran into a centuries-old buzz saw of policies, laws, favoritism—and misunderstandings—that had brought European miners, buffalo hunters, railroad builders, missionaries, and settlers into their lands.
Indians have of course been caught in one misunderstanding after another since the day that Columbus and his crew declared them “Indians.” They’ve been mythologized as “noble savages” by European romantics upset with the forces of enlightenment. And called “savages” for the early defense of their lands. Indian agriculture too was misunderstood—although the Europeans quickly adapted corn, squash, beans, and other American crops, the Europeans didn’t understand the companion planting of corn, squash and beans (remember Squanto!) and eventually put everything in neat rows, forgetting the herbs and medicinal plants that were scattered in Northeast Indian gardens
Tribes in our area that hunted, fished, and gathered in seasonal patterns were accused of misusing land because they didn’t plow it and plant it and live on a single piece of it year-around. The Indian pattern was to leave enough roots and berry plants to ensure the next year’s harvest, and put the first salmon back in the river so he could tell his relatives to keep making their runs.
The whole notion of individual land ownership brought from Europe was antithetical to most Indian forms of land usage and tenure, and probably, as the whites moved west, the most crucial misunderstanding of all.
World War 2 veterans had seen other parts of the US and the world, were literate and capable of measuring their own lives—the boarding schools and the takeaways of languages and cultures—against those of other Americans. It’s been a long hard slog, and there is a long way to go, but Allen Pinkham was generally optimistic on Saturday night. “We’re teaching Nez Perce in the schools, from elementary to college classes,” and, of course, they are practicing traditional religion.
And adapting some of their traditional practices—Allen said that beading and basket-making, traditional women’s activities, are now done by men and women, and that women are now drumming and singing the ancient songs.
And he hinted that we—the huge non-Indian population, might be paying some attention to the old Indian ways of dealing with the water, forests, and other natural resources that we now share.
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