From yesterday’s New York Times: “The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has apologized to Sacheen Littlefeather, an Apache and Yaqui actress and activist who was booed onstage at the Oscars in 1973 after she refused the best actor award on behalf of Marlon Brando.”Read Rich’s Post →
Here’s how I found my way to The Way to Rainy Mountain
For the past few years, the Josephy Center has had a book group. It started with small, in-person meetings, and moved online with the coming of Covid. Our last book was Murder at the Mission: A Frontier Killing, Its Legacy of Lies, and the Taking of the American West, by Blaine Harden. We were blessed to have Harden and Bobbie Conner and Chuck Sams join us for the discussion. Conner and Sams have Cayuse roots, and were consulted by Harden as he researched and wrote the book.Read Rich’s Post →
|Fishing at Celilo; Railroad Bridge in background|
Thursday, June 7. A call from the newspaper editor: He’d looked at the current exhibit on dams and salmon and attended Bobbie Conner’s talk at the opening on Sunday. “So when,” Paul asked, “did the biologists really figure out the migration patterns of salmon?”
Fortunately, I had a handy timeline put out by the Native Fish Society, describing the decline of Columbia River salmon from 1779 to present, which told the story of early scientific opinion: Pacific salmon don’t pay attention to natal streams, but randomly find rivers to swim and nesting gravel in which to deposit and fertilize their eggs. The result of such thinking—and it persisted well into the 20th century, was that man could outdo nature, could build hatcheries and hatch fish faster than Columbia River canneries could harvest and process them.
“Got it, Paul,” I said, and emailed him the timeline. He was grateful. The answer to his question, by the way, looks to be 1938! Although Canadian scientists had started preaching natal stream care in the 1880s, the Americans had become taken with the
No sooner had I finished the conversation and emailing with Paul and retired schoolteacher and two-book author Julie Kooch walked in and asked whether I knew if Alvin Josephy had written about an Indian incident at Corral Creek. We glanced at Josephy before going to the Horner Papers. And there, on pages 376 and 377, we found the story of a pre-white battle between the Nez Perce and a band of Snake Indians at the “Notch” on Corral Creek. The Nez Perce had trapped the Snake and killed them all, according to Indian informants of the day. One of them, John Reubin, who passed the story on to white settlers, claimed a scar from the battle.
Julie listened as I read and nodded in approval. It was exactly as she remembered someone describing it to her years ago—but there were doubters, and Julie left happily with pages copied to show them her find.
Julie taught school in Enterprise for many years, but of late has been riding for local ranchers, collecting stories, and writing books. The first was My Life on Joseph Creek, and the second called Riding the Canyons. They are full of pictures as well as stories—candy for people fascinated by the Snake River and adjoining Canyon Country.
And while we’re at it, on the same day or one day before or after, a woman from Boise looked at the dams and salmon exhibit and zeroed in on a quote from Alphonse Halfmoon. “I think he’s my cousin,” she said, “actually, married to a non-Indian cousin of mine. I always wanted to talk to him at family get-togethers, but was too shy.” We made a quick call to Tamastslikt, and the Boise woman got to talk with a long-lost relative.
I could go on. Summer is a time of amazing guests, and the current exhibit elicits their stories: “Dad took me to Celilo before the dam,” and “We would stop and buy fish there before the dam,” and “I heard stories of that failed hatchery at Minam. A bunch of fishermen blew it up, I heard.”
And telling a group of junior high kids from Damascus that the Nez Perce ate an estimated 300 pounds of salmon per person per year put some meaning into those pictures from the “Horseshoe” at Celilo. And makes me remember that wonderful play written and scored by Thomas Morning Owl and Marv Ross about the “Ghosts of Celilo.” The railroad bridge in the play is the one shown in the 16-foot pre-dam photo of the River from above that is part of our exhibit.
In her opening talk, Bobbie Conner pointed out that the Celilo Falls are not gone, just under water. In Indian time—in seven generations—one can see them coming back, see the falls “bigger than Niagara” spilling the waters of the Big River once again.
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If you are “in the territory” in June!
Salmon talk—and controversy—today is about “spills” on Columbia and Snake River dams to help push salmon smolt to the sea. Fifty and sixty years ago it was about getting salmon upriver to native spawning grounds.
The June exhibit at the Josephy Center, funded in part by a “Arts Build Communities” grant from the Oregon Arts Commission, opens on Saturday, June 2 at 4:00 p.m. It builds on one that Tamástslikt Cultural Institute on the Umatilla Reservation did last year on Celilo and the dam at The Dalles. They called it “Progress vs. Protest,” and told stories of the economic and energy gains—and the losses of fish and Indian culture on the Big River. In planning this exhibit, Tamástslikt Director Bobbie Conner suggested that we localize, with stories of the dam at Wallowa Lake and the High Mountain Sheep Dam—the one that did not get built—joining text and photos from Celilo.
|Wallowa Lake Dam-1916. Photo courtesy Edsal White|
The Josephy Center asked Joe Whittle to research the Wallowa Lake dams, and Jon Rombach to take on High Mountain Sheep. The result is an exhibit that gives background on the march of dams on the Columbia, a good accounting of the flooding of the ancient fishing site at Celilo with the construction of The Dalles Dam, and tells important local stories about dams, fish, and tribal culture.
Early settlers scooped sockeye salmon out of Wallowa Lake by the thousands, and failed to realize the species’ special migration pattern from Ocean to river, lake, and headwaters—and back to the sea. But the understanding of all salmon by the scientists of the day—the late 1800s and early 1900s—was off the mark. Thinking that native streams were not important—that Pacific salmon would randomly find a river to travel—scientists thought they could make up for the huge cannery harvests on the Columbia with hatcheries and moving eggs and smolts from one river to the next. Locally, dams and hatcheries at Minam and Troy, the experts thought, would easily replace the fish the settlers were harvesting on upper rivers and in Wallowa Lake.
No one bothered to ask the Indians.
In this exhibit we include the Indian stories of dams and salmon. And several special programs will allow for discussion of dams and fish. The revitalized Associated Ditch Company will talk about the present and future of the Wallowa Lake Dam at a June 12 Brown Bag, and Nez Perce Fisheries biologists Brian Simmons and Lora Tennant will describe how Imnaha salmon and steelhead fare as they migrate through the hydrosystem on a June 19 Brown Bag. That Tuesday evening Nez Perce elder and Fisheries veteran Silas Whitman will talk about culture, salmon, and the Snake River dams, with special attention to the one that did not get built. He’ll be able to point to a topographical map in the exhibit that shows how much of Hells Canyon and the Imnaha River corridor would have disappeared under “Lake Imnaha.”
Other programs are in the works, and Allen Pinkham Jr. will continue his dugout canoe carving in June. The exhibit runs the entire month, but please put the opening, the big splash on June 2 at 4:00 p.m., on your calendar. Tamástslikt Director Bobbie Conner will be here to help launch the show.
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A few hundred Nez Perce Indians called this Valley home for thousands of years. They called themselves Nimipu (“the people”) and identified with this place, their families, their band and its headmen (Young Joseph, Old Joseph, Wal-lam-wat-kain, and on and on) more than any larger tribal group. European horses and diseases got here before Europeans did, and then the fur traders, who probably had seen a couple of Indians in buffalo country with dentalia they had traded for at Celilo through their nostrums, and put the Nez Perce name on them. This all before 1805 and Lewis and Clark. The fur men, migrants themselves, many from France and Scotland, trapped, traded, traveled and married with Indians. They had posts in Spokane and made it to the Pacific just five or six years after the Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery. Historian Grace Bartlett says there were a couple of Frenchmen living in the Wallowa Valley with Indian wives when the first settlers came in—that was all the way up in 1871, when all manner of people were rattling around what some call Salmon Country—the lands from the British Columbian coast to the Northern California coast, and from salt water to the Rockies.
|Gordie High Eagle, Millie Zollman, Albert Barros|
On Sunday at the Josephy Center we honored Alvin with Nez Perce drums and talk and a new exhibit highlighting some of the milestones in his life. This all followed the opening of a splendid Nez Perce Art Show. The show, mounted in celebration of the Nez Perce National Historical Park’s Fiftieth Anniversary, features art that tribal members make for each other—the buckskin shirt, cornhusk bag, moccasins, beaded horse regalia and headdresses worn for ceremony and parade. It’s here for June, then goes to the History Center in Lewiston, Idaho.
The Josephy exhibit stays put!
And, it seems to me, the story it tells—and the honoring of him on Sunday made this explicit—is that Alvin Josephy was a “listener.”
Bobbie Conner, the director of the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute on the Umatilla Reservation, spoke emotionally about conversations between her grandfather and Alvin in the 50s and 60s. Alvin, she said, listened to Indians, and tried until the very end, especially with his work at the National Museum of the American Indian, to get Indians to tell their own stories and the rest of us to listen to them. On his visit at the opening of Tamástslikt, she said, Alvin commented on it portraying the “Indian” side of the story. He hoped that the national museum would do the same.
Cliff Trafzer, who holds an endowed chair in Indian studies at my alma mater, UC Riverside, says much the same thing in the introduction to the history section of a Josephy Reader Marc Jaffe and I are working on. When white historians were busily restating what other white men—it was mostly men, although we must remember Alice Fletcher and a few others—had said about Indians, Josephy took the “radical” step of listening, of asking Indians for their stories, the stories passed down in families and at tribal gatherings, sometimes for millennia.
In Alvin’s last book, Lewis and Clark Through Indian Eyes, he asked Indians to do that, to tell their family and tribal stories about Lewis and Clark. We know the Captains’ and the Corpsmen’s stories pretty well by now, but no one, Alvin wrote in reviewing Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage for the New York Times, had bothered to ask the Indians about their side of Lewis and Clark’s journey.
So he and fellow editor Marc Jaffe did ask them. And produced a delightful collection of the personal and the tribal. Once, shortly after publication of the book, one of the Indian essayists and storytellers asked me what I thought of it. I told her I loved her piece and liked most of the pieces in the book very much, but I did express a little disappointment in one author. She put her finger in my chest and told me in no uncertain terms that Alvin had asked Indians to tell their stories as they had been told and wanted them told in their families and tribes, not “the stories you white guys want to hear.”
I retreated. She had said it all.
On Sunday, young Alvin, or Alvin Josephy III, talked about his father’s early dream of becoming a journalist. In the memoir, A Walk Toward Oregon, Josephy says something about newsprint and ink “getting in his blood.” The early interviews—for his high school newspaper—of H.L. Mencken and others—exhilarated him, and must have given him courage to go off and get stories from President Cardenas and Leon Trotsky in Mexico, in 1937, when he was 22 years old!
And the listening and the courage carried him to WOR Radio, to Archibald McLeish’s war propaganda department, to the Marine Corps and Guam and Iwo Jima. It took him to Time Magazine and to the Nez Perce story. Alvin was touring Lewiston with the local bigwigs, and it included a stop at the Nez Perce tribal agency headquarters. The young man at the agency desk, Bill Stevens, on learning that Alvin was with Time Magazine, asked him if he knew the Nez Perce Story.
Alvin listened—and the line of his listening lead directly to our listening, over 60 years later, to the Nez Perce artists and drummers this weekend in Joseph, Oregon.
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Some of you might have already heard, but it is worth repeating! Roberta “Bobbie” Conner is the incoming Chair of Board of Trustees of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. She has been on the Board since 2008, co-facilitated a Tribal museum directors meeting at NMAI in January, and will chair her first Trustees meeting February 9 and 10 in Washington D.C.
I have known Bobbie primarily through working on the Nez Perce Homeland project in Wallowa, where she and I are still board members. But she also gave a lecture on “Lewis and Clark through Indian Eyes” at Fishtrap, and she was in fact one of the writers in Alvin’s last book, the one he and Marc Jaffe edited called Lewis and Clark through Indian Eyes. And I had the great good fortune to work with Bobbie, Alvin, Cliff Trafzer, other historians and Tribal elders and editor Jennifer Carson on Wiyaxayxt / Wiyaakaaawn / As Days Go by: Our History, Our Land, Our People: the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla.
I’ll put in a plug for that book while I’m at it. Each section paired an elder with a recognized historian, and each section had an outside reviewer. My role was as reviewer, but meeting with the “team” of elders and historians to discuss the project in its beginnings, and meeting again to review progress were privileged experiences. The project started in 2000–largely, I am sure, because of Bobbie’s vision and hard work–and the book was published by the University of Washington Press in 2006.
Bobbie is Cayuse, Umatilla and Nez Perce and a member of the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla. Her maternal great grandparents were from the Columbia and Snake Rivers and their tributaries. She is a graduate of Pendleton High School, the University of Oregon, and Willamette University’s Graduate School of Management. She left a fast-rising career at the U.S. Small Business Administration–among other positions, she directed the Sacramento District—to become the director of the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute in April 1998. (And if you have not visited that marvelous place, please put it on your must see list. Check the web site at http://Tamastslikt.com/ .)
Of course what completes this circle is that Alvin was the founding board chair at NMAI. Some of that tale is told in A Walk Towards Oregon, how it started with the Heye Museum in New York City, and went through twists and turns that landed the greatest collection of indigenous American artifacts—the Heye collection is said to have numbered a million such—on the Mall in Washington D.C. You can feel Alvin’s hand in the way the museum is a living thing, with history from the Indian point of view and contemporary portrayals of Tribal culture and activities. Visit it if you are ever in the District. I see by my emails that a celebration of chocolate, one of the West’s great contributions to world food and culture, is in the works this February.
And congratulations of course to Bobbie for this well deserved honor. And good luck in the job!