There’s a new history book that is rattling across the best seller lists. It’s a collection of essays called Myth America: Historians Take on the Biggest Legends and Lies about Our Past. There are 20 chapters on everything from “American Exceptionalism” to the “New Deal” and the “Southern Strategy.” The third chapter is “Vanishing Indians.”Read Rich’s Post →
Old friend Jonathan Nicholas sent me word of an incredible event at his former place of work, The Oregonian. On Monday October 24, the newspaper published a long piece outlining its racist past. Its own investigative reporter, Rob Davis, combed the Oregonian’s files, read its editorials, and concluded that
“The now 161-year-old daily newspaper spent decades reinforcing the racial divide in a state founded as whites-only, fomenting the racism that people of color faced. It excused lynching. It promoted segregation. It opposed equal rights for women and people of color. It celebrated laws to exclude Asian immigrants. It described Native Americans as uncivilized, saying their extermination might be needed.Read Rich’s Post →
This weekend “media tycoon” Byron Allen told a TV audience that he now owned the Weather Channel and intended to bid on the Denver Broncos. While the NFL is in a dispute over the lack of Black coaches in the league, Allen intends to be the first African-American owner of an NFL team. NFL rosters have, of course, long been filled with African-American players. The league is more than 60 % Black, but coaches are few, and owners none.
In another, quieter announcement this week, President Joe Biden nominated Harvard University Native American Program Executive Director Shelly C. Lowe to serve as the 12th chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Lowe is a citizen of the Navajo Nation and grew up on an Arizona reservation. The National Endowment for the Humanities is our national institution that celebrates “culture.”Read Rich’s Post →
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 Rich’s Post →
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 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 →
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 Rich’s Post →
I’m half-way through Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, and while the writing is superb, and the argument that Caste is a more accurate description and useful tool than Race is in assessing American history, I am once again disappointed in a major historical text that does not directly address Indians in America.Read Rich’s Post →
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 Rich’s Post →
I apologize for the long blog silence—and shame myself for it. These posts are a way of putting something new I have learned or deciphered into memory. They’re recordings of my own life lessons. And I’ve been lazy for weeks.
Enough of philosophy: an article in Wednesday’s New York Times—and a book I am reading—are, together, responsible for returning me to the blogs. The Times piece was about a Mohawk WW 2 veteran:
“Louis Levi Oakes, the last of the Mohawk code talkers, who helped American soldiers triumph in the Pacific Theater during World War II, along with code talkers from other tribes, died on May 28 at a care facility near his home on the Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation in Quebec. He was 94.”
The book I’m reading is David Treuer’s The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee. Treuer’s contention is that American historians and the American public have, for the most part, stopped Indian history at 1891, at Wounded Knee. Our popular perceptions and written accounts of American Indians today follow the lead of historians and assimilationists at the turn of the last century. With the help of allotment and religion, the “Codes of Indian Offences” of the 1880s, boarding schools and “Termination,” Indians would, it was assumed, disappear. They would “become white,” and their languages, regalia, religions, dances, songs, and entire cultures would be left in museums and the photos of Edward Sheriff Curtis.
They were called the “Vanishing Indian,” and their story—Indian history—stopped as they vanished, with Wounded Knee in 1891.
Over the years there have been cracks in this narrative, stories of Indians that remind us of their continued presence on indigenous lands; occasional stories that are actually chapters of the nation’s history. Some of those cracks show pain: boarding school stories that have emerged in documentaries and, in our region, in a powerful play called “Ghosts of Celilo,” that played in Portland and should have played across the country; and the awful stories of today of Indian women raped and murdered in outrageous numbers in Canada and America.
Other stories show resilience, pride, and contribution to the American story. Indian art is collected; The National Museum of the American Indian is visited by thousands from across the country and the world; a powwow circuit brings Indians and non-Indian Americans together in celebration; salmon runs are saved and revived by Indian fisheries programs.
But no story says more about Indians’ continuing presence and important participation in the American story than that of the code talkers. The Navajo code talkers of World War II were known—if not widely—before war records were released in 1968 and books and movies appeared. When Chester Nez, the last of the original Navajo code talkers, died in 2014, I read and wrote about it.
In the obituary of Louis Oakes, we learn about code talkers from other tribes, including the Hopi, Comanche and Mohawk. We learn that some 30 indigenous languages were used in battle in that war. And that there were Choctaw code talkers in World War I!
When Chester Nez, a U. S. Marine who served in the Pacific, died, the obituary noted that the language he used to help his country—our country—in World War II had been washed from his mouth with soap in a boarding school. There is something emblematic of the continuing relationship of majority America—even as it has grown and changed over centuries—in this story of an Indian child who is asked to erase his language and culture, and then, years later, given a Congressional Gold Medal for his use of it as a warrior in our country’s defense.
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