Built on Broken Families

One of the earliest stories of white-Indian interaction in North America is that of Squanto, a Patuxet Indian taken captive by English explorer Thomas Hunt in 1614 and sold as a slave in Spain. Tisquantum—his real name—escaped and made his way back to Cape Cod through England. He had picked up English along the way, a skill that would prove valuable when the Mayflower landed and the newcomers needed help with agriculture and the ways of the new world. Unfortunately, Squanto, whose tribe had completely succumbed to diseases brought ashore by European fishermen, who was valued and praised by Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford, did not live long, just long enough to show the colony food caches, seeds, fertilizer and fields.

The violence in Squanto’s capture and demise was caused by slavery and disease, harbingers of continuing interrelationships between the misnamed Indians and the European newcomers from that day forward. A third tool of dismemberment of the native societies was Read The Article

Resilience

The election and the first days of a new and controversial Presidency have captured the news and national attention. For the most part, Standing Rock has slipped to back pages and Indian media websites, even as President Trump tweets and signs executive orders demanding a speedy resumption of pipeline building. The sheer number of tweets and executive orders helps obscure this news.

Life–1973

Water problems on one reservation and a lawsuit over education on another creep into the news, but, for the most part, Indians and tribal concerns are background noise once again, caught occasionally by a local press, or by an environmental media newly awakened to Indian allies, covered regularly only in Native news outlets.

But, I would argue, now is exactly the time we should be looking at and to tribes for guidance in dealing with current social, environmental, and political issues: Indians have the kind of history and standing that might instruct us now—while reminding us of Read The Article

Happy Fourth of July

American Indians’ patriotism and Indian celebrations of America’s favorite patriotic holiday are as complex and convoluted as is the overall dance of American History—although Indians, as Alvin Josephy said only half jokingly, don’t have history—or biography; they have anthropology, or archeology, or ethnography. (Look, as Alvin always did, for books on Indian cultures and heroes on bookstore shelves. See where they are shelved.)

The real early history of the people and places in the new world, the on-the-ground complexities of interrelationships between Indians and white Europeans (and later Black Africans and various groups of immigrants from Asia), is the push and pull of new relationships in a strange land. The pull was “help”—Early European immigrants needed help with food, clothing, and shelter to stay alive; the “push” was for Indian lands the newcomers needed to realize their visions of freedom and prosperity.

Indians tried valiantly to deal with the relentless colonization of the continent. They fought and they negotiated. And Read The Article

The Nez Perce and the Columbian Exchange

In preparation for my Portland presentation on the Nez Perce in the Wallowa Country tomorrow night, and thinking about this ecosystems/ Pacific NW tribes class I am teaching in La Grande, I got to wondering about which elements of Alfred Crosby’s Columbian Exchange had the greatest impact on the Nez Perce.

The first one that comes to mind is the horse, because the Nez Perce became noted for their horse breeding and horsemanship. But they probably didn’t get the horse until the early 1700s, over 200 years after Columbus and his crew landed with them in the Caribbean. Late in the history of a people that had been here forever.
It was diseases, and specifically smallpox, that got Crosby to thinking about what all had crossed the ocean and united the two worlds so long divided. And the impact of diseases that the Europeans had developed some immunities to over centuries on indigenous Americans was in all ways catastrophic. In
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The assimilationists

 


I’m again reading a book I read years ago—and again finding new meaning. Caroline Wasson Thomason was born in 1887 somewhere else, but grew up “Between the Sheeps” in Wallowa County. She married a teacher and lived for years in New York, where she wrote children’s plays and stories.  And she wrote a couple of novels, one that dealt with American blacks and civil rights, and one historical novel: In the Wallowas.  

My recollection was of a syrupy story involving settlers and their teenage children, but with accurate accounts of Chief Joseph’s last visit to the Wallowas and a famous runaway horse incident. I also vaguely remembered a love story that crossed racial lines, and the purple prose. I was right on that: “’My princess! My beautiful flower!’ Imna knelt beside the bed and took her in his arms. A spasm of pain flushed her lovely face, and he held her more closely.” 

The action begins in 1899,
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“Noble Savage”

After the last blog on Mildred Bailey and “passing as white,” a friend suggested that it sounded accurate on the one hand, but on the other, why is it that so many Americans claim Indian roots? There are jokes about the number of people with Cherokee great-grandmothers, but when, he asked, have you heard someone obviously “white” claim a slave ancestor from Sierra Leone.

What’s with this contradiction of widespread pride in Indian ancestry—and white America’s disregard for and continuing practice of forgetting Indian history and consciously eradicating Indian culture?

I can’t site a page in a Josephy book or remember a specific conversation, but I know that he believed that, from the earliest days of white settlement, relations with Indians were dominated by a triad of white attitudes toward them: romanticize, kill, or assimilate.

We now know that diseases often preceded actual contact and that millions of indigenous Americans died before they saw a white face. We also know, Read The Article