Maybe every holiday has its double. Christmas falls on or near the Winter Solstice, when Scandinavian pagans burned a yule log to symbolize the return of the sun, and pre-Christian Romans celebrated the sun’s return with a holiday honoring the God Saturn. That festival took place sometime between December 17th and 24th. Christians, who often had a hard time talking new converts into dropping old customs, appropriated the date of December 25 to celebrate the Nativity—the appropriation coming over 300 years after the birth of Jesus.Read Rich’s Post →
In 1855, at the treaty negotiations in Walla Walla, the Umatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla peoples were left a reservation of 245,699 acres, and the ability to hunt, fish, and gather in “usual and accustomed places” off the reservation lands. Over a century of relentless pressure by white settlers and the United States Government reduced the reservation to 85,322 acres. With some restorations, it is now 172,000 acres, but nearly half of the land is white-owned!Read Rich’s Post →
Men! And, yes mostly white men of Anglo descent, the ones who took Indian lands away with treaties and wars, lies, legislation, disease, and depleting food stocks, who brought the slaves and wrote the Constitution and engaged in a Civil War over Black men and women as property—commodities to be bought and sold.
These white men manned the pulpits and kept women quiet and hung some of them as witches. (No wonder some women and girls “captured’ by Indians refused negotiated releases.) They set our nation on its course.Read Rich’s Post →
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 armed force, the use of guns and powder, as the Euro-Americans marched across the continent.
Here’s the time to point out that the earliest Europeans were WASPS, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, because disease, slavery, and physical force have often been wielded against other “white” immigrants as well as resident tribal people and imported African slaves. And the common theme in all cases is that the break-up of family and tribe was critical in the WASP hold on power as it pursued its Manifest Destiny.
We know the story of slave markets, of selling off children and spouses and arranged breeding of more slaves. We’re less likely to think of the indentured white servants, sent to America by distraught parents living in poverty—often drought related in the time of the Little Ice Age—as a means of giving them some small chance at life. They came singly with ships’ captains auctioning them off for 4, 5, or 7 years of servitude to recapture the cost of their passage. Over half of the European immigrants from the Mayflower to the Revolution—almost 200 years worth—were indentured servants. In other words, single, mostly young, white girls and boys ripped from families to start new lives on their own.
I can find no good numbers on the number of European immigrants, and the number of indentured servants, but adding numbers from various sources says it must have been more than 200,000, so over 100,000 from broken families. And in one place found a number of over 20,000 Irish alone.
For whatever reason, the number of Africans coming to the new world is easier to find. Here, down to the 100s, is a figure for the period 1700-1775: an “estimated 278,400 Africans” were brought to the new WASP world. The point in all of this is that the first 200 years of the United States of America owed its building to broken families.
And it didn’t stop there. While a flood of immigrants from Western European countries came from Civil War through the end of the 19th century, the government, promoting programs of westward expansion and settlement with grants to railroads and eventually the Homestead Act, actively cleared the country of Indians, breaking up tribes and families with wars and, beginning in the 1880s, boarding schools, where children were torn from families and stripped of their language and culture.
But even the Europeans who moved west became or resulted in broken families. Many of the women wanted to stay near families that had become rooted on farms and in towns across the East and Midwest. But the promise of free land and a patriarchal society that put husbands and fathers in charge of their nuclear families moved them west.
Italians, Greeks, the Irish, and Eastern European Jews filled eastern cities and did establish and rely on extended families, which grew into clans that in many cases dominated local politics, business, and even crime. Some accounts say that this—the enclaves of Eastern and Southern Europeans—drove WASPS west and promulgated the idea of Manifest Destiny. Owen Wister and his ilk thought themselves the tip on civilization’s arrow, which they had picked up from the fading British Empire.
But the WASPs could not do it alone. Some did bring slaves with them, but the quest for slave states was lost to the Civil War, and the westering WASPs soon turned to Asian workers. The Chinese and Japanese who came to work on railroads, to mine, and to farm came primarily as single men. The Chinese sent money from Gold Mountain back to China; the Japanese, having fled a small land with growing population, sent home for “picture brides.”
Families made their way on the Oregon Trail. But the white west attracted adventurous men, the fur traders, loggers, and fishermen. The trappers often married or took in Indian women. On an island near Seattle, a man named Mercer sent east for factory working women to come meet potential husbands in the fishermen and lumberjacks on what would become Mercer Island. It’s said that white men outnumbered white women in the region 10-1. The Puget Sound was not settled by families.
The Indian story is the dreariest. Along with boarding schools came the Dawes Allotment Act, which allotted reservation lands to individual Indians. They were to pay taxes and could, after 25 years, sell it to whites. The connections of extended families and tribes were frayed, and the attack on Indian families continued through the 1950s, when Eisenhower sought to “solve” the Indian “problem” by terminating tribal reservations completely, and a “relocation” program which moved young Indians to cities with a bus ticket and a few bucks towards a job or school. The policies failed, and the remnant urban Indians today are sometimes reconnecting with tribal roots and land.
When we come that far forward in time, to WW 2 and its aftermath, the jumble of urban whites from the East had mixed up the West, while the Mexican Braceros—men recruited to work while western farmers went to war, were herded back to Mexico, and the country has invented and reinvented migrant labor programs to harvest our crops ever since. Sometimes migrants travel as families, sometimes as individuals, but in any case they are broken from any previous lives as stable families who lived and grew in one place over time.
New immigrants to the country, whether they come individually or as families, are coming to a world that is dominated by individualism, where grandparents, cousins, extended families and tribes are here still—but often struggle against the forces that have broken families in the names of progress and nation building for over 500 years.
# # #
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.
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 past errors in their regards; it is becoming increasingly obvious that Indian environmental and legal concerns are concerns for all Americans; and, more than anything, Indians can remind us of and teach us about resilience.
Indians were here first, here to meet the boats from Spain, England, Holland, Portugal, Italy… Indians were then decimated by European diseases to which they had little resistance, enslaved, killed in wars over land, “removed” by Andrew Jackson, restricted to reservations, coaxed into assimilation by the Dawes Allotment Act, boarding schools, the Termination Act, and an urban relocation program.
But they have survived and, incredibly, retained tribal cultures and values.
And, they have survived from coast to coast and border to boarder, even made hay of their mistreatment in boarding schools by meeting one another, learning from one another, and emerging now, in 2016 and 2017 to stand together at Standing Rock.
After decades of Indian concerns over water, fish, and other natural resources, often in the face of majority opposition (see the “great fish wars” in the Northwest prior to the Boldt Decision), the environmental community is acknowledging Indians and the Indian stance in the natural world rather than over the rest of it. After water contamination in Flint, Michigan, Portland, Oregon and dozens of other places, we—majority culture environmentalists—see that clean water is precious and fundamental in North Dakota and everywhere.
And, as Standing Rock illustrates, Indians can teach us to bridge the rural-urban divide. In the 1950s, in the Eisenhower era, a last gasp at assimilation called termination policy aimed to erase the reservation system, Trust responsibilities, and the whole doctrine of Tribal Sovereignty. As an accompaniment—Indians were to join the main stream in America—thousands of young Indians were loaded on buses and moved to urban outposts across the country. As a result, the Federal government and State and corporate interests terminated the Klamath and scores of Oregon tribes, and built the Garrison Dam on the Missouri River, coal fire plants in the Southwest, and the Kinzua Dam on Seneca land.
However, by standing their ground and established legal doctrine, Indians beat back termination—President Nixon famously said that “there will be no further termination of Indian tribes, but self-determination for Indians.”
Even then, Indians learned from their misfortune, met people from other tribes, studied at universities, learned to have a foot in two worlds. And now they are still in urban areas, at colleges and universities on reservations and off, and have trained their own as lawyers and battled in courts over land, water, and sovereignty. They have also retained family and tribal links, and move back and forth between city work and rural tribal work. They are trained in fisheries and wildlife management, business and gaming, and move from government to non-profit to tribal to private fluidly.
They run huge gaming and entertainment enterprises, and assist tribal programs and local non-tribal educational, cultural, and government programs with their winnings. (The Wildhorse Foundation on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation has given millions across northeast Oregon.)
Indians are everywhere, and more often than not they are on the side of the angels. As my old mentor, Alvin Josephy often said, “Indians are still capable of ‘group think,’ of thinking beyond the self and immediate family for the good of all.”
So now, in these troubled times, it is up to us, the majority white culture and African-American and Latino and Asian-American groups, to find them, support them, and learn from them. They know these roads. They know resilience.
# # #
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 intermarried. There are many examples of that (which is not paid much mind in our standard histories), and only in Canada, with the Metis, does this intermarriage result in a new broad cultural melding. Most intermarriage was “local”—although the products of those unique pairings were sometimes historically important, from Tecumseh to the Western wagon guides for missionaries and settlers.
Josephy again: “from the beginning, Indians had three choices: assimilate, become white; move—west until the country filled; or die.” Assimilation was the first choice of government bureaucrats and religious do-gooders. Policy—from boarding schools to Dawes Act allotments to Eisenhower’s Termination, put as kind a face as possible on assimilation, and although men hungry for land seemed always in the wings, there were serious assimilationists who truly believed that Indians were doomed to die if they did not become white. Alice Fletcher of Dawes Act note and General Pratt and the Carlisle Indian School are two committed and sympathetic assimilationists. They believed their Indian friends’ alternative was death. It’s easy to criticize their assimilationist views now, but probably unfair to their circumstances.
I don’t know the background of Henry Teller, Secretary of the Interior in the 1880s, don’t know the roots of his assimilationist beliefs. But it was during his tenure that what has come to be called the Religious Crimes Code was enacted. These were regulations at the heart of the Department of Interior, Office of Indian Affairs, and they prohibited American Indian ceremonial life. Teller’s general guidelines to Indian agents were to end tribal dances and feasts. The “code” banned Indian ceremonies, disrupted religious practices, and destroyed or confiscated sacred objects. Consequences were imprisonment and/or the withholding of treaty rations. Indian superintendents and agents implemented the code until the mid-1930s.
Some Indians saw in the 4th of July and its commemoration of American independence a small opening through which they could publically continue their own important ceremonies. There were 4th of July fireworks, dancing and celebrating across the nation; superintendents and agents justified allowing reservations to conduct ceremonies on the 4th of July as a way for Indians to learn patriotism and celebrate American ideals. They could take their regalia out of hiding.
And then, after WW I Indian vets—there were 12,000 of them—could be honored in patriotic parades that crossed the culture barrier. With a nod to American patriotism, they marched under American flags. At this point it is interesting to note that Alvin’s first Indian book, Patriot Chiefs, was loved by Indians for naming them patriots. “No one has ever called us patriots,” they would tell Alvin, “but this is ‘our land’ that were fighting for.” To this day American flags fly alongside eagle feathers at reservation powwows and dances. And many of them fly on or near the Fourth of July.
As in so many ways, Indians had to be very creative to keep traditions and culture alive. Here’s more in a piece on 4th of July from Indian Country Today: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/07/04/do-american-indians-celebrate-4th-july-155660
See also “Code of Indian Offenses”: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Code_of_Indian_Offenses
# # #
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.
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 “morg” at the Wallowa County Chieftain had the 1899 papers, which meshed with the novel’s account. Joseph came with a promise of Washington D.C. money in hand to purchase property, but the proposition was not treated seriously. The newspapers treated it with disdain and even some contempt—the Asotin paper wanted to extend the ban to keep Indians from coming back to hunt and gather.
The other important thing that I noticed this time around was the publication date, 1954. This is the Eisenhower administration and “termination” time. Termination, by whatever name it has been called over the years—e.g. The Dawes Act—has always had curious mixed sponsorship: those who hated Indians, wanted their land, or just scoffed at their old superstitions and thought they should join the majority culture (Alvin said that Henry Luce at Time Magazine thought them “phonies” and just wanted them to get on with it), and those who sympathized with Indians but thought that the only way they could survive was to join the dominant culture. Alvin called this the “vanishing Indian” view of Edward Sheriff Curtis and others. The old Indians and their ways were to be put in museums and admired for their grandeur and maybe a little for previous contributions—maize and potatoes? –but they had to become assimilated, become white.
# # #
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, though it is less frequently mentioned, that Europe, and especially northern Europe, was in the final throes of the little ice age when those first ships sailed to the North America. Famine was fact, and the people who traveled were a scrawny lot (I read somewhere that Napoleon’s army was made up of men who barely topped five foot, unlike Charlemagne‘s much earlier army of six footers.) And their first sightings of Indians must have been awe-inspiring. Think of the early paintings of the “red men,” and of the Indians who were brought to Europe to parade in front of kings, queens, and philosophers.
These able-bodied Indians appeared to be living well without the trappings of European civilization, without large houses, police forces, and only the barest of manufactured goods. “Noble savages,” Rousseau called them. At least some of the early colonists, Benjamin Franklin among them, read and were influenced by the Europeans and found confirmation of their views in personal experience.
I don’t remember which general declared that the only good Indian was a dead Indian, and there is not time or space to chronicle the attempts by do-good white Americans to assimilate Indians. The Dawes Act, Indian Reorganization Act, and Eisenhower’s termination policy can serve as brief reminders
But is it too much to say that Josephy’s original triad is with us still? That White America is still conflicted about Indians, and that we carry with us these old attitudes—all of them. At Fishtrap, we hosted the Makah filmmaker Sandy Osawa, and watched her documentaries on musician Jim Pepper and prima ballerina Maria Tallchief. We listened to Horace Axtell describe a language and sounds related directly the world around us.
And now that powwow’s are mainstream, we are stirred by jingle dancers and Indian elders with eagle feathers. I remember selling a book of Indian sayings in my bookstore days: To Touch the Earth.
Maybe that is what the Cherokee great grandmother is all about….
check out Sandy Osawa and Maria Tallchief here: http://indiancountrynews.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2006&Itemid=80