Indian photos in the exhibit

Joseph’s Last Visit, 1900. Photo by Frank Reavis

There were 50 photos in the recent Josephy Center exhibit of pre-WW II images from the Wallowa Country. Seven of the images feature Indians, and, it occurs to me, capture a great deal of white misunderstandings of and ambivalence toward Indians over the last 500 years.  The photos all date from about 1895-1930, less than one generation in that long history that unravels with amazing consistency over more than a dozen.

The most salient feature of our photos is that they were all taken after 1877, after the Wallowa Band Nez Perce were removed from this land, chased across Idaho, Yellowstone, and into Montana; lied to about return; sent to Leavenworth and the “hot country”; and returned to the Northwest—but not to the Wallowa—in 1885. Many descendants of the band remain in exile on the Colville Reservation in north central Washington to this day.

So what do the photos tell us?

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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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Another Indian statue

We have a new statue of Chief Young Joseph, or Young Chief Joseph as he is now mostly called, on Main Street in our town of Joseph—the town is named after him of course. It’s all irony, as he was of course hounded out of here in the War of 1877, and not allowed to return when he and his band came back from Indian Territory in 1895. He and most of them ended up in Nespelem, Washington, among Indians of other languages and cultures. He is said to have died there of a “broken heart” in 1904.  

But his picture is on the masthead of our local newspaper, and, in addition to the town, the annual rodeo celebration and a day camp for local children are named after Chief Joseph.  (Another irony is that Joseph probably gave up that Christian name along with the religion it represented as his people went to war with the United States. He would
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A reflection on Winona LaDuke’s visit to Fishtrap

Small world—and invisible Indians

Winona LaDuke was at Winter Fishtrap this weekend. She is an enrolled member of the Mississippi Band of Anishinaabeg on the White Earth Reservation in Northern Minnesota and a global activist on behalf of Indian rights and sustainable natural resource use.

Winona is not bitter or self-pitying, but straight forward, proud, realistic, rational, and spiritual all-together. Seven of the eight million dollars spent on food on her reservation go immediately off-reservation, she said. Some huge percentage of electrical energy is spent in the mining and transportation of fuels and the transmission across far distances. On her reservation they will grow and produce more of their own food; they will build wind turbines and develop wind energy.

People hovered after her talk. I approached slowly and introduced myself as having been born and partially raised in Fosston, Minnesota, at the edge of the White Earth Reservation. “My father was born in Fosston, in 1929,” she said. (He

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