Salmon and Beaver; Politics and Biology

President-elect Trump’s promise to promote coal mining and open more public lands for development of natural gas and oil is not new politics. And the Indian-centered and inspired movement to stop the Dakota Access pipeline is not the first fight by Native Americans against the Euro-American drive to exploit natural resources.

I thought about this as Nez Perce Fisheries workers joined my class (AG 301- ECOSYSTEM SCIENCE OF PACIFIC NW INDIANS) in La Grande last week to talk about salmon and treaties. They explained that the beaver and salmon had developed an intricate symbiotic relationship that had been totally interrupted by the extermination of the beaver almost 200 years ago.

They knew the biology; I could fill them in on the history.

The biology: a series of beaver dams forms perfect habitat for salmon, providing pools for growth and rest, avenues for running up river, and spurts of fast water from the dams’ depths to flush smolts downriver.  Beaver dams Read The Article

It’s the Water

I’ve been following the protest in North Dakota over the pipeline, watching it swell with tribal people from across the country. The New York Times says that members from over 280 tribes are now involved. Some are coming in caravans, some by plane and foot, some Northwesterners made their final miles in large, brilliant canoes.

The Times profiled a few of the protesters. Thayliah Henry-Suppah, Paiute, of Oregon, wearing a traditional wing dress with ribbons and otter furs, said she kept this Indian proverb in mind: “Treat the earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It was loaned to you by your children.” In her own words: “We’ve lived without money. We can live without oil, but no human being can live without water.”

Most of the Indians profiled by the Times spoke of water: “We say ‘mni wiconi’: Water is life,” said David Archambault II, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, the site and Read The Article

Finding Rupert’s Land

Marc Jaffe and I have been editing away on a book of Alvin Josephy’s writings for over a year. Our goal is to let Alvin show readers how Indians are intricately woven into the fabric of American history—they are not a “sideshow”; to explore Alvin’s explorations of Indians and natural resources; and to present a brief forum on the miracle of Indian survival.

The essays—some chapters from books; some magazine articles—are chosen, and introductions to sections by contemporary Indian thinkers who knew Alvin are done. We have a few illustrations, and the intention to use a couple of maps.
One of the essays is “The Hudson’s Bay Company and the American Indian.” Alvin argued that the Company and the fur trade overall had a lot to do with how America and American-Indian relations evolved. Our editor liked this, and thought it would be good to have a map to help people visualize just how extensive the fur trade—and specifically the
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Desperation

At the Fishtrap Gathering this weekend, writer Luis Alberto Urrea talked about the border. He’d written a non-fiction book, The Devil’s Highway, about 26 from Vera Cruz who crossed the border in 2001—twelve made it, and fourteen died in the trying. The book was a Pulitzer finalist and has just been reprinted in a tenth anniversary edition. The story is lauded by many, even by border patrollers, but there is no political purchase or acknowledgement.
He’s followed it with a novel called Into the Beautiful North, which deals somewhat playfully with Mexican villages where mass exoduses of men have left villages of women, young children, and oldsters. Is it an easier way of looking at things?
In seriousness, in a panel on the multi-cultural future, Luis asked the audience to imagine how desperate parents in El Salvador or Honduras must be to gather last resources, give them to a smuggler, and hope that a child makes it to
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Indian Gardens—one more time!


Ok, I should have thought this whole thing through before launching food travel theories. Josephy reminded us years ago, in Indian Heritage of America, 1492 and other places, that about half of present world food crops originated in the Western hemisphere: corn, beans, manioc, chocolate, tobacco—well, food and medicinal/drug crops. And we all know from fourth grade Thanksgiving programs that corn—Mesoamerican corn—had arrived in New England long before the English!
Diorama of Iroquois Indians tending maize caption, New York State Museum

But it is also true that Indians of what is now the Pacific Northwest were traditionally hunters, gatherers, and fishers, and most of these crops were not found in the region at the time of first white contact, Indians of the region had established economies and food cultures over countless generations before white contact, food cultures built around salmon, game, and readily available roots, bulbs, and berries. Did they have knowledge Read The Article

More on Nez Perce gardens and fur traders


I argued against missionary Spalding as the original source of Wallowa Nez Perce gardens in my last blog post, went on a laborious journey through Spokane House, Spokane Garry, the Church of England, and the fur trade as alternative sources of seeds and irrigation techniques. And then got onto the thought that this all happened with people and players—Hudson’s Bay, the North West Fur Company, David Thompson—who end up being on the Canadian side of history, so do not get attention in standard USA history books.

I think that last line is quite true, but my circuitous argument about Spokane Garry and his time at the Red River School under the Anglicans probably was too much. Friend and long-time historian of the fur trade John Jackson—Children of the Fur Trade—made it all simpler in a brief response to my post:

“The curmudgeon can’t resist pointing out that the early Nor’westers
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Beaver hats

Sometimes you read something or hear something or something happens that changes how you look at the world. For me, reading Charles Mann’s 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus, and thinking about world history in terms of the “Columbian Exchange” did that. For the first time, I connected the fact that potatoes originated in the Andes—that I had picked up somewhere along the line, with the potato famine in Ireland and the potato lefse that my grandmother made every holiday. That the Americas were vibrant places full of humanity and human influenced landscapes before the Pilgrims settled Plymouth suddenly became obvious—how did the corn, beans, and pumpkins get to the far north anyway?
How I wish I could have talked with Alvin about Charles Mann. Better yet, how good it would have been to put them together. That is kind of what we did in our class this Wednesday
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Blinded by the times

When he wrote the essay on the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Indians, Alvin Josephy took great pains to place it all in historical context. And he credited the company with high mindedness in establishing standards for dealing with the Indians—the traders were not to use alcohol as trade goods, not to marry Indian women, and were to build peaceful relationships with them and promote peace among the tribes. Measured against French, American, and other British traders, Josephy gives the HBC good marks.

“Nevertheless,” says Josephy, “the relations between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the American Indians can be seen fairly and truly only from a perspective that recognizes the imperialistic dynamics of the company during its fur trade heyday [1670-1870]…” The lynchpin of those dynamics was the doctrine of discovery, a notion of sovereignty developed by the Catholic Church and European governments which assumed that Europe and European culture and religion were superior to all indigenous peoples and cultures
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The Hudson’s Bay Company and the Indians

I just read “The Hudson Bay Company and the American Indians,” a three-part series Alvin originally published in 1971 in The Westerners: New York Posse BrandBook (I love the Westerners! See November 2010 post) that was reprinted with color photography as “By Fayre and Gentle Meanes,” in American West Magazine.

Fayre and gentle was how the Hudson’s Bay company men were supposed to treat, or “Draw downe the Indians” to their purpose. Their purpose was the acquisition of furs. Alvin says that the company did not come to “conquer or dispossess the Indians. It did not covet their land, hunting grounds, or fishing stations. It did not mean to disrupt them or undermine their beliefs, destroy their means of existence, shatter their organizations and ways of life, or change them into white men… It was a commercial enterprise, in business to make a profit by buying furs peacefully from the natives at prices that would bring the highest Read The Article