ta ‘c meeywi and qe’ci’yew’yew’

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 →

Following Indians in 2015

Alvin Josephy passed almost a decade ago, but I visit his writing and thinking almost daily. I think about the questions I didn’t ask, the conversations that could have been longer, and tying it all to today. Mostly, I think “Alvin, you are right on.”
Over some time in the 1990s and early 2000s, Alvin was interviewed by friend and Southwest writer, activist, and radio producer Jack Loeffler, and in one of those interviews Alvin reminded Jack and radio listeners that there are many “traditional” American values—think neighborliness, tolerance, and equal opportunity. Few would argue with any of these, but Alvin said that we have largely forgotten them in the frenzied pursuit of and insistence on one value, “competition.”
From the NFL to “American Idol,” high school GPAs and SAT scores to job promotions and juried art shows, we are surrounded by and deeply immersed in competition. Held in check by fair play and good neighborliness, “friendly” competition is benign, maybe even good. But stripped of the others, running amok, it is poison.
It is Kenneth Lay accumulating wealth and political power, manipulating gas markets, bilking investors, selling his Enron shares high while encouraging employees to keep buying them as their value dropped, and, in his fall, taking down other companies and ruining retirements for thousands of Enron employees. Convicted of fraud, Lay died at 64 of a supposed heart attack while awaiting sentencing at a Colorado ski resort.
When competition is the final measure, friendship, ethics, and citizenship are all out the window, and fame and money reign—how else to measure a movie actor against a CEO, a homerun hitter, or a social program originator. How easy to understand Lay, Lance Armstrong and Mark Maguire and a host of other cheaters. And how strenuously the cheaters fight off guilt—in the end, it seems Kenneth Lay felt little guilt for the people he’d cheated; he might have felt bad about getting caught.
But, heading into the New Year, I don’t feel so clean myself. Knowing all we know about professional and big college football, I find myself following the Oregon Ducks and the Seattle Seahawks. We know that players get hurt—sometimes seriously hurt, and sometimes, we are learning, the hurt plays out years later, in ALS, Parkinson’s, dementia, and destructive rage. Junior Seau grew up where I did, in Oceanside, California, and mutual friends say his suicide was not part of his original personality. Friend Terry Crenshaw died with ALS in his fifties—did his years of football contribute?
But we watch…. and we get emotionally tied up with teams and players. We join with other fans in cheers and dress and reactions to the game. We share in the fame—entire cities and states and regions share in the fame. We want our guy—Russell Wilson in Seattle—to best the bigger guys with bigger salaries from Eastern and Midwestern powerhouses. We win the Heisman Trophy for best college football player withMarcus Mariota, and will be cheering witheach other in front of a big screen TV on New Years Day for Marcus and his Ducks to destroy Florida State.
Pure Gladiator. There is something primal in these emotions that push competition to the limits and allow fans and bystanders to glory in others’ achievements. But, like many values and virtues, the importance accorded this one waxes and wanes—teamwork, order, spirituality, equality, come along and show their stuff. The Coliseum is replaced by the cathedral or parliament, the printing press, agricultural improvement, art and science. Society, culture, and the public gain on the individual.
Again, Alvin Josephy put it succinctly. Indians, he said, are the only Americans still capable of “group think,” of thinking for the tribe. He told me that in relation to the drug and alcohol problem, which he thought would be solved first on reservations.
There are certainly millions of Americans who want to see the drug problem solved, who want better wages and more equitable treatment for low income neighbors, want health care for all and a world full of wonder and natural resources for their grandchildren. But these things can’t really happen until competition is harnessed, put back in a place where it is reasonable rather than defining, and lives comfortably alongside other values.
I don’t know where this starts. Competitive forces are pushing for national college playoff games and we look for “winners” in complex diplomatic and combat situations across the globe. I would like to think that my own better nature—and that of millions of others—will eventually turn away from the gladiators and join the Indians. How to get there? Follow the Indians?

Maybe this year, in 2015.

Alvin and the occupiers

This might be dangerous. Many of you—Alvin Josephy’s friends and followers—might not be political at all, or are primarily interested in Alvin as a historian and advocate for Indian peoples, and don’t care about his politics outside of Indians. But I am reading Alvin material every day, and he was so bound up in the major issues of his times—from the Depression through World War 2, from dignity and self-determination for Indians to a concern for the physical world that he learned from Indians and carried with him to the pages of Audubon Magazine and Congressional Testimony—that it is impossible to look at Alvin Josephy without thinking about politics.

I am going to lean on material from interviews with Alvin’s friend, Jack Loeffler. Most of the interviews occurred in 1995, but there is some later material too, from 2001. In their rambling conversations Alvin recounts some of the major events in his life—in 1995 he was deep into writing the memoir, A Walk Toward Oregon—and reflects on the condition of Indians, the country, and the world in 1995 and 2001. All quotes below are from the interviews. (We have both audio cd and 56 page printout at the Library.)

Alvin was born in 1915, went to public school through his first eight years, where he learned “reading , writing, arithmetic, regular courses that were turning people of all backgrounds into Americans and making them all feel like they were members of the same country and patriotic about it.” And he continues: “we split at the end of eighth grade into long lines of inequality.”

Alvin went on to get a fine education at Horace Mann School, and then to Harvard for two years, before a bank failure in New York and the death of his grandfather, Samuel Knopf, depleted all college money for Alvin and his brother. Even though his family had been one of means, at Harvard he learned that the “Cabots and the Lowells and the Calloways and so forth… knew each other because they had all gone to the same prep schools—St. Paul’s and Milton and Groton,” and they were the “kings of the class.” He called them the “snobs.”

But this crew went through the Depression and through WW 2, and “by the time of our 25th reunion, these guys who had been snobs were Democratic as hell… They had become the type of people who were the great leaders of our war effort…” And then, “By the time of our 50th reunion, these people were fighting mad liberals. I mean they were environmentalists… They were people giving to causes… They were like the cabinet members of Roosevelt and Truman and Eisenhower, that decent type of Republicanism that’s vanished or almost vanished. It’s very hard to find in either party.”

Alvin was proud of his classmates and his generation. And of the people he served with during the War. David Rockefeller, whom he met at Harvard, served with him on the original Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian Board, and Alvin served on the board of Friends of the Earth with others from this generation that had beat back the forces of Fascism and Imperialism and were trying to bring that energy to domestic problems in America.

Alvin and his generation had a good long fight, but by 1995 he was expressing discouragement as the corporations and the wealthy seemed to be bringing the country back to where he had picked it up as a young convert to Roosevelt’s New Deal. For him, the lessons the country had learned through the Depression, the New Deal, and World War 2 were being lost—especially by the new corporate and political class.

“When the Republicans say today the American People want the government off their backs, they’re lying. What they’re really saying is the corporate giants, the CEOs of this country, want the government off their backs. Sure, so they can abuse the rest of us…. The whole thing is being delivered into the hands of the cartels and a smaller number of people.”

Words that could be a quote from one of today’s occupiers!

Although there was deep political sadness in Alvin those last years, he found some reason for optimism. First the resilience of the American people, who had come back from a terrible Civil War and made it through the Depression.

And secondly, the continuing presence of the American Indian. Indians, Alvin often said, can still think for the tribe. I believe his greatest wish, and maybe even a deep final faith, held that the country would find its way back to Indian ideas of sustainability, and of living with the earth and with each other in closer harmony…

Josephy, Indians, and the Environment

This is from the transcript of an interview that Jack Loeffler did with Alvin in August 1995, File 3, page 37, 38, 40 in the Josephy Library at Fishtrap archives.

Several times in the interview Alvin refers to subjects that he will or will not address in his memoir (A Walk Toward Oregon, published in 2000). Here he describes his conversion from being a “pro-development guy,” who wanted to see the West–the “other half of the country”– developed as the East had been, to seeing the country in an ecologically sounder and more sustainable way. You have to read A Walk Toward Oregon and know something of his extensive work on Indians to get the whole picture, but here is the shorthand: companies and government agencies were screwing the Indians–and oh, they were screwing a lot of other people too in the name of development and profit. At least some environmentalists were taking a longer view of things, did not have private selfish motives in it. So I will join the fight….

And he did. The first piece one on the Seneca and the Kinzua Dam (“Cornplanter, can you swim?” American Heritage Magazine, 1968), and then on to the Four Corners in the Southwest, and to the Garrison Diversion Project in the Dakotas. Here, in the interview with Loeffler, he is reflecting on it all, on his personal journey in Indian Country and post WW II America, as he begins writing the memoir.

“…this is why I’ve devoted so much of my life, once I began to make the turn to redeem myself so to speak from having been a pro-development guy, writing about it and urging it in the pages of Time magazine and the radio and all the rest, various things began to happen to turn me around to see the light. And they all really had to do with Indians. I began to meet and know Indians and then see how they were being screwed and how the whites were putting their culture higher than that of the Indians and really what they were doing is saying the Indian must go or Indianness must go. We’re not out to kill you anymore. We’re out to kill your Indianness

“I saw Indians being victimized by development projects; large scale things happening. It wasn’t one episode or one incident that changed me. I saw for instance what the army engineers were doing to the Iroquois, the Senecas, in building Kinzua back in western New York state in 1960 and ’61 and breaking the oldest existing treaty in the United States. Historically I knew about that. It was an historic episode. Morally and ethically it was revolting to me what went on, and I went up to do a story on it, to find out everything going on. It was worse than I thought. I was finding real estate people who were conniving against the Indians with the Army Engineers, and the way the BIA was treating the Indians and so forth….

“I got to know Udall and he sent me off to represent him in a number of things. I’m going to go into a lot of this in the book. This is really the theme of my book: how I changed. It didn’t take me too long, because by the time you [Jack Loeffler, who worked with Alvin on Hopi and coal issues in the Southwest] and I met I was pretty much already on the side of those who were trying to protect the environment. Why? Because there was justice there and decency. You weren’t rooking people. The companies were rooking people. I’ll never forget going down to New Oraibi, sitting in Banyacya’s home with that Peabody Coal Company vice president that I yanked along. Remember he had his plane and flew me over there to Black Mesa? And then we went to Tom’s house and met a bunch of Hopis. There was (sic) a couple of blind old men and there was a young—Carlotta Shattuck, I think her name was—crying and so forth. It shook up this guy from St. Louis, vice president for public relations or something.

“When we left and drove back to where his plane was, he said to me, and this is in the lead of my story, ‘We have one hell of a community relations job to do here.’ That was the way he viewed it, you see, as a corporate thing. In other words, really we’ve got to fool the people. We’ve got to find a way to get them on our side here and we can’t do it honestly. We’ve got to find the devices because we’ve got to have that coal mine whether they want it or not.”


Loeffler, Abbey, and Josephy

Dear Friends of the Josephy Library,

Welcome to the first Library Blog! Actually, I am sending the text in a regular email, as I have been doing for the past year or so, but it will now be posted on the the Josephy Library blog, where you are now!

This is all new ground for me, so patience please—and I will appreciate your suggestions.


Jack Loeffler comes to Fishtrap

Jack Loeffler celebrated his 74th birthday in a hotel room in Baker City on his way to Fishtrap this July. He’d been as far as Joseph before, sat on Alvin Josephy’s deck and interviewed him, but he had never made it as far as Wallowa Lake. He was thrilled with the first sight of it..

On Monday morning we began a conversation that seemed like it had started ages ago, and the time between the phantom conversations of the past and today melted away. From time to time Jack would say that he needed to interview himself about Josephy, and I would think that I should have a damned recorder going while we talked.

Neither happened, but I’m hoping they will.

Jack brought us a disc with a couple of hours of interview time with Alvin, and he brought stories: the time he read Alvin’s testimony defending the Hopis in a fight with Peabody Coal; the camping trip with Alvin sleeping under the pickup until a thunderstorm woke him thumping into the bottom of the pickup bed and scrambling inside. And on and on…

At Fishtrap, in a brief afternoon session, Loeffler played short snippets of interviews—most done for radio programs in New Mexico—on environmental issues with Stewart Udall, author John Nichols, Earth Firster Dave Forman, Sierra and Friends of the Earth’s David Brower, Ed Abbey, Alvin Josephy, and a host of others. There was no name dropping—just 20 second blurbs from here and there to make a point..

Later, I asked him about the Abbey and Josephy exchange about grazing on public lands.. Abbey was of course dead set against grazing; Alvin, informed by friendships and hours on horseback with Wallowa County ranchers like Jack McClaran and Biden Tippett, took a different point of view. Developers were the real problem; ranchers and environmental thinkers should be in league.

It was a friendly dialog, according to Jack. His eyes sparkled with the thought of his old friends, Ed Abbey and Alvin Josephy, in a long-ago conversation that could still stir emotions today. I’ll have to send you that picture of Ed and Alvin on the rim of the Grand Canyon.” But he didn’t need to—it’s in his memoir about Abbey, Adventures with Ed. Clean shaven Alvin between bearded Ed and long-haired Jack, with a small group of anthropologists and photographers all looking very much 1971. I’m sure Alvin had to catch a plane soon to an editorial board meeting at American Heritage or a session with some Indian tribe or government committee redesigning the BIA.

But he looks happy and not completely out of place with this band of 1970s renegade thinkers in the thin Southwest air.

p.s. I found another picture of Ed and Alvin—In Alvin’s memoir! And I am posting it here.