Anti-Catholicism and American History

I’m not a Catholic, and not an anti-Catholic. And I won’t whitewash the many heinous crimes of boarding schools and deviant priests. But, given that, I see a strong bent of anti-Catholicism in our history. The result of a strong current of Anglo-American Protestant triumphalism.Read Rich’s Post →

This is not the year!

2016 will not be the year that the population of the United States of America tilts from white—the year when adding up all the browns and blacks and anyone the U.S. Census counts as not-white becomes a bigger number than the number of those who check a box or are in one way or another counted as “white.” In fact, a quick Google search tells me that this cataclysmic change in demographics is about 30 years away, and if you count Hispanics as white, more than that!

Distribution of U.S. Population by Race/Ethnicity, 2010 and 2050

You wouldn’t know it by the talk of it. It permeates, is everywhere in politics and the media. The talk sets up the fear of it on the one side, and the reasoning of it on the other. Donald Trump stands and harps about Mexicans and Moslems and anyone else not white and (at least in a recent Iowa talk) not evangelical. More broadly, fear of it seems to fuel speeches and votes advocating bigger walls and tighter immigration procedures in state and national legislatures, and even city halls.

On the other side of it, academics, novelists, filmmakers, and people of more liberal persuasion (one has to be careful, as lines are not always clear and congruent on this and other liberal-conservative issues) are producing analyses. How did we come to this turn? If we had handled things—slavery, Indian treaty making, exclusionary laws—differently earlier in our history, would things be different now? And of course, how are things now?

The Warmth of Other Suns tells the story of the Great Migration of African Americans north and west, out of the South from 1910-1970. The “movement” Black Lives Matter focuses on police-black citizen relations today, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ award winning Between the World and Me examines American history and the black of it.

It seems that Indian immigrants—east Indians—are the new kids on the American literary block. The Inscrutable Americans by Anurag Mathur is a “must read” on a list of books by Indian authors, many of whom, with great wit and candor, describe the cultural gaps between two very different worlds. And there are of course Iranian-American, Vietnamese-American, Nigerian-American, Latino-American and other hyphenated American writers seeking to do the same. Luis Urrea, my favorite author of the southern border, follows history and families from the heart of Mexico into the American heartland in non-fiction (The Devil’s Highway) and fiction (Hummingbird’s Daughter; Into the Beautiful North).

And then there are the Indians, the indigenous people who had lived in the Americas for 30,000 or maybe 50,000 years, and were suddenly invaded by Europeans a little over 500 years ago, and then watched and watch still later invasions by other Europeans, and Africans and Asians—many not of their own free will—over the course of that 500 years and continuing to this day.

Booksellers’ shelves teem with books on the subject. The most ambitious might be William T. Vollman’s “Seven Dreams” series of novels about the “collisions between Native Americans and European colonizers.” The Dying Grass: A Novel of the Nez Perce War, is the Fifth Dream in the series, which is not being written sequentially. It is over 1350 pages with footnotes! It stares at me unread from my desk—I will read it this year.

And if I make it through that tome, I might try another in the series—Maybe Fathers and Crows, about the Jesuits in Canada. And then I’ll read more of Peter Bowen’s Gabriel Du Pré Montana mystery novels featuring Du Pre the Metis—the mixed bloods melded of several Indian tribes, French fur traders and a few Scotsmen into a distinct people and culture. Or maybe I will go south and read The Son, Philipp Meyer’s acclaimed novel about a multigenerational—and sometimes mixed blood—family that weaves in and out of Commanche lands.

I will actually read Warmth of Other Sons, and if I have the stomach for it, I’ll watch “The Revenant,” the fictional movie account of mountain man Hugh Glass and his experiences in Plains Indian Country in the early 1800s.

And I’ll keep on poking away at Alvin Josephy, who gets smarter every day as I think about his descriptions of the displacement and marginalization of, and on occasion the genocidal movements against, American Indians. Much of it was written and thought over a half-century ago, but Alvin was always out front. I can hear him now, lambasting the historians who thought and wrote into the 1980s that the Americas were “empty of civilization” before the Europeans arrived. He’d have something pithy to say about this tilt from white–like what about the tilts and jolts that reduced the percentage of Indians, among the 2 percent of “others” in 2010, from 100 percent in 1491!

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The passing of two friends

There is so much to say about my friend Ray Cook, the man who introduced me to Rupert Costo, the Jesuits, and Father Serra’s journey to sainthood. Ray passed away quietly in California, and, unfortunately, did not see the blog post he inspired—I think it would have made him smile, though the new Pope’s ignorance of California’s Indian genocide would only have disturbed him. Rest in Peace Ray. I am sure that the Indian woman you had to move to make way for a California highway long ago has forgiven you—and if not you built up a store of good deeds and left teachings on behalf of her brothers and sisters in your remaining years.

Ray reminded us that the peculiar relationship of Indians to land is fundamentally different from the notion that land is an “input” into economic equations, a “commodity” to be bought and sold. Being “of” the land is qualitatively different than being “from” a nation, state, farm-size or city-size chunk of ground. Thank you Ray.

John Jackson was a long-time friend of Alvin’s, and although we were not close friends, I remember fondly a meal with Alvin, John and his wife when we were touring with Alvin’s memoir. I might have this wrong, but I think that Alvin promoted publication of John’s first book, Children of the Fur Trade: Forgotten Metis of the Pacific Northwest with Mountain Press in Montana. Oregon State University now has it as a “Northwest Reprint,” a continuing reminder that descendants of European or Canadian fathers and Native American mothers (Johns’ own heritage was here), these mixed-blood settlers called “Metis,” were pivotal to the development of the Oregon Country, and have been generally neglected in its written history. Today we know them by the names they left on the land and the waters: The Dalles, Deschutes, Grand Ronde, Portneuf, Payette, but you’ll have to read John’s book to see the complex society of mixed bloods—the offspring of mostly French trappers and women from Western tribes, with dashes of Iroquois, Delaware, and Sandwich Islander—Hawaiian—in the mix, that comprise this “forgotten” element in our midst, descendants of the people who guided the first settlers and even the missionaries here, who now live on reservations, and, in some cases, in Northwest cities and suburbs mostly oblivious to their ancestry.

Because of John I’ve kept my own eye open for stories of the Metis, and announce to anyone who will listen that theirs might be a singular story of a melding of cultures in North America that created a new culture. Metis is a mixture of blood, language and religion, and one, I might add, that Canada now recognizes as a First Nation. But theirs is a Canadian story as sad as that of the stories of displaced tribes and leaders Joseph, Tecumseh, or Sitting Bull on this side of the border. It’s a story of Metis rebellion on the exit of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the transfer of land to the Canadian government. And then the execution of Metis leader Lois Rial, guilty, so they said, of “high treason” for claiming indigenous lands.

On our side of the border we’ve scarcely heard of Rial. We don’t much know David Thompson, who mapped the Columbia, or the Hudson’s Bay Company beyond John McLoughlin, Chief HBC factor at Vancouver, and, some say, the “father of Oregon.” “What does that mean,” we ask.

Thank you John for showing us these pieces of our Northwest past, and for reminding us that Canada is part of North America too, and that our history—the good, the bad, and the outrageously ugly, is a shared one.

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Thomas King, G.A. Custer, Lois Riel, David Thompson…..

Years and years ago, novelist Thomas King came to Fishtrap. Alvin Josephy had met him at a Sun Valley conference and recommended him as a reader and conversationalist. 
King ran for office in Guelph
King, tall, handsome, wearing a good white Stetson as I recall, lived up to promise, and two of his novels, Medicine Riverand Green Grass Running Water, remain personal favorites. I kept meaning to invite him back to Fishtrap—but he kept getting further away, going from the University of Minnesota to the University of Guelph, in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, where he is a professor of English today. He also has a radio show, “The Dead Dog Cafe Hour,” on CBC, and has written extensively on Indian issues on both sides of the border.
King was born in California, and his ancestors were Cherokee, Greek, and German, but he has managed to absorb Indian history and culture across national boundaries and written with authority on contemporary political issues involving American Tribes and Canadian “First Nations” since the 1980s.
This straddling of borders interests me, because I am beginning to think that some US history—and especially tribal history—has been forgotten and much distorted by national boundaries. National boundaries that were non-existent for millennia before there was a United States, and fluid for a couple of hundred years after our Revolutionary War.
I’m half way through King’s new non-fiction book called The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People of North America. It turns out that boundaries were indeed fluid—and that the lands within what is now Canada were often as contested and battle-filled, treatied and treaty broken, as our own Western lands. In an early chapter, he wonders why George Armstrong Custer, who “made a sophomoric military mistake and got himself killed,” remains an American icon while Louis Riel, whose life roughly parallels Custer, and who helped carve and form a provisional Metis government in former Rupert’s Land, was overthrown by pro-English sided Canadian troops, escaped to the US, returned to lead a Metis uprising, and was finally captured and hanged, gets no such space in our history.
The argument is interesting—Custer was White, Riel Indian; more importantly, we tell our history with Indians as the impedimentsto inexorable and inevitable westward movement, though, ironically, without Indian help in case after case after case, westward movement would have been much more difficult at best. Indians got in Custer’s way; Riel got in the way of white English speakers.
More interesting to me is how little we—Americans of the US variety—know about our cousins to the north. We have only foggy notions of Rupert’s Land, and how Canada emerged out of a British royal land grant and feuds and wars between the British and the French on both sides of the Atlantic. And we don’t know about Riel because it’s Canada and very few of us even know about the Metis! (although some of them are on our side of the border and have captured the attention of a Montana mystery writer named Peter Bowen, who has a Metis protagonist named Gabriel Du Pre).
We don’t pay much attention to the fur trade because the lands were trapped out and the Hudson’s Bay Company had won out over American fur companies well before white settlers arrived in the territory, and it all kind of ended up on that side of the border. As did David Thompson, North West Fur Company trader who traveled the entire length of the Columbia River and arrived at its mouth just behind the Astor party in 1811, who surveyed much of the Columbia River country and huge chunks of the US-Canada border. Josephy wrote about him, and there is a wonderful book called Sources of the River, which traces his journeys, but we don’t pay Thompson much attention in our US historical narrative.
Thank you Tom King for filling me in a little on these Indian issues across borders. I am going to track you down and invite you back to the Wallowas to hear more!

What might have been

I was thinking about this blog post on my morning bike ride, and out of nowhere came a remark made by an old professor of mine about 50 years ago—“the United States has never been a melting pot, unless you think of it as all melting towards Anglo-American.” They are certainly not the exact words, but the sentiment is right, and it comes across strong as I read and reread AJ’s work.
For the past few weeks I have been concentrating on The Civil War in the American West in preparation for a talk at the Pacific Northwest History Conference in Tacoma last week. (Thanks, by the way, to good friends who came down from Seattle and over from Roslyn to fill chairs!) 
Again and again the idea that the westering thrust of US history is inevitable, and that Indians have had few choices in dealing with it comes through in the words of generals, politicians, settlers, and historians. Indians were moved or could remove themselves to small enclaves (until the enclave turned out to have gold—or good grass, or water, or something else that the westering white man needed); they could assimilate (and still, as half-breed Sioux farmers in Minnesota learned, risk war and removal); or they could fight and die at the superior power of the Anglo-American juggernaut.  
Although there are well documented stories of black cowboys and runaway slaves moving west, of French-Indian Metis culture, and other ethnic ingredients in the Western “melting pot,” most early white emigrants, like their forefathers who established the Union, were Anglo in origin and/or becoming culturally Anglo-American. And gradually, in the decades before the Civil War, the United States and its Anglo based laws and Anglo language marched west, overcoming French interests and Mexican interests, and denying suggestions—by Indians and even by the English—to incorporate “Indian states” in the growing Union. That possibility was squelched—maybe once and for all—at the Treaty of Ghent at the conclusion of the War of 1812:
“The United States, while intending never to acquire lands from the Indians otherwise than peaceably, and with their free consent, are fully determined, in that manner, progressively, and in proportion as their growing population may require, to reclaim from the state of nature, and to bring into cultivation every portion of the territory contained within their acknowledged boundaries. In thus providing for the support of millions of civilized beings, they will not violate any dictate of justice or of humanity; for they will not only give to the few thousand savages scattered over that territory an ample equivalent for any right they may surrender, but will always leave them the possession of lands more than they can cultivate, and more than adequate to their subsistence, comfort, and enjoyment…”
Alvin suggested in many places that re-inserting Indians into our history might include the might-have-beens.
So what might have been if Anglo-American manifest destiny had not triumphed, if the French would have retained New Orleans and some points west? If Mexico had not ceded so much? If the First World War had not taken the German language out of public schools in Wisconsin? If there would have been an Indian state?
It occurs to me that North America might look a lot more like South America, with states—or countries—with varying shades of democratic and autocratic governments, different agricultures and economies. There might be more and different official dialects of English, French, Spanish and German—and maybe even Cherokee or Sioux.
South America and its several countries—and states—have had their own rocky paths over the past 500 years, but Brazil and Argentina are on a global rise, and indigenous people, often oppressed by church and state, have occupied and continue to occupy their state houses. Where, one wonders, will the “savages” be—and the Anglos—in North and South America in another 100 or 500 years.
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