The new Ken Burns documentary, the American Buffalo, follows the Euro-Americans across the continent as they kill buffalo, kill them mostly for profit—meat for the railroad workers; tongues which fetched high prices as culinary delicacies in the East; buffalo robes and hides that became important strong leather for the Industrial Revolution; and, finally, the remnant hooves that were gathered for glue and bones that were ground up for fertilizer. They also killed buffalo for sport and to impoverish Native tribes that depended on them.Read Rich’s Post →
On Saturday, I made the hike up the west-side trail on the East Moraine of Wallowa Lake. This is a piece of land that the Wallowa Land Trust has worked very hard over many years to keep away from developers. Slowly—over the years, and with the support of the County Commissioners, the Oregon State Park, and Wallowa Resources, Land Trust director Kathleen Ackley and her staff have pulled together easements and ownership to get this marvelous piece of geological, geographical, and tribal heritage land into a “community partnership” of owners and minders.
It’s called the “East Moraine Community Forest,” and the development of its management plan, shepherded by the Land Trust, includes the Nez Perce Tribe. On Saturday, Nakia Williamson, Cultural Resources Program Director for the Tribe, accompanied about 20 of us on the moraine hike. Read Rich’s Post →
On Saturday, Indian elders helped dedicate the “side channel project” on the Nez Perce Homeland grounds in Wallowa. The Wallowa River, Nez Perce Fisheries workers told us, had been shoved to a side, channelized decades ago, probably in the 1940s and 50s, so that more land would be free for pasture and crops. This narrowed, straight flowing river has scoured the river bottom and eaten the banks, and in so doing destroyed places for fish to rest while migrating, and places for them to spawn. The side channel does not change the course of the main stem, but allows water to drift to and through some of the river’s old territory. In spring runoff, water will spill over the side channels and recreate marshlands, where tule and other native plants can grow. There have already been fish and lamprey in the side channel waters.Read Rich’s Post →
I got this “FYI” from Jim Harbeck at Nez Perce Fisheries here in Joseph last night:
“The first Coho Salmon to return to the Lostine River in over 40 years came back home this morning… I think we’ll see at least a few hundred Coho this fall at our weir on the Lostine. And more importantly, once again the Nez Perce Tribe is proving to be a good steward here in Wallowa County. This fish returned to a reach of river just below old Chief Joseph’s original burial site. I’m sure he’d be proud of his people for this significant accomplishment (and Ken Witty would be too).”
Ken Witty was a long-time fish biologist for the State of Oregon, and did some consulting with the tribe after his retirement.
It’s a long story. 1855 Treaty; Fish Wars of the 70s (which Alvin Josephy wrote about); Boldt Decision awarding half the salmon catch to the tribes; Nez Perce, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, and other tribal fishery programs ramping up; mitigation money from Bonneville Power—and events like this!
I could go on, but encourage you to do so on your own. For now, we celebrate the return of the Coho Salmon to the Lostine River.
|First Lostine River Coho in over 40 years!|
|Photo by Edward Sheriff Curtis of Nez Perce Dugout Canoe|
A couple of summers ago Allen Pinkham Jr. was here at the Josephy Center teaching workshops. He did a few days of beading and a few making drums with a handful of people interested in the crafts and the Nez Perce Indians who had developed them. At the end of his stay, Allen told me that “We Nez Perce were canoe people you know. I’d like to come back here and carve a dugout canoe.”
That conversation sent me on a journey that landed enough grant funds to bring Allen back—in fact, he’s due in tonight with his father and with Bob Chenoweth from the Nez Perce National Historical Park in Spalding, Idaho. Bob’s made a study of historic Nez Perce canoes— there are only a handful in existence, and the park has four of them—and will do a program based on his research. Allen Sr. will chip in with stories of canoes and Nez Perce traditions.
Without stealing any of their thunder, I’ll say that that initial conversation with Allen and subsequent talks, reading, and thinking have me looking at regional history in different ways. I asked Allen Sr. one time if you stopped someone in downtown Lewiston and asked him or her what two words they associated with Nez Perce, what would they say. “The War and horses,” we almost answered my question together.
Water was here before the horse (which the Nez Perce didn’t get until about 1730), and Indians were using canoes on rivers and lakes well after the advent of the horse. Think about it. Lewis and Clark traveled a good share of their miles by water—rafts on the Missouri; and the Nez Perce helped them build canoes that took them to the sea. In the Journals, they note few horses and many canoes on the Columbia.
David Thompson and the fur traders would pack trade goods on boats and horses, moving from one to the other with the terrain, building new canoes, trading canoes for horses, and on and on. Locally, it’s obvious that historically, traveling the length of Wallowa Lake would have been a lot easier by water than horseback.
On the other end of the scale, Dr. Loren Davis, an archeologist from Oregon State University, told a recent audience at Wallowology next door that the first immigrants to the Americas probably came by sea, bouncing along the Pacific Shore to the tip of South America. That, and not the land bridge (the times of newer finds are pushing that date back and taking their toll on land bridge theory) is how the Americas were populated as extensively and widely as we now know they were.
Stories go on. This week’s local paper heralds the return of coho salmon to the Lostine River and the Grande Ronde Basin. Similar efforts by Nez Perce Fisheries, and by the Yakima Nation and the Umatilla have reinforced or reintroduced salmon populations across the region. Aaron Penny, a Nez Perce Fisheries worker and tribal member, says that the losses of fish over the last 100 years were like “losing your soul.”
The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation Natural Resources Department has a program called “first foods.” The tenant of the program is that if we take care of our foods in the way they are served in the longhouse, we’ll have a healthier environment and healthier bodies. And it all, of course, starts with water. Without clear, healthy water there are no salmon, and then no deer and the other four-leggeds and two leggeds that comprised traditional diet. And without clean and good rain there would be no strong roots and abundant huckleberries to finish the longhouse meal.
The biggest and most important water battle fought by tribes in the past 100 years was probably the fight on Northwest Rivers that led to the Boldt Decision and the determination that half the catch belonged to Indians. For their part, the Indians are restoring habitat and doing all they can with mitigation money to increase the size of that catch.
And simultaneously, from coastal tribes in Washington to these Nez Perce in their traditional Wallowa Homeland, Indians are building canoes again, reclaiming cultural heritage, showing the world that the water has always been and is still primal.
I’m tempted to go on, and tie it all to Standing Rock. But water is water everywhere, and you can do that.
|J.T. Willizams, Nez Perce Fisheries|
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.
On the plus side, Nez Perce Tribal Fisheries out of Idaho is now active here in restoring salmon and steelhead runs. For several years the annual Chief Joseph Days rodeo has hosted an encampment with Nez Perce and related Plateau tribes from Lapwai in Idaho, Colville in Washington, and the Umatilla Reservation in Oregon. And the Nez Perce Homeland Project near the town of Wallowa welcomes Nez Perce and other Indians home for the annual Tamkaliks celebration and is building a longhouse on the 360 acre grounds. The site is envisioned as a living interpretive center, a place for powwows, namings, celebrations of foods and cultures, and even burials.
I don’t know the artist—or Christy Walton, for that matter. I don’t know whether the artist found the funder or the funder found the artist. I don’t know who “found” the Nez Perce story and Chief Joseph. I don’t know whether any Native artists were considered or whether Indians were consulted. But the statue now joins dozens of images of Joseph in paintings, photos, and statues here in Wallowa County, in other Oregon places, and on public display throughout the country. Try googling “Chief Joseph Statues” for a quick look at the range of images and places. (Here is the connection for a look at the new statue here: http://wallowa.com/free/bronze-of-chief-joseph-dedicated-in-joseph/article_52c7f4a8-d841-11e1-9e7f-001a4bcf887a.html)
# # #