Nez Perce teaching boxes

A few years ago, I put together a few books, laminated some maps and photos, called it a “Nez Perce Teaching Box,” and offered it to local teachers. A few teachers—Jennifer Gibbs in Wallowa most prominently—used the materials in their classrooms, but there was no wave of support for my project.

But times are changing. Tamkaliks grows, tribal root gatherers come to the Wallowa, Nez Perce Fisheries returns Coho to the Lostine, and Native Deb Haaland takes the Department of the Interior where no one has taken it before. Read The Article

A Celebration

I’m old enough to start measuring time in decades—Tamkaliks, the annual powwow and celebration on the Nez Perce Homeland grounds out of the town of Wallowa, just completed its third.

It was, in a word, stunning. There were over 150 dancers, and their regalia seemed bolder and sometimes more extravagant this year. There were 15 drums! My recollections are 10 drums, maybe 12. Even the number of drummers on a given drum seemed larger—six and seven drummers young and old reaching to get their sticks on the drum. The dance floor at the arbor was thick with old and young; it took long songs to get everyone onto and off the floor. Read The Article

“Side Channel”at Nez Perce Homeland

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 The Article

October 5; On this day…

October 5, 1877 is the day on which the wal’wá·ma band of the Nez Perce and members of other non-treaty bands lost their freedom. They’d intended to go quietly from the Wallowa to the reduced Idaho reservation, leaving and losing their homeland but continuing to live in nearby country among relatives from other bands. They crossed the Snake River into Idaho in spring runoff, and there the grief-stricken actions of some young Nez Perce in killing Idaho settlers—settlers known for their mistreatment of Indians—set off a fighting retreat of more than 1200 miles. It ended on this day 144 yeasr ago at the Bears Paw mountains in Montana, just 40 miles short of safety in Canada. Read The Article

The Longest War(s)

My friend Charlie texted me this morning to remind me that President Biden will announce today that he has ended America’s “longest war.” Charlie says that the Indian wars went on longer, that his people’s war, what we call the Nez Perce War, was one of the last of a continuing string of them, and that the suffering caused by Indian Wars cannot be measured. Read The Article

Good News!

With fires and covid raging, and the messy retreat in Afghanistan, it’s a murky time. So good news in the Department of the Interior is welcome!

Chuck Sams, enrolled on the Umatilla Reservation, where he has served in several tribal government positions and as a recent Governor Brown appointee to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, will, if confirmed, direct a National Park Service system made up of 423 national park sites throughout the United States. Among the national park sites are 63 national parks, 85 national monuments and other sites such as national battle sites and national shorelines. Read The Article

“Like Grasshoppers”

It’s grasshopper season, which in my time and place means mild annoyance at the invading insects and watching the cat play with and eat them. I’ve never seen a real grasshopper devastation, what is called a “plague of locusts,” what God told Moses to deliver to the Egyptians:

“God told Moses to stretch out his hand over the land of Egypt to bring a plague of locusts. The locusts covered the face of the land and swallowed up every crop and all the fruits of the trees. Afterwards there was nothing green in the trees, and all the crops in the fields had been destroyed.” Read The Article

Sacred Lands

The recent Nez Perce reacquisition of 148 acres near the town of Joseph was a big event. Scores of walkers and riders with their horses gathered at the school on the hill on one side of Joseph, and made the journey through town and onto the airport road to the place just west of the city they now call Am’sáaxpa, or “place of boulders.” Drummers and singers in a “long tent”—a longhouse—prayed, sang, and spoke to scores of tribal people and local supporters, and reporters. Read The Article

 luk’upsíimey and the Treaties Exhibit

A group of seven Nez Perce artists and writers who call themselves luk’upsíimey—“North Star”– Collective has been together at the Nez Perce Wallowa Homeland for the past week, practicing their art, learning and relearning their language together. They are college professors and language teachers, visual artists and wordmakers, from California and Arizona, Philadelphia and Lapwai, who came together in this Wallowa place that echoes their ancient common nimiipuu –Nez Perce–language. Read The Article

White Men Writing about Indians

Nez. Perce Reservations: 1855, 1863, 1873

I’ve been writing Josephy Library blog posts for ten years, telling stories of lies, outrages, and omissions regarding Indians in American history. From time to time, I’ve thought I should make a book, comb and clean the posts up a bit, sometimes combine a couple or three of them, write a few new episodes in my own growing understanding of a broader and more inclusive American history.

When I mentioned this to a publisher friend, he told me that Indian stories are indeed in demand, but people want to hear from Indians themselves, not from white interpreters. I stepped back from the book idea, but have continued to post on this blog, and I continue to bring Indians and their stories to the Josephy Center where I work. In fact, we recently put up an exhibit on “Nez Perce Treaties and Reservations From 1855 to Present.” Read The Article

Fourth of July-Nespelem

I’ve written before about how Indians, and especially the Nez Perce exiles on the Colville Reservation, used the holiday as a day to bring out drums, regalia, and songs that had been suppressed in the 1880s rush to assimilation. In an exhibit two years ago on “Nez Perce Music,” we used images from a 1903 Fourth of July Celebration on the Coville Reservation in Washington. There were photos of drummers and dancers, but when I asked elder Albert Andrews Redstar to comment on the event, he focused on the photo of a horse procession. It seems to me that this photo and his words are an appropriate way to remember that “Independence Day” does not celebrate or remember “independence” for all of us. Read The Article

Living on Stolen Ground

Above the Clearwater: Living on Stolen Ground is Bette Lynch Husted’s memoir of growing up on a dirt-poor, white, family farm in Nez Perce Indian country in Idaho. Their meagre plot had once—and long—been Indian country. Nez Perce Reservation lands were reduced by 90 percent from those promised in an 1855 Treaty in an 1863 Treaty. The Allotment Act, which sought to put individual Indians on Individual parcels of land, declared “surplus lands” open to white homesteaders. Whites gobbled up 90 million more acres of Indian land, That, as I recall, was the origin of the Lynch farm. Read The Article

Rez Ball

There was a time in America—a century ago—when Indian athletes were courted and celebrated. The most well-known of those early twentieth century athletes was, of course, Jim Thorpe, the Carlisle football and track star who won Olympic medals, played professional football and baseball—and eventually had to give the medals back because he had done what many other “amateurs” had done, taken small amounts of pay for semi-pro baseball. But he was then, and is still among some, thought to be the greatest American athlete ever. Read The Article

Of Lands and People

This photo from the air was taken by Leon Werdinger and used in Wallowa Land Trust’s campaign to save the Wallowa Lake East Moraine. Photos of Wallowa Lake are ubiquitous; photographers from around the world vie to get some special vision of it to take home to Los Angeles—or London or Berlin.

This one, in which you can clearly see the East, West, and terminal moraines, traveled far enough and well enough to help raise the money to buy most of the East Moraine and forestall further development Some grazing is allowed, and hiking; the deer—and someday, maybe, once again, the antelope—will play. Read The Article

Turning the page

Turning the page is a common metaphor for beginning a new year—often implying that we are leaving what was unpleasant in the last year behind. There was plenty of unpleasant in 2020, but some good things happened too, sometimes in spite of or even as a result of the Pandemic. Read The Article

Indian Links

Several people forwarded me a link to “Salmon People: A tribe’s decades-long fight to take down the Lower Snake River dams and restore a way of life,” a fine article on the lower Snake River dams by Linda Mapes, published in the Seattle Times on Sunday, November 29. Nez Perce Tribal Chair Shannon Wheeler and Cultural Resources head Nakia Williamson are quoted extensively, and good photos, maps, and accounts of historic uses of fish and lamprey, treaties, and the devastation of fish runs by the dams on the main stem and tributaries of the Columbia River background a rich story of current tribal efforts to reinvigorate fish runs and remove dams. Read The Article

Nez Perce Treaties–a puzzle solved?

I have  been fascinated by President Grant’s proposed “Reservation for the Roaming Nez Perce Indians of the Wallowa Valley” since  I saw the map of it in Grace Bartlett’s Wallowa Country: 1867-1877 years ago. I thought that if those Nez Perce had just had the foresight to put up picket fences and stop “roaming,” they might not have lost the Wallowa. More recently, I have seriously wondered what went wrong with it. Read The Article

Paddling Upstream

Alvin Josephy passed away almost two decades ago, but time and again, during this coronavirus/Black Lives crisis, I have heard him shout in my ear that when our history books don’t lie about Indians, they ignore them.

When the NYT sends a reporter to the Navajo Nation to document the terrible impact of Covid-19 on the people, the world reads and sighs—and then the story goes to the back pages or to no page at all. When George Floyd is killed by police in Minneapolis, and Indigenous singers and jingle dancers from many tribes go to the site of the killing to pay homage and honor the man, a video from Indian participants sneaks out on Facebook. Indians and their tribute are barely visible in the national press.

When people come into the Josephy Center where I work and get the first pages of the Nez Perce story—the one about Wallowa lands left to the Joseph Band of the Nez Read The Article