In 1855, at the treaty negotiations in Walla Walla, the Umatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla peoples were left a reservation of 245,699 acres, and the ability to hunt, fish, and gather in “usual and accustomed places” off the reservation lands. Over a century of relentless pressure by white settlers and the United States Government reduced the reservation to 85,322 acres. With some restorations, it is now 172,000 acres, but nearly half of the land is white-owned!Read Rich’s Post →
Category: Umatilla Confederated Tribes
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 Rich’s Post →
Nez Perce Return
Few Indians live in the Wallowa Country now, but Indians come here every year—maybe, even through war and exile, some few have always made their ways here to hunt and gather foods and be in this place. Now, they come to run Nez Perce Fisheries, to manage a small piece of Precious Land in the canyons, and in the summer for dances and parades. And there is a 320-acre place we call the Nez Perce Homeland Project near the town of Wallowa.
|Tamkaliks, Nez Perce Homeland, 2016|
Last Sunday, Nez Perce peoples from Colville, Umatilla, and Lapwai—Washington, Oregon, and Idaho—drummed, sang, and danced in the new Long House at that Nez Perce Homeland grounds. Most were descendants of the Joseph, or Wallowa, band of Nez Perce who made this country home for thousands of years before being forcibly removed in 1877.
The drumming and singing seemed louder and the dancing more spirited than I remember from past years, when services were held in the dance arbor; some of that heightening might have been my own emotions. There were smiles and tears among the bell ringers, drummer-singers, and dancers. Words too. Words of homecoming and thanks to the Creator and to all who have gone before and all who came together to build this Long House and make this homecoming possible.
I stood with Indian and non-Indian men on the north side of the Long House, facing the women on the south side with the sacred earthen floor, the wash, on which the dancers moved between us. Dancers were boys and girls, women and men, young and old; the drummers all men, included elders and sons of elders I have watched and listened to in the past.
Indians honor age and wisdom in ways that we in the majority culture seem less capable of. They mentor the young as well, passing on names and ceremony and regalia. Restrictions on these things, and on language and the length of hair, were pervasive a century ago; that these cultural artifacts and practices are alive today is a miracle.
No—it is fortitude and resilience, belief in land and place and people. When Europeans came to this continent, Indians died by the millions. They died in wars, but more of them of diseases that crept eerily among them before most Indians ever saw white men and women. In the northeast, diseases came ashore with fishermen who supplemented their fish-takes with furs and sometimes slaves for the old world. This before the Puritans landed in the early 17th century. On the north Pacific coast they came ashore with English and Russian and Spanish ships seeking otter and looking for rivers from the interior in the late 18th century. Inland, they preceded and followed free fur traders and Hudson’s Bay Company men as they made their ways from the East.
Lewis and Clark estimated 5,000 Nez Perce; an Indian friend thinks there might have been 20,000 before smallpox and measles and other European diseases.
Pieces of the Nez Perce story are carried from generation to generation in Indian country, and are told in books and carried too among whites. Last week a Marine pilot—announced by his cap—of Vietnam era told me that Marines still study the Nez Perce fighting retreat of 1877.
The story is carried in the hearts of tribal families whose ancestors endured exile and injustice. In 1877 these prayer songs sustained families struggling through the 1,400 mile-long retreat that we call the Nez Perce War, then bolstered them on the trains headed to Oklahoma after the surrender at Bears Paw and through years of exile, and carried them on the return train trip to the Northwest in 1884.
In order to bring us to Sunday, here is the briefest recap: Nez Perce (Niimíipu) and related Plateau people of what is now the Northwestern United States lived here for millennia. In the 1730s they got horses from the Southwest, probably through the Shoshone. In 1805 they befriended Lewis and Clark; in the 1830s allowed missionaries Henry and Eliza Spalding to put up a church in what is now Spalding, Idaho. In 1855 most bands of Nez Perce signed a treaty in Walla Walla negotiated by Isaac Stevens, allowing them to retain a huge chunk of territory stretching from present-day Wallowa County, Oregon to northern Idaho and northeast Washington.
In 1861 gold was discovered along the Clearwater, and in 1862, 18,000 illegal white miners flooded the reserved lands. In 1863 some bands signed a new treaty, which reduced the reservation by over 80 percent. This divided the Nez Perce into treaty and non-treaty bands. Joseph didn’t sign, but went home to the Wallowas, where no gold had been found. In 1877, crunched and dislocated by post-Civil War settlers, harassed by government troops smarting from Little Big Horn, Joseph and his people crossed the Snake River and headed for the reduced reservation in Idaho.
There were killings, and there was a war. Almost 1400 miles and six months later, Joseph surrendered, just 40 miles short of Canada at the Bears Paw, Montana. They were promised a return to the Northwest, but spent seven years in exile in Kansas and Indian Territory. The Nez Perce called it “the hot place.”
The Nez Perce did return to the Northwest, but were scattered on three reservations: those close to Joseph were sent to the Colville Reservation in Washington; some of the old and young were allowed to go to Lapwai, Idaho. Some who had escaped to Canada or elsewhere returned to the Umatilla Reservation in Oregon. Joseph himself was rebuffed when he tried to buy land in the Wallowas in 1900. He died in Colville in 1904.
On Sunday the Nez Perce returned to the Wallowas with singing and dancing and Nez Perce prayers. They shouted and banged, and after all of this they thanked the white people of this place who are trying to take care of the land now. And the Indian elders invited ministers of other faiths to use the new Indian church for their own prayers.
And then we all ate salmon and buffalo and elk. And we non-Indians watched the Indian dancers, and, invited, danced ourselves. They were proud in regalia passed down, maybe since the time of War, maybe hidden for decades, and maybe augmented by aunties last week. Proud in the language long suppressed in boarding schools. And all of us—maybe 600 Indians, whites and blacks—listened and looked out the east ends of the Long House and the dance arbor and knew this was a homecoming of special people to a special land.
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|The water in Flint|
As I read headlines about Flint, Michigan’s water over the past months, and of water contaminated by chemical runoff in the farm belts of the Midwest and on irrigated ground closer to home, the notion that the relationship between humans and the land is mutual and more complicated than science and technology have proffered sends me again to Alvin Josephy and the Indians. Recent accounts of the loss of pollinators, which some say threatens global food supplies, leads to the same place.
Josephy told us that by denigrating the values and practices of Indian peoples, by seeing “human” and “natural world” as two domains, the one to be dominated by the other, by a “Eurocentrism” that saw everything from that point of view and all things Indian as “primitive,” we have denied ourselves valuable information and, possibly, tools to heal contemporary problems such as those mentioned above.
Our friends on the nearby Umatilla Reservation give us an easy and, I think, profound way of looking at and attending to such resource problems. They call it the “First Foods” program. It was developed—is still being developed—by Eric Quaempts and the Natural Resource Department at the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Simply put, it argues that if we take care of things in the order in which they are served in a Longhouse celebration, we will be taking care of ourselves and the lands and waters we live with and on.
The first of the First Foods is actually water, and at any gathering of Plateau Indians that I have attended, a drink of water, the Creator’s first and most important gift, starts it off. After water it is salmon, and then in succession, deer, roots, and berries.
For the rest of creation—including we of the two-legged variety—water is fundamental, so taking care of the water is fundamental to a healthy environment for the salmon and other fish and creatures that live in it, for the deer (and other animals that we eat, or that contribute to the chain of creation in other ways), and for the roots and berries that require it for survival and growth, and the bees and other pollinators that service the plants. Our fundamental responsibility as humans and stewards of the earth is to take care of the water. The engineers in Flint and the farmers in Iowa seem to have forgotten that in their rush to save and make money.
Salmon require clean, cool water. They also require resting and nesting places as they make their journeys to the sea and back again. Their maintenance as species and food for humans also requires a continued presence—asks that humans leave some as they as take some from their river homes. The “first salmon” is returned to the water to take that news to his brothers and sisters.
Deer, elk, bear, and the other four-leggeds require clean water, healthy grass, brush, and other foods. And the roots must not all be harvested at one time from one place for them to continue. The berries must be treated with the same care and respect. The bees and other pollinators are all in this chain of life as well. I am told that, traditionally, Indians move collecting grounds, leave and even spread “seed crops.” In fact, what is often called a “seasonal round” of migration across a landscape—the Plateau Indians were part of large landscapes that they traveled over in seasonal patterns from year to year to year—is captured in the First Foods concept. Notice that it is also a matter of elevations—in the case of many tribes from fishing spots along the Columbia to berry patches in the Blue Mountains.
The corollaries to this marvelous system are that the land and waters stay healthy when we attend to them in this way, and that we humans stay healthy by drinking clean water and eating healthy foods.
In the elevation of science over experience, European over indigenous, and the rush to “more”—acres of corn, head of livestock, tax savings and individual profits—we neglect these fundamental principles developed over thousands of years by our Tribal neighbors.
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