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 →
Friends texted and emailed me this yesterday to tell me that Mary Peltola, a Yup’ik
Alaskan Native, had won election in her state for the short remainder of a congressional term. She’ll run again for a full term in the fall. Even the short term marks a win for the Democrats, for women, and for Natives. And I will add her name to the celebratory list of Native achievements and achievers that I seem to be assembling—Chuck Sams, head of the National Park Service; Jaime Pinkham at the Defense Department; Shelly Lowe at the National Endowment for the Humanities; Marilynn Malerba, Treasurer of the United States; and Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior.Read Rich’s Post →
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 Rich’s Post →
Chuck Sams is the incident commander for coronavirus response on the Umatilla Reservation. He recently told Oregon Public Radio’s “Think Out Loud” that
“The tribes [Umatilla, Cayuse, Walla Walla] have faced pandemic before; our last one ended in around 1860, but that cost us nearly 90% of our tribal membership — lost to the measles between 1780 and 1860. That memory still lives on in many of us.”Read Rich’s Post →
It was the week after Albert and Veronica Redstar, brother and sister elders of the Joseph or Wallowa Band of the Nez Perce from the Colville Reservation in Washington, talked about 140 years of exile. The audience was 45 workers and board members from Wallowa County’s government agencies and non-profits. The exile dated to the Nez Perce War of 1877, which took the Wallowa Band across the Snake River in spring flood on an unwanted journey to a reduced reservation in Idaho. An uprising of young Indians against cruel white settlers set off a war, a fighting retreat that ended five months and almost 1400 miles east and north, 40 miles from the Canadian border at Bear’s Paw, Montana. From a famous surrender there the Indians were herded to Bismarck, North Dakota, and then to Kansas and Oklahoma Indian Territory.
Eventually, through the extraordinary diplomatic efforts of their leader, Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, known to us as Chief Joseph, they were allowed to return to the West, and about half of the returnees went to the Idaho reservation. Joseph was not allowed that small reward, and he and 149 followers ended up on the Colville Reservation in north central Washington with the Moses Band. Albert and Veronica are descendants of that group of Nez Perces—still in exile from their ancestral Wallowas.
Their words about loss, and the rifts and reconciliations among the people were vivid and striking. Their remaining attachment to this Wallowa Country is palpable.
They’d meant to talk some about the continuing oppressions by government agencies and officials in the 132 years they have lived on the Colville Reservation, about the government regulations regarding language, songs, music and regalia; the Allotment Act that would turn them all into yeoman farmers; about Termination and Relocation. And about Indian boarding schools. No one was sorry that they ran out of time talking about their own people, the loss on leaving and the years of displacement. I thought I could take a few minutes to address the topic at the next class.
So on the final week of our class, when Wenix Red Elk was to talk about natural resources and about the unique program on the Umatilla Reservation that ties the First Foods served in the long house to land and natural resource management, I asked that we take a few minutes at the beginning of the class to show a short video, a trailer for a longer movie, on the boarding school experience.
I found the story of Walter Littlemoon a few years ago. Walter was born the same year I was, 1942, and grew up in South Dakota, about 300 miles from my own Minnesota birthplace. I lived with parents and, during the war, with my mother and her parents. When Walter was five years old, he was taken from his parents and put in boarding school. Years and years later, Walter is the subject of a documentary called “The Thick Dark Fog,” which described the way he had long felt and became the title of his life story as he retraced it with a filmmaker.
We watched the three minutes, and Wenix, with tears in her eyes, rose to speak. She had not seen this particular video, but the experience of the boarding schools was in her bones—“We forgot how to parent,” she said, “and lost our traditional ways of bringing up children.” And not just for one generation. That loss, Wenix said, is with her people still, with her still. I don’t know but don’t think she went to a boarding school, and if she did so, it was long after severe abuses were discovered and mitigated if not corrected. But that loss is still visibly with her.
I used this video in a class I taught last year at Eastern Oregon, and students were outraged—“We did that?” they said. And I was satisfied that I had awakened something, some new kind of empathy, in them. But I missed then what Wenix felt last week. I missed the generational loss of culture, the longing that some young Indians feel today for the lessons stolen from their grandparents and great grandparents, and therefor so difficult to pass on today.
The sins of “our” fathers visited on Indian people.
I’ve not followed professional basketball—or even college basketball—much over the past few years. The “posting up” business is boring, and the spectacle of who might be the most athletically talented individuals in the world running up and down a court that seems too small for them, dunking basketballs in a hoop that seems too low for them, just didn’t stir me.
|Mary Stewart of Nixyaawii Golden Eagles (credit: East Oregonian)|
But I have watched a lot of high school basketball, where the size of the court and the height of the rim seem to be in proper proportion. And this year I’ve taken special interest with my freshman grandson playing at Joseph High School. One of the treats has been watching Nixyaawii Community School, the boys and girls teams from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation. Both beat Joseph handily, with great ball control and great three-point shooting, and both went on to take third place in the state small schools tournament. It was fun watching the shooting, passing, and ball control—“they’ve been playing together since elementary school,” we were told. And, when we played at Nixyaawii, it was fun sitting in a small gym with the parents, and the grandpas and grandmas, aunties and uncles, watching the game, soaking up the joy, pride and community.
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As a sports junkie since my own playing days who doesn’t watch much of it on TV, basketball interest started growing this year with my grandson playing and news stories about the Golden State Warriors and a new kind of pro basketball. So I watched some pro ball, including almost all of that last Golden State game, when Steph Curry and the Warrior crew tore up the record books. The way that Golden State moved the ball, and the long threes that opened up alley-oop dunks was different from a big man posting up and backing down another Goliath. And it looked like the whole team and coaching staff—and the fans of course—were having fun as they wrote their way into the record books—for most wins, most three pointers, most most most. It was, I thought, a bigger version of Nixyaawii.
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I ran across another basketball piece in the New York Times this week. It was about Baron Davis and a documentary film—The Drew: No Excuse, Just Produce—the former NBA all-star made about this thing that has been going on in South Central Los Angeles since the 70s called the “Drew League.” In the heart of the ghetto, where Davis grew up, and started playing at the age of 13, a bunch of hoopsters from high school and up play basketball for the camaraderie and the love of it.
Yes, most of the young black players in the Drew League want do be like Davis, go from Drew to UCLA to the NBA, But the Drew also catches players like Davis after they’ve been to the top and, with injury stopping careers, still need the game. It catches players on the way up and the way down, makes a place for high school and college players, old pros and aspiring ones to play the game for gain—and for the love of it. Right there on the “home court” in South Central.
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Not many rez players make it to the NBA—or the WNBA, but if you hang around tribal people at all, you know that basketball is the rez game. When you sit in the stands at Nixyaawii, you hear pride in the next generation and stories of uncles and cousins who played the game well. You get a sense of community that spreads across ages and genders, pride when a full scholarship to Stanford is announced for one of the girls. You know that the people on the court, on the bench and in the stands all love the game that’s brought them together that night.
|Schimmel sisters at Louisville (Indian Country Today)|
Which reminds me that the Schimmel sisters, Shoni and Jude, started on the Umatilla. I remember watching the 2013 NCAA women’s final when the Schimmels and Louisville took on Connecticut—hoops were rattling and nets swishing into early morning hours on the rez—and probably on rezes across the country—that day in 2013. They lost—Connecticut has been almost unbeatable for years—but they lost well, and Shoni played her way into professional basketball.
Googling “Native American professional basketball” players will only get you a handful, but you’ll also be introduced to “Indian Country Today,” and some great stories of basketball in Indian Country, where, like the Drew, there are aspirations for the college and pro games, and a whole bunch of love for the game.
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|George Fletcher, Pendleton Roundup|