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 →
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.
The “Roaming Nez Perce” on a level playing field
Our national founding documents talk about all men being created “equal,” and many see the history of the country as a gradual expansion of “all men” to include black men—14th Amendment, 1868; women—19th Amendment, 1920; and, in 1924, when they were finally given citizenship in the country that had swallowed up their native lands, Indians.
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 Rich’s Post →
A pitch into the future
(Uh oh! Sounds like he is going to ask for money—yes, but nicely.)
First, I want to tell you what a privilege it is to work at the Josephy Center. Exhibits are fun—and fun to be a part of. Seeing classes and students, from pre-schoolers to adults, trying paint or clay for the first time can make my day.
And the opportunity to work with the books, papers, and people that are all part of the Josephy Library is just too good. It is humbling to listen to Nez Perce elders who remember their War and exile generationally, as if it were yesterday. It is exciting to hear an elder tell us that some of the kokanee in Wallowa Lake—“The ones trying to get out at the base of the dam”—will find their way to the ocean if given a chance, that a sockeye salmon run, gone for 130 years, is possible again with fish passage at a rebuilt Wallowa Lake Dam. And it is thrilling to see sisters from California and Wisconsin meeting here to celebrate their grandmother’s 1918 climb of Eagle Cap with the Portland based Mazamas.
Research, I’ve come to know, is not just the book writer or movie documentarian’s province, but what we all do when we explore the past and the world around us. It’s elementary kids reading books out of our “Nez Perce Teaching Box,” and the people coming in now with faded photos to give us for the January-February “Wallowa Country, pre-World War II” exhibit. It’s Allen Pinkham figuring out how to build a Nez Perce dugout canoe.
And sculptor Doug Hyde finding the right Nez Perce word for “The Return,” the name he wants for the stone and bronze piece that will go in our front yard this spring. We actually got an answer to his question from Haruo Aoki, the 90 year-old linguist who has spent decades saving and cataloging the Nez Perce language. I can’t make the marks on my computer to show you the Nez Perce word—but I’ll figure it out by the time the sculpture is installed this summer. (We have it in the Nez Perce Dictionary on our shelves.)
That will be a great event, with drums and song and salmon to celebrate—and you will be invited.
The Library and I have been with the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture for seven years—from the beginning. The board is concerned about the future: “What are the Library succession plans?” “How will it be funded?” Current board chair Jeff Costello says the Library is “in our DNA.” But how does that carry into the future?
Good questions. I just turned 76, and although I have no plans to quit this wonderful gig anytime soon, I have to admit that I won’t go on forever. But I know more than ever that the Library and the Josephy Center will go on—we’ve become an important part of this Wallowa Community, and, in my mind, an important window between Indian and non-Indian, urban and rural, present and past. It will be a great job for the lucky man or woman—maybe one of you out there with a passion for the past and its importance today—who steps into it. For now, I want a few more good licks myself on the way to retirement.
Help me do that! Your donation now will support the Library and help keep this wonderful organization and fine building lit and alive with art and learning, words, music, sculpture, pots, glazes, a printing press and blog posts about Coho salmon, seven drums, dugout canoes, and the work of my old mentor and our namesake, Alvin M. Josephy, Jr.
Rich Wandschneider, still learning to be a librarian–and loving it!
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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A Longhouse in the Wallowas
We’ve been talking about building a Longhouse on the grounds of the Nez Perce Homeland Project (Wallowa Band Nez Perce Trail Interpretive Center, Inc. is the official name of the organization) outside the town of Wallowa for many years. I can’t remember exactly how many.
For those of you who get these blog posts and do not know about this project, a very brief intro: In the spring of 1877, Young Chief Joseph led the Wallowa, or Wal-lam-wat-kain band of Nez Perce Indians out of their homeland, across the Snake River, intending to join other bands on a reduced reservation in Idaho. Conflict erupted, the Nez Perce War ensued, and after years of exile in Leavenworth and Indian Territory, the Indians returned to the Northwest, but not to the Wallowas.
About 1993, as the big celebration of the Oregon Trail’s 150th anniversary got underway, a group of local people and tribal members from Lapwai, Nespelem, and Umatilla got together and made an organization. We then bought 160 acres with money we got from the Oregon Trail license plates (and some help from the Lamb Foundation and Cycle Oregon and others). We soon built a celebration arbor and then Tamkaliks, a summer celebration that had been held at the Wallowa school and in other locations in July since the late 1980s, moved to the new grounds and arbor.
I’ll steer clear of mentioning names—there are too many—except to say that without Taz Conner and Terry Crenshaw, two elders, one Indian, one white, who have both passed, we would have no grounds and thus no Arbor and no Longhouse.
Years ago, after we had built the arbor and acquired another 160 acres, some of the tribal members who were here for an annual meeting strongly stated that a Longhouse should move to the top of the “to do” list. A donor stepped up with $75,000 to kick things off. So we started planning—and planning and planning. Talking with elders and especially Longhouse elders from the three places in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. And then, as Joe McCormack (I know I said I was not going to mention names, but Joe is the Nez Perce Tribal member who lives here in the Wallowas and so has had to shoulder a lot of the load over the years) likes to say, we talked with the women elders about it all and things started coming together.
Two years ago we built a Longhouse kitchen, and since then have been working seriously on Longhouse plans and raising money to build it. We raised money. We hired contractors. Joe and the contractors found good trees on nearby forest land. And this spring the building began.
And on Saturday we had an open house. The word spread quietly among local friends and to the reservations, and about 60 people showed up to see the guts of the building as it is under construction. The 56 foot very straight red fir ridge log is 28 inches in diameter with only slight taper. It is beautiful, hand pealed, rubbed and caressed and carved to sit atop two large pillars that are tied to foundation and ground with adjustable plates that can be taken up as logs shrink. The pillars or posts themselves are carved to slide over timbers that allow for movement—for this shrinkage.
The Longhouse has bathrooms and storage on the west end, and a gabled open porch to the east—to the rising sun. There will be a dirt floor in the ceremonial area, and foods will be moved easily from the adjoining kitchen to participants inside. It is expected that naming ceremonies, funerals, and other special events as well as regular Seven Drum ceremonies when elders are here will all be part of the Longhouse agenda. Even some other non-ceremonial uses will be possible. Like in a church. It is a church. A Plateau Indian church.
Traditionally, services were probably held in “long tents,” long buildings of hides, canvas, or tule reeds stretched over three or more sets of tipi poles. There have been Seven Drum ceremonies here during powwows and at other times in the summers—mostly out in the open—for many years that I know, and undoubtedly many more than that.
But there is something beautiful about this more permanent building, a recognition that the Nez Perce might have been put out of here over 100 years ago in the rush to settlement and settler agriculture, western movement and manifest destiny—but they have never really left. And the water, salmon, deer, elk, roots and berries that provided for the Indians and Longhouse feasts before contact, before the European and the horse, the diseases and wars and industrialization of the land, the things that were here then are here still. And will grace the tables at the Longhouse in Wallowa for generations.
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Celebrating the Nez Perce
A few hundred Nez Perce Indians called this Valley home for thousands of years. They called themselves Nimipu (“the people”) and identified with this place, their families, their band and its headmen (Young Joseph, Old Joseph, Wal-lam-wat-kain, and on and on) more than any larger tribal group. European horses and diseases got here before Europeans did, and then the fur traders, who probably had seen a couple of Indians in buffalo country with dentalia they had traded for at Celilo through their nostrums, and put the Nez Perce name on them. This all before 1805 and Lewis and Clark. The fur men, migrants themselves, many from France and Scotland, trapped, traded, traveled and married with Indians. They had posts in Spokane and made it to the Pacific just five or six years after the Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery. Historian Grace Bartlett says there were a couple of Frenchmen living in the Wallowa Valley with Indian wives when the first settlers came in—that was all the way up in 1871, when all manner of people were rattling around what some call Salmon Country—the lands from the British Columbian coast to the Northern California coast, and from salt water to the Rockies.