How many times did Winona LaDuke tell me that the only way to heal, to move forward, from any paradigm of wicked intentions — from bloody conquest, to bloodless policy, to big oil-energy-chemical-pharma-ag-business of the upteenth degree — is to re-appropriate language, history, and story?
She knows about history being banned —
This morning, I am looking at one of the banned books, Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years. The book, originally published in 1991 by Milwaukee-based Rethinking Schools, is intended to provide educators with tools to re-evaluate “the social and ecological consequences of the Europeans’ arrival in 1492” and was written in time for the quincentenary. That was the event the Chicago Tribune had promised would be the “most stupendous international celebration in the history of notable celebrations.”
Perhaps a bit optimistic in retrospect. In the book, the question was asked, What were the consequences — both positive and negative –of this “discovery,” or, in actuality, the blind luck of some poor navigation skills. Apparently this book is the pinnacle of what should not be read.
Rethinking contains writings of many noted and national award-winning Native works, including Buffy Sainte-Marie’s My Country, ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying, Joseph Bruchac‘s A Friend of the Indians, Cornel Pewewardy’s A Barbie-Doll Pocahontas, M. Scott Momaday’sThe Delight Song of Tsoai-Talee, and others. As a side note, Sainte-Marie won an Academy Award, and Momaday won a Pulitzer Prize.
My essay “To the Women of the World: Our Future, Our Responsibility” was also included in the book. Interestingly enough, if I were going to ban one of my essays from a public school, this would probably not be the one. The essay is the transcript of my opening plenary address to the United Nations Conference on the Status of Women in 1995, held in Bejing, China. Other books and writings banned include those by famed Brazilian educator Paulo Friere and, in a multiracial censorship move, Shakespeare’s The Tempest was also banned.
Her Yes Magazine piece here – Read more
“Idle No More” is Canadian for “That’s enough BS, we’re coming out to stop you,” or something like that. Canada often touts a sort of “better than thou” human rights position in the international arena and has, for instance, a rather small military, so it’s not likely to launch any pre-emptive strikes against known or unknown adversaries, and has often sought to appear as a good guy, more so than its southern neighbor. More than a few American expatriates moved to Canada during the Vietnam war, and stayed there, thinking it was a pretty good deal.
That is sort of passé, particularly if you are a native person. And particularly if you are Chief Theresa Spence. Spence is the leader of Attawapiskat First Nation—a very remote Cree community from James Bay, Ontario, which is at the bottom of Hudson Bay. The community’s 1,549 on-reserve residents (a third of whom are under the age of 19) have weathered quite a bit, including the fur trade, residential schools, a status as non-treaty Indians, and limited access to modern conveniences such as toilets and electricity. This is a bit commonplace in the far north, but it has become exacerbated in the past five years.
Enter DeBeers, the largest diamond mining enterprise in the world. The company moved into northern Ontario in 2006. The Victor Mine reached commercial production in 2008 and was voted “Mine of the Year” by the readers of the international trade publication, Mining Magazine. The company states that it is “committed to sustainable development in local communities.” But this is where the first world meets the third world in the north, as Canadian MP Bob Rae discovered last year on his tour of the destitute conditions in the village. Infrastructure in the subarctic is in short supply. There is no road into the village eight months of the year; during the other four months, during freeze up, there’s an ice road. A diamond mine needs a lot of infrastructure. And that has to be shipped in, so the trucks launch out of Moosonee, Ontario. Then, they build a better road. The problem is that the road won’t work when the climate changes, and already stretched infrastructure gets tapped out.
How many broken treaties?
PREAMBLE TO TRAIL OF BROKEN TREATIES 20-POINT POSITION PAPER
AN INDIAN MANIFESTO
Restitution, Reparations, Restoration of Lands for a Reconstruction of an Indian Future in America
THE TRAIL OF BROKEN TREATIES
That’s 1972 — more relevant today than ever.
Below is a story I did a while back, a feature piece published three places, on Camas digging, Nez Perce, Looking Glass and more. I think I won a Society for Professional Journalists 3rd Place for features in the Pacific Region competition in 2008. The story was in both a magazine, Spokane Living, and the weekly newspaper in Spokane, Inlander. The story in the magazine lasted a month and a half on newsstands. The one in the weekly was a week, and another few months on the web.
Both versions are now gone from the web, only collected in a basement as hard copies of the slick monthly and the weekly tabloid.
Sort of speaks to the inhospitable nature of journalism, the web, research, archives, libraries. Every single day the mainstream and not-so-mainstream press reinvents the narrative-literary-investigative wheel a million times a day. It’s as if there is complete dissonance and disregard for books, history revealed, and context — most everything is just plain forgotten in a 24-hour news cycle. Then, a week, month, year later, some new story on the very same old better story written a year, a month, a decade before. Decades even.
The very nature of self-important and self-deluding new journalism-communication majors entering a brave new world of corporate controlled journalism.
So, that’s why the little excursion I made with my spouse to Fort Vancouver yesterday was important. Tied to Nez Perce being incarcerated for doing nothing. Now, 16 straight years, Nez Perce come up from Idaho and have a memorial for that winter in 1877. The little boy that died, he died because of harsh conditions and illegal incarceration. The ceremony yesterday was small, but telling.
City of Vancouver mayor pro tem was there reading a proclamation of peace and admitting the history of that crime; the dignitaries from the National Park, Boy Scouts, military vets, others. Native Americans, sure, some also combat vets — some old fellows with Korea and Viet Nam logos on leather jackets. A couple of WWII logos. Two African Americans dressed up in Yankee garb — Buffalo soldiers. One was 92 years old.
The pomp and circumstance but really Scotty the tribal elder and his mate Uncle (oh, around 95 years old) were there at the head of the circle. Nez Perce flute and song while two eagles and two giant red-tailed hawks screeched above. The riderless horse ceremony with Nez Perce appaloosas and peace pipe ceremony and drumming and the color guard.
Yet, it was the two-year-old boy at the center of the event. A buffalo skin with a pink camping chair, kid-size, and toys and sage bundles. In honor of one child who died near where we were standing over 135 years ago. Emblematic of the entire Indian Removal, India Boarding School, Indian Genocide mess of this country’s grand old flag heritage.
So, I am thinking LaDuke, my years in Navajo and Apache country . . . countless times looking deeper at the history of tribes and great nations here decimated by Spanish, Mexicans, French, British, Canadians, USA.
One of the white guys, with Iraq War — Iraqi Operations Freedom (sic) — logos and patches, he stood out. “I’ll Forgive Jane Fonda when the Jews Forgive Hitler.” You know, this same endless brain-freeze by the dumb and dumb-assed. I’ve dealt with these guys ALL of my life, starting as a military brat, both the Air Force and Army, then as a reporter, teacher, protester. Had it out with some in Guatemala, Honduras and Belize — current or past US military advisers and profiteers and actors in the bloody civil wars.
“I’ll Forgive Jane Fonda … When the Jews Forgive Hitler.” Weirdly weird. Weirdly Odd — Really.
In the 1960’s an anti-war movement emerged that altered the course of history. This movement didn’t take place on college campuses, but in barracks and on aircraft carriers. It flourished in army stockades, navy brigs and in the dingy towns that surround military bases. It penetrated elite military colleges like West Point. And it spread throughout the battlefields of Vietnam. It was a movement no one expected, least of all those in it. Hundreds went to prison and thousands into exile. And by 1971 it had, in the words of one colonel, infested the entire armed services. Yet today few people know about the GI movement against the war in Vietnam.
The Vietnam War has been the subject of hundreds of films, both fiction and non-fiction, but this story–the story of the rebellion of thousands of American soldiers against the war–has never been told in film.This is certainly not for lack of evidence. By the Pentagon’s own figures, 503,926 “incidents of desertion” occurred between 1966 and 1971; officers were being “fragged”(killed with fragmentation grenades by their own troops) at an alarming rate; and by 1971 entire units were refusing to go into battle in unprecedented numbers. In the course of a few short years, over 100 underground newspapers were published by soldiers around the world; local and national antiwar GI organizations were joined by thousands; thousands more demonstrated against the war at every major base in the world in 1970 and 1971, including in Vietnam itself; stockades and federal prisons were filling up with soldiers jailed for their opposition to the war and the military.
Yet few today know of these history-changing events.
Sir! No Sir! will change all that. The film does four things: 1) Brings to life the history of the GI movement through the stories of those who were part of it; 2) Reveals the explosion of defiance that the movement gave birth to with never-before-seen archival material; 3) Explores the profound impact that movement had on the military and the war itself; and 4) The feature, 90 minute version, also tells the story of how and why the GI Movement has been erased from the public memory.
I was part of that movement during the 60’s, and have an intimate connection with it. For two years I worked as a civilian at the Oleo Strut in Killeen, Texas–one of dozens of coffeehouses that were opened near military bases to support the efforts of antiwar soldiers. I helped organize demonstrations of over 1,000 soldiers against the war and the military; I worked with guys from small towns and urban ghettos who had joined the military and gone to Vietnam out of a deep sense of duty and now risked their lives and futures to end the war; and I helped defend them when they were jailed for their antiwar activities. My deep connection with the GI movement has given me unprecedented access to those involved, along with a tremendous amount of archival material including photographs, underground papers, local news coverage and personal 8mm footage.
Sir! No Sir! reveals how, thirty years later, the poem by Bertolt Brecht that became an anthem of the GI Movement still resonates:
General, man is very useful.
He can fly and he can kill.
But he has one defect: He can think.
So they took them into Custody!
Members of the Nez Perce Indian Nation will present their traditional memorial ceremony on the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site. The nearly three-hour ceremony will begin at 10 a.m., Saturday, April 20, across 5th Street from the reconstructed Fort Vancouver.
The ceremony, presented by the Nez Perce Nation, in cooperation with the City of Vancouver, the Fort Vancouver National Trust, and the National Park Service, pays tribute to tribal ideals, honors tribal ancestors and helps to heal old wounds.
During the Nez Perce War of 1877, as the U.S. Army was attempting to remove tribal members from ancestral lands, 33 members of Chief Redheart’s band were captured under the direction of General O.O. Howard. Even though the band neither fought in Indian Wars nor committed any crimes, they were held prisoner at Fort Vancouver through the winter of 1877-78. During the imprisonment an infant member of the band died.
Ceremonial activities begin at 10:00am and include singing, speeches, a Riderless Horse (empty-saddle) ceremony and a traditional passing of the peace pipe. All U.S. military veterans are invited to join the ceremonial circle and be recognized.
A Blue Flower, Digging Hands & Camas Bulbs for the Good and Hard Times
Paul Haeder, journalist — Spokane 2004/2006
Ancient Earth, Mother Womb
The process of turning up earth and shaking off soil from the roots of a bulb is as old as human time. From Arctic regions to the US Southwest, from the foothills in Bhutan, to the outback in Australia, from the Amazon Basin to the Sahara, wherever humans journeyed and settled, digging into earth for the tuber, bulb, root sustenance of mother earth has always brought with it the ritual of sharing with family and tribal relationships.
For the Nez Perce and other first nations tribes throughout this area (Umatilla, Yakama, Colville, Salish, Kalapuya, Couer d’Alene) their particular digging grounds are sacred places where the camas, an onion-like bulb from the species the Camassia quamash, grows in abundance and is harvested in July and August.
I was lucky enough to have been invited on a quick journey at the beginning of September to traditional camas digging grounds with Grey Owl and his wife Martha Oatman, members of the Nez Perce Tribe. The husband and wife team instructed me on the ethno-botany of such important Nez Perce plants as bear grass, mountain tea (Labrador tea), and dog bane (Indian hemp), but more importantly they shared their tribe’s deep connection to earth skills like camas digging and its eventual cooking and storing, as well as where to find kaus-kaus (qaws-qaws), a gnarly root that has such healing properties as lowering blood pressure and is used as an anti-bacterial/fungal/ bacterial medicine.
The gift that they afforded me which will live in memory was the deep-running narrative history of their people as they floated me back to a time of old ways, in valleys and forest 30 miles northeast from Kamiah, Idaho, following the cut banks of the Lolo Creek.
Troubled Girls Sweat Back to their Centers
Before digging for camas and qaws-qaws, I had to journey back into my own heart by witnessing the modern world bisecting the old. I sped down from Spokane to a spot on the Clearwater River (the Nez Perce call it “little river” and the Columbia “big river”) west of Orofino, Idaho, anxious to meet Grey Owl, who was at a camp with fellow spiritual and Indian skills guide Grey Wolf. The two had finished a day-long series of education and healing workshops at the Clearwater River Company’s tepee rendezvous working with a group of 17- and 18-year-old girls from a youth redirection program called Spring Creek located near Thompson Falls, Montana.
The nine girls had just finished a purification in the sweat lodge, a physically healing and enlightening process most non-Indian folk never will partake in.
“I didn’t know whether I would do a sweat or not when I was hired to work with these girls. It’s a matter of determining on the spot while I’m with them if certain people are going to take it seriously or not,” Grey Owl said. “I don’t hire out my sweat lodge, and it was a matter of gauging whether the group was right for it. These are girls who have gotten into drugs, sex, and boyfriends who have beaten them up … whose parents have money and send them to these programs to fix them. I always say there are never bad kids, just bad parents.”
The girls had just helped build a campfire and were ready to have their cathartic and synergistic moment as Grey Owl led them through the talking circle with an eagle plume that was passed from person to person while each feather-holder reclaimed something about herself. The fire drew us into deep thought, at this place where Lewis and Clark and their band probably learned from the Nez Perce how to dig out 45-foot canoes. Each articulate girl considered the enormity of her wayward ways, her place on earth as woman. They deeply thanked Grey Owl and Grey Wolf for their spiritual guidance, breaking down in tears for the gift of knowing two men who really cared about their futures.
Variations of the mantra, “I am pure, I am strong, I am beautiful, and I am a worthy, free, powerful woman,” ended each girl’s talking round, many of which centered around troubled pasts and new beginnings.
Old Ways Bring in Harvest of Bulbs, Stories, Strength
There are supposedly seven species of camas in this part of Nez Perce country, six of which are poisonous. The very act of going to the fields – a variety of grassy wetlands – when the camas are in bloom in May and June allows the women and girls (it was a woman’s duty in the old days to dig and prepare camas, but not so today) to pull out the bad species, including a white-flowering camas called “the death camas” because it will kill you soon after eating it, Martha said.
The camas that the Nez Perce, Salish and other tribes use has a beautiful blue flower. The camas was once so prolific and abundant that in some places along the Flathead River early white travelers mistook fields of its blue flowers for distant lakes.
“While the digging may have been hard work there was still the cooking to be undertaken before the camas could be used. True, some of the bulbs were eaten fresh as we do green onions, but this accounted for only a small portion of the crop. The bulbs would keep for some time, just as onions do, and there would generally be some to be found in camp in summer. By far, the major portion of the crop was either boiled or roasted,” writes Steven Doyle in his book, Food and Medical Plants of the Colville Area.
For more than 10,000 years the journey to camas fields has fulfilled many tribal nations’ connection to the very earth from whence they sprang. Archaeologists have found camas ovens in what is now Oregon that date back 4,100 years, and other such “scientific research” has revealed evidence indicating that this variety of the lily plant has been part of the diet of the Native Americans in the Willamette Valley for 8,000 years.
Dried or canned camas – which first goes through a process of digging, peeling, cleaning, air-drying, and then roasting in a stone-lined pit and covered with wet bear grass, alder leaves and topped with a less intense driftwood-stoked fire for three days – is in high demand, but few contemporary members of the Nez Perce are willing to go through the physical labor of the camas way.
Only 100 families use the special spot, said Martha. Tse tal pah, Martha’s native name, is the great-great-great granddaughter of Looking Glass, the Nez Perce brave in charge of warriors and who was killed by the US Army at the Battle of Bear Paw (Montana). Martha’s Nez Perce name translates to”leader,” and she was named after the 15-year-old girl who was the only Nez Perce out of all the young and old, male or female, willing to face a hail of Army bullets to retrieve the Nez Perce’s rifles that they voluntarily stacked under the Army’s flag of truce.
“She just kept going back and forth and bringing rifles so the Nez Perce could regroup and hold off the Army. Few escaped that massacre, but Tse tal pah made it to Canada and she had a son who had a son who had a daughter who gave birth to Tuk luk sema – which means ‘seldom hunts’ – and that is my wife’s father, who is a fisherman,” Grey Owl recounted.
Seeking camas is part of a process of fusing with Nez Perce memory and narrative design. But the nitty-gritty of camas harvesting is pretty interesting on its own terms. To get large camas bulbs, the soil has to be worked yearly, benefiting from human agricultural manipulation as the digging clears away weeds, grass and the encroaching smaller bulbs as well as aerates the soil. Grey Owl and Martha this year have dug up 30 gallons of bulbs, camping along the camas field on weekends in what turned out to be a very hot, dry August.
The holes that have been excavated have to be filled back in to heal the earth and to ensure a new season of camas crops.
While camas isn’t supposed to be sold, a small portion of dried or jarred camas can fetch more than $30. Umatilla and Yakima tribal members travel to the very spot I was taken to because of the abundance and size of camas.
We took with us modern-day versions (metal) of the ancient digging tool tuukes – a three-foot, curved spiky fire-hardened wooden tool with a T-shaped antler handle – and canvas bags, as our duty was to sit on earth, upturn 12-inch deep clumps of earth, and break apart with fingers the clods where the camas bulbs – from almond-sized to chicken egg-sized – were nestled.
Signs of digging and filled-in trenches from weeks earlier could be seen, evidence that the “aunties” were doing the hard labor of love that has been passed down generation after generation for thousands of years. While I was there with my hosts, another husband and wife team, who requested their privacy be protected, set up an umbrella and went to unearthing their harvest of camas.
Even though camas harvesting goes back as a traditional, secretive gathering among many families, the tribe does regale in its transformative nature. The annual Weippe Camas Festival (held May 24-25, near Kamiah, Idaho) commemorates the role of camas in Nez Perce culture and the arrival of Lewis and Clark. “The Camas Prairie was named because the plant was so abundant,” said tribal member Gwen Carter, who spent her juvenile years harvesting the camas in a traditional digging area. “I know my grandmother and aunts went digging as children, and I learned from my mother.” Carter, like Martha, Grey Owl and others, wants to keep the root as part of the Nez Perce diet and to preserve the last remaining digging grounds.
The men in Lewis and Clark expedition 200 years ago tasted the sweat fig-like potency of dried ground-up camas; in fact, Lewis recorded extreme stomach cramps running throughout the 28-man company, probably due to raw camas dining. “Camas is a complex carbohydrate that needs special preparing and cooking to be digestible Severe gas and stomach pain can result if not properly prepared,” Grey Owl said chuckling.
Diary – Wednesday, June 11th 1806
“… soon after the seeds are mature the peduncle and foliage of this plant perishes, the ground becomes dry or nearly so and the root encreases (sic) in size and shortly becomes fit for use; this happens about the middle of July when the natives begin to collect it for use which they continue untill (sic) the leaves of the plant attain some size in the spring of the year.” — from Merewether Lewis’s journal
Many like Grey Owl speak of how the traditional camas digging areas enticed the Nez Perce to travel outside their 1863 reservation bounds, largely contributing to the start of the 1877 war with the United States (Chief Joseph became the tribe’s negotiator with Washington DC).
When I asked Martha how long it took the pre-modern generations of aunties to cook the camas, she stated – “from three hours to three days, depending on how close the soldiers were” to the camas grounds. She and her husband hope that a tribal program that reintroduces traditional ways and thinking young folk — Students for Success – will also incorporate camas harvesting into the curriculum so young people can learn the whole process as just one of many important cultural traditions.
Digging brings with it a time for reflection. Deer jump out of shadows. A bull moose lounges near a pound. The sky, pines and cedars morph into one space where brown hawks look for muskrat and camas rat (pocket gophers). And stories are unleashed with each rip of earth, each mixing of sweat with the tiny camas bulbs that are put back into topsoil in order to aid future yields and harvests.
Dig and reflect. Dig and talk. Martha’s humor is wry and active.
I learned that the common Powwow dance, “Duck and Dive,” was born out of the Battle of Big Hole (Montana) when the officers of the cavalry told the soldiers to “aim chest high at Nez Perce warriors.” My short camas digging ritual was peppered with much tribal lore, wisdom, politics, and generations of narrative threading.
Writing about camas could easily take another ten pages just to capture the essence of how spiritual grace and incredible histories are tied to the simple journey to ancient camas fields.
I was also taken to search and dig for the qaws qaws that is in swampy dark forest in amongst ferns. It’s a powerful medicine used in sweats and to heal. I’ve got my own stash now in my basement drying. I’ll be looking for the camas blooms at Turnbull State Park next spring. I’ll search for the white starry blooms of the qaws qaws on my next summer hike in some western Idaho haunt.
To demonstrate the value of a food or medicinal source to a tribe, I was told of how the Kamiah-area qaws qaws root was traded throughout Montana, Wyoming, and even as far as the Dakotas hundreds of years ago, which is how the Nez Perce acquired the best appaloosa horse stock. The Cherokee, Cheyenne, Lakota and other tribes would take a look at the Nez Perce’s big qaws qaws roots and their eyes would pop out of their heads.
Few people today look for qaws qaws or camas because it’s hard work and takes time to clean, dry, and prepare.
Grey Owl beamed when he recalled the previous year’s digging of camas with a six-month pregnant woman and her spouse digging alongside. The pregnant woman’s goal was to dig enough camas to prepare as food for her infant during the upcoming winter.
White Culture’s Attempts at Stripping Away
Once the reservation system was entrenched, tribes faced losing connections to ancient land and long-utilized food and medicinal preparations. Their resilience against the early US government is profound, even ironic. Take Indian fry bread, for instance, which is a feature at fairs, carnivals, and Pig Out in the Parks. It was born out of the vindictive practice of white settlers and their government when they forced tribes to take stale, years’ old almost useless wheat that had to be pounded and ground up. Its only palatable use was for flat, deep-fried bread.
The 1855 Treaty has been broken year after year, and in fact just this summer in Kamiah an elder and his son were arrested after SWAT team intervention for “getting an elk out of season.”
Hiding stores of camas in caves and in pits has saved many a tribe. Lewis and Clark and their men were really bad off when they encountered the Nez Perce nation, who fed them “little river” salmon, gave them potions of qaws qaws and let them taste camas, all of which revitalized them to continue on their journey. Back then, the best young female camas digger could land the best choice of a husband.
The marriage I made during my short tutelage was the reinforcing of my sustainability development and deep ecology philosophy combined with the Nez Perce ethos of “take a little here, leave a lot there.”
“Camas, like the spring salmon runs, is all tied to a circle – a great circle that is a cycle within the culture. Everything is tied together. Please remember that when you write your story,” Grey Owl said with a goodbye hug.
On my way back, I passed the empty tepee camp where just 24 hours earlier those young women had gathered in an attempt at healing their modern ails through the wisdom of the two part Indians. Grey Wolf and Grey Owl. I thought of people in the fields I had just met who were reconnecting to Old Ways separate from the hustle and bustle of their modern lives.
I still have the echoes of those animals nearby where I was digging like an Irishman looking for spuds. And the ghosts of Tse tal pah and Tuk luk sema’s elders are still with me. I’ve tasted the camas, bloodied my fingertips on Nez Perce soil, and sweated dreams of a time that will never be lost, to them or to me, a white man.
Heart of the Monster – Nez Perce Creation Story
It starts with Coyote – it’se ye ye — hearing the other animals of the forest running afraid and speaking of a giant monster. He’s wondering what all the fuss is about as he encounters frightened, trembling animals who say the monster is gobbling up all the forest’s animals. He prepares seven knives made of stone. And then he confronts the huge monster. The monster swallows him up. On the way down, Coyote runs into Rattlesnake who hisses at him. Coyote says, “Yeah, you think you’re scary?” Coyote hits him in the head and that’s how Rattlesnake got its flat head. Then Coyote runs into Beaver on the way down into the monster’s belly. Coyote hits Beaver’s tail, and that’s why today Beaver has a flat tail. Then he meets Bear, and Coyote punches Bear in the face, and that is why today Bear has a flattened face. Coyote then cuts at the Monster with the knives. The first knife breaks, then the second, until he’s got only the seventh one, whereupon he cuts open the Monster. Muskrat tries to escape from the belly, but before he does, Coyote grabs his tail and that’s why today Muskrat has not fur on its tail.
Coyote cuts up the Monster’s heart and flings this piece over the land. Where one piece falls, that’s where the Umatilla tribe spring up. Another piece west, and that’s where the Yakima rise up. All the pieces of the monster get flung far and wide, and that’s where each tribe is born up. All the pieces are gone but there are no Nez Perce people yet. He washes his hands in the river and then sprays the last drops of the Monster’s blood, and that’s where the Nez Perce tribe originates from.