If you are reading this post, you probably already have been following the news from Standing Rock. You likely have been reading posts on Facebook and Twitter and watching video clips showing armed police officers, or state troopers, or private security guards and their gnarly dogs, roughing up protestors who have stood against the Dakota Access Pipeline. You have probably read reports of these same police forces, doing the pipeline company’s business, firing rubber bullets at peaceful protestors and locking them up in small pens. You have likely read about how they have attempted to suppress free speech by shutting down wireless service, because they do not want you and I to know what they are doing to disrupt the protests, and how they have now started using Facebook to compile information on those gathered to oppose the pipeline.  You may have checked in on Facebook in solidarity with the protestors to defeat this effort.

Much of the information about the protests comes from participants in the protests. Some of it is polemical.  It is likely that some of the reports are exaggerated.   But watch the videos, and read what you can.  You can draw your own conclusions.

This is an important story. My students, I know, want to know more about it.  It is a protest, and a movement, of significance, and it is one on which we must inform ourselves.  The mainstream media has begun to cover the protests, but the #NoDAPL movement still receives little coverage relative to the presidential election and the Democratic candidate’s email problems.  Still, there are good sources of information out there.  The Indian Country Today Media Network has provided solid coverage.  Pechanga.Net is a great go-to source for updates from newspapers across the country, as is Indianz.com.

The Dakota Access Pipeline, according to the useful primer presented by the Seattle Times, will transport oil from North Dakota to a shipping center in Illinois.  From there the oil will be sent to refineries in the Midwest and along the Gulf Coast. The pipeline, which is already nearly 60% complete, was originally slated to run closer to the town of Bismark, ND, but was rerouted to pass under the Missouri River just a short distance upstream from the Standing Rock Reservation’s northern border.  Residents of Bismark did not want the pipeline to jeopardize their own water supply, so it was directed to the south.  The pipeline does not run through the reservation, but it does threaten defend_the_sacred_-_courtesy_indigenous_environmental_networkStanding Rock’s water supply. It runs through lands that had been guaranteed to the Lakota Sioux in the treaties held at Fort Laramie in 1851 and 1868.  Lakota Sioux lived on these lands, knew these lands, and buried their dead there.

How those lands slipped from the Indians’ control is a worth noting. The 1851 Fort Laramie treaty was an agreement in which the United States attempted to secure peace between those Indian nations “residing south of the Missouri River, east of the Rocky Mountains, and north of the lines of Texas and New Mexico.” The many Indians who came to Fort Laramie to meet with American officials agreed “to abstain in future from all hostilities whatever against each other, to maintain good faith and friendship in all their mutual intercourse, and to make an effective and lasting peace.”  The Indians who signed the treaty agreed to allow the United States to “establish roads, military and other posts, within their respective territories,” and in return, the United States agreed “to protect the aforesaid Indian nations against the commission of all depredations by the people of the said United States, after the ratification of this treaty.” The territories of the tribes were defined, chiefs with whom the United States would interact were to be designated, and an annuity paid by the United States for ten years.  It was an attempt by the American government to sort out the players on the Plains, to control a region where its authority was still exceptionally weak.

The 1868 Fort Laramie treaty modified this agreement. It was a peace agreement between the United States and the Sioux. It was a critical component, along with the 1867 Treaty of Medicine Lodge Creek, in achieving the American policy of Concentration.  In so doing, it defined the boundaries of the “Great Sioux Reservation,” a tract mostly in today’s South Dakota west of the Missouri River where their possession would be undisturbed. The United States, however, never expected that native peoples would remain as they were, and the treaty included provisions directed towards fundamental change in how the Sioux lived upon the land. The treaty gave to the President of the United States the right to begin individualizing Indian landholdings, to move towards the policy that later would be called allotment.

Congress passed legislation in 1871 that formally ended treaty making.  And, in 1888 and 1889, Congressional commissioners succeeded in breaking up the Great Sioux Reservation, depriving the Sioux near the Standing Rock Agency of the lands under which the Dakota Access Pipeline will now burrow.  The state of North Dakota recites the sordid tale on its official website.   The agreement to reduce the reservation was obtained through threats and duplicity.  Congress, well before the notorious Lone Wolf decision of 1903, did not feel that it was bound by its own treaties, and viewed them as obstacles it must find ways to overcome.

If you have read the news reports, you will know that some of these lost lands are considered sacred by the Standing Rock Sioux, and that in the process of constructing the pipeline, graves have been dug up and desecrated.  National political leaders, by and large, have been silent.  Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign released a deeply unsatisfying statement that recognized the protestors’ rights to free speech, while acknowledging as well the pipeline workers’ right to do their job. Because the protestors wanted to stop construction, Secretary Clinton’s campaign has encouraged the protests, only so long as they have no effect on the pipeline project.  Hold up your signs, but get the hell out of the way, she seems to be saying.

Students of Native American history will know well that native peoples have long faced the combined power of corporate and state power.  The railroads, mining companies, hydroelectric, the fossil fuel industry—all aided by state and federal authorities—have appropriated tribal lands and resources.  It is an old story.

Perhaps something has changed in the country. During the presidential primaries, the insurgent candidacy of Bernie Sanders drew upon a growing disaffection with increasing corporate wealth.  Many Americans, even some of those who support Donald Trump, expressed a belief that their lives are not their own, that huge, multinational corporations call the shots.  Native peoples could have told them about this long ago, of course.

I have no idea how long the protests will go. I do not know whether they will survive the brutal winter that will soon descend upon North Dakota.  I do not know whether the protests at Standing Rock will call attention to other instances, going on right now, where corporate interests are seeking access to the resources in native communities, or threatening Indian lands and water supplies.   These other struggles have not drawn nearly the attention of Standing Rock. Perhaps the #NoDAPL movement will force us to consider what sort of country we want to be:  one in which corporations, shipping fossil fuels, are not more important than the right of native peoples to clean water and control of their lands.  Perhaps we might all consider our own appetite for the products of extractive industry, and consume less, in the awareness that we are all at some level complicit in creating the demand for the fossil fuels that oil companies want to ship across and under Native Ground.

Why Can’t I Dress As Pocahontas for Halloween? And Other Thoughts

I like to show this map to my students.  It is the Tryon map of the Six Nations, drawn five years before the colonismap-iroquois-1771ts imperial officials hoped to control declared their independence. I ask my students, when they look at it, to forget all that they know about the subsequent history of the Empire State.  Look at this map, drawn at one point in time. “Read it like a text.  What do you see?”

It’s such an obvious question that there is usually a brief silence.  So I ask them to look at the map and tell me, “what, on this map, is New York?  Where on this map is New York?” We talk, and quickly it becomes apparent. You cannot miss it.  New York, as a geographic entity, did not exist much past Schenectady, and much beyond the Hudson River Valley.  Much of what we call the New York today was, in 1771, “The Land of the Six Nations,” Iroquoia.

It is helpful to keep this in mind, because a large part of the imperial project, the core of what many scholars now call settler colonialism, was the erasure of native peoples from the American landscape, either through assimilation or annihilation.  The settlers will expand, and the Indians disappear, their disappearance itself legitimizing the settlers’ claim to the land.  Indians are always part of the past, always in the process of disappearing, of being swept into the dustbin of history. bad-homeworkThey are erased, the settler state’s claims to sovereignty legitimatized, and the concerns of native peoples today more easily dismissed.

If you are a student, try this exercise.  Ask some of your classmates to define an Indian or Native American.  Have them tell you what comes to mind when you mention the word “Indian” or the phrase “Native American.”  Play with them a word association game.  In New York State, where I live, occasionally a student will mention gaming orbad-costume smoke shops, but by and large the images they will conjure will be drawn from the past.  It is something that many of us are taught from a very young age.  Find “three pictures of American Indian needs” in the assignment here.  The dutiful child will highlight the wigwam, the bison, the blanket weaver.  Now “find the three pictures of needs for people today.” Erasure.  Indians as part of the past.

So when you dress up in an “Indian Costume,” it certainly is in bad taste.  It is crude and offensive.  Like Leilani Downing, a model, in her costume here from 2014.   “I just got massacred by a cowboy. Note Fur is FAKE!!!” she wrote.  What the hell?   It is nice that no animals were harmed in the making of that costume but, really, what was she thinking?  It is offensive, to be sure, to wear these costumes. But more than that, when you dress up in a costume rooted in stereotypes that are themselves rooted in the past, you are aiding the colonial project, aiding in the erasure of native peoples in the present, aiding in their consignment to the past.

And if they are part of the past, it becomes easier to dismiss the legitimate claims of native peoples as being out of time and place and, as a consequence, irrelevant.  Just this week (and it is only Wednesday!) we have seen millions of baseball fans cheering for a team with a terribly offensive racist logo, read about a police killing of a young Native American woman in Washington State who was several months pregnant when she was shot, and watched heavily armed troopers, backed by a concentration of corporate and state power in North Dakota, attempt to shut down peaceful protests against an oil pipeline burrowing under sacred lands. These stories, to say the least, are not front-page news.

You should have a good time on Halloween. Soon enough, you will be freezing your asses off, trooping around the neighborhood, holding a flashlight, as your kids go door-to-door collecting candy. Soon enough you will be silently judging your neighbors for the quality of the candy they distribute.  This night is for you. Have a blast.  But be thoughtful, and careful.  You can be creative. You can be funny.  You can be iconoclastic.  Hell, you can push against the limits of what is acceptable.  But please keep in mind that though your costume might seem innocent, and that you may really have loved Disney’s “Pocahontas” when you were a kid, that these are manifestations of a much larger, and pernicious, dynamic. They depict native peoples as part of the past, and thus contribute to making it more difficult for many Americans to recognize the importance of native peoples’ calls for justice today.

Grief and History

When I teach Native American history, I frequently find myself describing the consequences of the policies and events we cover for children.  Boarding schools, for instance, but also the many times when children die—when children were killed.  I include these harrowing stories not to shock complacent students, but to try to get the kids in the class to understand more deeply the consequences of the policies, decisions, and events they have read about upon the most vulnerable people in a community, people with whom they are perhaps well-equipped to identify.

So I tell the students about George Percy. That weak and cowardly aristocrat who settled at Jamestown led a raid by an English party against the Paspahegh Indians, whose town stood a short distance upriver from that sickly fortified settlement.  Percy’s soldiers took the “Queen of Paspahegh” and her children hostage but his men began to grumble.  He gave in to them, threw the children overboard, and allowed his men to entertain themselves by “shooting out their brains in the water.”  I tell them of the Paxton Boys’ massacre of peaceful Conestoga Indians in December 1763.  The Paxton men killed fourteen of them: men, women, and a couple of children, no more than three years old.  The Paxton Boys split their skulls with tomahawks, and took their scalps as trophies.  This was intimate violence, acts committed at close range. To children.  To babies.  In order to help my students make sense of the Ghost Dance, I tell the students about the movement that occurred on the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation.  Among the Kiowa ghost dancers were a lot of parents, and they danced on the snowy ground hoping to see, once again, the children who had died, innocents slaughtered by measles, whooping cough, and pneumonia.  Grief lay at the broken heart of the Ghost Dance movement.  And of course that grief continues.  Harold Napoleon, in Yuuyaraq: The Way of the Human Being described Alaska Native communities immersed still in a grief caused by what he called “the Great Death.”

A short time ago I published a biography of Eleazer Williams, a Mohawk missionary to the Oneidas.  I spent a lot of time with Williams.  He struck me as a man with few principles, or as a liar, a hustler, or a confidence man. But Williams was also a man profoundly damaged by the death of his second child.  9999004543-l

He wrote a letter to his wife in 1838.  She was a Metís woman, living still along the Fox River in Wisconsin.  At this point, Williams had been living apart from her for the better part of a decade.  He was always traveling—Buffalo, Oneida, Albany, New York, Washington, and only occasionally back to Green Bay.  This was the only letter of any length that he wrote to his wife that has survived, and in this one he began with small matters—of how the water and ice on the Fox River had done damage to the crops, he had heard.  He chastised her for not having planted the potatoes on higher ground. But he also urged her to think about matters religious.  Beware the shallow things.  Please, he wrote to his “Dear Mary,” “Nothing in this life would make me more happy than to find that you are serving God, and living in humility, as one who is devoted to Christ and preparing for Heaven.”  Focus on the important things. “Let no longer the world and its vanities be upon the upper most in your mind or thoughts—forsake them and give yourself to God and Jesus Christ who had redeemed you by his most precious blood.”

What, I wondered, was going on here?  He was writing, it seemed, to a woman who had lost her faith—in religion, in him, and, I suspect, a lot of things.  As I read the letter, it became clear to me why that might have been.  Williams had never lacked for words, but in this letter his desperation is palpable.  He would pray for her, he said. We must be a good example, he said, for the “only child we have.”  I knew that Williams and his wife had a son, who would have been a teenager. “How happy it would be, should we as a family, finally by the mercy of God, to meet all, with our departed beloved Anne, in Heaven, where, we shall all be happy without end and sing praises to God for all eternity.”

Who was Anne?  He had never mentioned her before.  This is the only time she appeared in Williams’s papers.  A dead child, presumably. It took a lot of digging. After some time in the archives, I found her.  She had died in 1830, eight years before this letter.  Hers was the first baptism recorded at Holy Apostles, the church Williams founded for relocated New York Indians in Wisconsin, and the first burial in the churchyard.  It was in 1830 that Williams largely left home.  Mary buried the child, who died when she was not quite eighteen months old, without his help.

This death haunted Williams. In the late 1840s he began to tell a story about an encounter he had with the French Prince de Joinville aboard a great lakes steamboat in 1841.  In this story, Williams told Joinville as they approached Green Bay that he and his wife had an infant daughter. Joinville offered to serve as godparent.  When they arrived at Green Bay, Williams learned that the baby had died several days earlier.  Joinville was sympathetic, but Williams never went home. He hung out with the French prince for a couple of days.  And here’s the thing:  This story—Joinville, the baby—it was all a lie.  It did not happen.  Williams was a liar.  That was easy to prove.  But why this lie, about this baby?

If you study early American history, you learn how frequent the death of children actually was.  Many families buried children, and I can imagine that the consequences were as emotionally devastating for many of them as it was for Eleazer Williams and his wife.  New England children studying their catechisms in the early nineteenth century were warned to consider that

I, in the burial place may see

Graves shorter far than I;

From Death’s arrest no age is free,

Young children too may die . . .

My God, may such an awful sight

Awakening be to me!

O that by early grace I might

For death prepared be.”


The death of children was common.

As a historian, I find these stories sometimes difficult. I have never shared these thoughts with my friends and colleagues who teach history, but I imagine that they, too, can be overwhelmed by this history of grief, of people gone too soon. It’s heavy. My own children are all healthy.  Despite my own flaws, they are fine people, better than me in so many ways. I am fortunate.  But not everyone is.  In a chilling article that appeared in the October issue of The Atlantic, Roger Rosenblatt reflected upon the viciousness and inhumanity he had witnessed or learned about over his long career as a war reporter.  Rosenblatt told the story of Khu, a 15-year old boy who fled the war in Vietnam for Hong Kong.  His parents had died, and he had nothing.  They ran out of food on the ship he boarded.  The captain assigned one man to knock Khu out, and then slit his throat, so that the others on board could eat him.  Tears welled in the boy’s eyes, and they let him go, but they did kill another man and they ate him.  Khu, Roseblatt, and his translator looked out at the lights in Hong Kong Harbor.  Khu said that the lights and the boats were beautiful.  That is what he was thinking.  Rosenblatt asked him what else was beautiful. Khu said everything is beautiful. Sometimes even when it’s not.

I have thought of these stories today.  I read Jayson Greene’s searing essay in The New York Times, entitled “Children Don’t Always Live.”  Greene told the story of his daughter’s sudden, tragic death, his struggle with grief, and his continuing sadness even as he and his wife welcomed a new child, a boy who always will have a dead sister.   Speaking to his young son, Greene mustered “up every drop of bravery I can: ‘It is a beautiful world,’ I tell him, willing myself to believe it.  We are here to share it.”

I get that.  I try to persuade my students to be hopeful and, because they are young and bright and have not seen much yet, it is not a difficult sell.  Still, we cannot teach about the past without considering the pain, the grief, and the sadness that people—native and non-native alike—felt.  If we want to reach our students, we need to help them feel the weight of the past, to experience those moments of brutality, violence and sadness, and those occasional moments of courage, humanity and grace. Connection, right?  Reaching across the span of time, across the vast distances, in an attempt to come close to understanding the world as others experienced it.


Letter to that Lame Provost in Montana–Some thoughts on History and the Liberal Arts

Dear Provost,

I’ve been thinking a lot about a piece Timothy Egan wrote that appeared in the New York Times back in August. Egan lamented “our Dumbed-Down Democracy,” and saw in the rise of Donald Trump evidence of a failure in, among other things, American civic education.  If Americans knew their constitutionalism, Egan argued, they would be less likely to support a candidate who showed no concern for the American constitutional tradition.  “The current presidential election,” Egan wrote, “may prove that an even bigger part of the American citizenry [Bigger than the thirty million adults who, Egan asserted, cannot read] is politically illiterate—and functional.  Which is to say, they will vote despite being unable to accept basic facts needed to process this American life.”

There has been no shortage of opinion pieces and analyses like Egan’s in recent months.  As a college professor, as a teacher of history and the humanities at a school where, fortunately, these subjects are still valued, I wonder about whether any of the current state of affairs can be laid out our steps.  Are we doing enough to produce critical and informed citizens? Should we do more?

A long time ago when I taught at your college in Billings, Montana, you emphasized that we should be doing “applied research.”  We should strive to be relevant.  I was untenured, and in a deeply dysfunctional department.  You were no help on that front, either. I understood that to survive as a professor I needed to toe the company line. But what on earth did “applied research” mean? I was a historian with training in early American and Native American history.  How, I asked, would I cast these interests in a project that you would consider “applied” and relevant?

You did not expect the question, and I never got a meaningful answer, but I could see plenty of problems on campus. As you might remember, Native American students were the largest minority on campus, and many of them traveled a long way from the Crow Reservation to attend their classes.  There were those on campus who did much to make the college a welcoming environment—staff and faculty.  They did good work.  Students could use Crow to fulfill the college’s foreign language requirement, for instance, and the Intertribal Indian Club was a valuable and effective resource.  Its annual powwow, a beautiful and inspiring event held off campus, was the college’s largest student-sponsored event.  I do not think you knew that.  In the four years I was in Billings, neither you nor the President ever attended because, in the President’s words, it was a thing “for Indians.”

There were a lot of problems on campus. Financial aid was limited.  Some faculty embraced stereotypical and, in places, racist views of Native Americans that could create an incredibly hostile environment on campus.  Many faculty, acting on an assumption that Native American students would not speak up in class, never bothered to reach out.  I heard faculty say, about a student who did well in a class, that “she did really well for an Indian.” I told you about this.  You said something along the lines of, “Yeah, sometimes the Crows will really surprise you when they do well.”  Again, untenured.  I did not tell you how screwed up I thought that was.

But I watched this environment.  Coming from southern California, this was all new to me.  There was an event that caught my attention. I thought it would fit your description of an “applied research” project.  Down in Hardin, a town that borders the Crow Reservation, a series of ugly racial incidents took place.  I do not remember all the details, and I am sure you don’t either. There had been some sort of cultural awareness day at the high school. A significant number of white kids, with their parents’ support, stayed home.  Took a walk.   The Crow kids made some noise about this and, the next morning, distributed on driveways in Hardin was some racist, Christian Identity literature, and texts like “The White Man’s Bible”—really vile stuff.

That’s what I heard.  I heard a lot of stuff. I went down to Hardin.  Tried to talk to some locals.  I couldn’t blend, really. A friend of a friend put me in touch with a local minister, and I talked to her for a while.  She confirmed that there was some ugly and really open racism in Hardin, but also that there were good people trying to make things better. To investigate this problem, would require getting into the community, spending a lot of time, watching and listening and talking.  Producing a piece of “applied” research, then, would be difficult.  I lived sixty miles from Hardin.  I was a single parent, at the time, and I taught seven courses a year.  Time was short.  I could not get into the community enough to understand what these white people were thinking.

I could talk to my Crow students who had attended Hardin High, however. I persuaded a number of them to allow me to record interviews with them. I still have the microcassettes in my desk at Geneseo, even though I no longer have anything upon which to play them.  They spoke of the white ranchers’ kids who drove to school in their big, new trucks, paid for from the proceeds of ranching operations on land that had once belonged to the Crows. They spoke of intimidation.  Of gym teachers who told kids to take a leak before they went out for PE, “because they need something to drink down at Crow.”

When I was a student at Cal State Long Beach, one of my professors in American Indian Studies told me that interest in Native American studies among white people decreases in direct proportion as you get closer to Indian country.  And that seemed to be the case in Billings.  A lot of the people in my classes did not want to hear about racism at Crow, and the statistics that testified to the continuing impacts of colonialism and discrimination.  You and the President proved the truth of that statement, too.

I never did anything with those tapes.  Never did an “applied research” project that accorded with your hazy standards.  But I did keep plugging away at my own research in Early America, and Native America, and I continued to try to improve myself as a classroom teacher.   And I left Billings, and found a job at a wonderful college in the Finger Lakes region of western New York.

I do not like to enter into the debate over what a degree in history is worth in monetary terms, because it brings us value in other ways.  I have drawn upon the advice of so many people, and that advice informs how I teach.  I tell my students that we are the ones who question everything.  I tell them that  I love the questions—the search for answers, the complexity and the absolute lack of definitive answers sometimes, and the stories—the stories are at the heart of all that we historians do as teachers and writers.

In history, these stories can be tough to handle sometimes.  Particularly in my field, I read about horrifying acts of violence, greed, viciousness, and hatred, all the ways in which war is a violent teacher.  It can get you down sometimes, and history can be a brutal business.  But, once in a while, there are these amazing stories: of selflessness, of grace–and of courage.  And I tell them, that to the utmost of their ability, they should try to be intellectually fearless, and to have the courage to not shy away from those things that seem extremely difficult.  To be honest, curious, inquisitive, and relentless to be sure, but most of all, in terms of the questions they ask, the evidence they consider, the ideas they engage with, and the theses they advance, to be as fearless as they can be.  Now, on this campus, in this country, in this global community, more than ever.  This is History, Applied.

My students now live in a world where too many people confuse their feelings and their fears for facts, where being smart and engaged and critical and willing to ask questions can make one an object of scorn.  They live in a world as well where complexity is so often dismissed, where big and difficult answers to the big questions are avoided, that asking these sorts of questions can take a certain amount of courage.  They live in a world where, when we stand up in the face of these problems and ask, “Why?” and when we insist on a reasoned and relevant response to that simple question—it is like an act of subversion, and subversive acts, even small ones, require a degree of courage and fearlessness.

I tell my students this, and that their studies can help them makes sense of this world.   Looking at the spectacle of public life that my generation is in the process of bequeathing to their generation, I tell them, it might be easy to slide into a deep cynicism, but cynicism is an intellectually lazy position, a sort of cop out.  It can take courage to trust and to respect and to appreciate, as well as to care and to love, and to accept the validity of ideas presented by those with whom we would be predisposed to think we might disagree.  To never underestimate others, to take people seriously, whoever that person happens to be, to accept the possibility that those with whom we disagree might have a point and, indeed, to admit that we might be wrong.  To appear vulnerable in the face of those who despise us.  That is not an easy thing to do. That takes courage, and a willingness—a commitment—to approaching everything and everyone with a readiness to see goodness and to be surprised.

It is easy to feel like the challenges we face are too big and it is possible, I think, that we all feel at times like we are not enough to make a difference—that we need to be wealthier or have more expertise or access or whatever.  But what if we used our skills and our thoughts and our reason and acted as if we were exactly what was needed? How would we live or have lived if we were exactly what is needed to solve those things we see as problems? If we knew we could close the gap between the way things are and the way things ought to be, even a little bit, would we have the courage to act?

I am not sure what you would say to these questions.  I do not know that you would agree that the power of history, whatever the subfield, is that it allows us to share in the experiences of people far removed from us in space and time, to take part in our broader, shared, humanity.  That was never something you valued.  You wanted the standards low, the seats full.   I know that.  So I thought of you when I read Egan’s piece. You never realized the merits of the liberal arts, the power of ideas, the feeling of connection one can achieve when they study the past.   You left Billings, and became the president of a small college in a similarly red state, I think, but I did not pay any attention.  But I do know this: history and the liberal arts empower our students to be curious, kind, and fearless in an informed way that makes our world a better place.  That is something that transcends price and simplistic ways to measure learning outcomes.

The Cleveland Indians, FFS

The Cleveland Indians are a game away from the World Series, and the team’s post-season relevance offers an occasion to discuss the use of Native American images as mascots.  Chief Wahoo, the Cleveland Indians’ mascot, is as bad as they get.  According to a nice piece on Deadspin, “the franchise is celebrating by rubbing its racism in the faces of every person tuning in to watch baseball at the peak of its season.”  Despite pledging to rely less upon the Chief Wahoo logo at the beginning of the season, the Indians’ owner Paul Dolan said that “Chief Wahoo . . . is part of our history and legacy.”

Major League Baseball seems to want the entire issue to go away.   A statement from the league read:

                 “Major League Baseball appreciates the concerns of those that find the name and logo of the       Cleveland Indians to be offensive. We would welcome a thoughtful and inclusive dialogue to address these concerns outside the context of litigation. Given the demands for completing the League Championship Series in a timely manner, MLB will defend Cleveland’s right to use their name that has been in existence for more than 100 years.”

So Carry On, Boys!

I have written about racists sports stereotypes in the past.  Mascots are not the biggest problem facing native communities, and nobody claims that they are.   Too many Indian communities, for instance, continue to struggle to enjoy the measured sovereignty permitted them by the most anti-Indian Supreme Court in American history. State and local governments mount aggressive campaigns designed to skim the cream off of the fragile prosperity that has emerged in some native communities, looking to tax gaming and retail businesses located on Indian land in opposition to a constitutional logic that has stood for almost 190 years. They challenge American Indian tribal sovereignty, and the pressure at times is relentless.

Meanwhile, Native Americans have lower life expectancy, higher rates of death from cancer, injury and suicide, and are more likely to be poor, unemployed, and the victims of violent crime than their non-Indian neighbors.  According to the Indian Health Service, Native peoples are six times more likely to die from alcohol-related causes than other Americans, and twice as likely to develop cervical cancer, three times as likely to develop diabetes, eight times more likely to contract tuberculosis, and twice as likely to die from homicide. Efforts to recover lost lands, acquired from them in transactions that on their face violated federal law, have been stymied by hostile federal courts.  The list of challenges facing Native American communities is a long one.

Still, this is an easy one.  Chief Wahoo needs to go.  I mean, really, look at this thing. cleveland_indians_logo-svgIt’s even worse than the old Disney Indians in the film “Peter Pan.”

MLB clearly has permitted the Indians to continue to use Chief Wahoo, and the prevalence of this horrible mascot in the postseason shows that the Cleveland Indians organization, like the NFL’s Washington Redskins, has no intention of doing anything and that they are perfectly content using images that are terribly racist and offensive.


The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island

In Native America I tell the tale of the “Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island.”  Thanks to some recent archaeological and historical work, we may now know more than ever before.

I grew up in Ventura, California, home of the Channel Islands National Park headquarters.  Kids in my town, and I suspect around the country, learned a fictionalized version of the “Lone Woman’s” story in Scott O’Dell’s famous novel, The Island of the Blue Dolphins. In my memory, every kid had to read this book in middle school. San Nicolas is one of the Channel Islands, off of the coast of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, though it is owned by the United States Navy, is not part of the National Park, and is not as a result as accessible as the other Channel Islands.  Nevertheless, this was part of a history that was both local and significant to me, and it was a delight to have an opportunity to include the story in the textbook.  blue-dophins

According to the conventional story, in 1853 a party of hunters led by a Californian named George Nidever encountered an elderly Nicoleño “busily employed in stripping the blubber from a piece of seal skin which she held across the knee, using in the operation a rude knife made from a piece of iron hoop stuck into a piece of rough wood for a handle.”  She welcomed the white men, who could see that she lived in a camp comprised of “several huts made of whale’s ribs and covered with brush, although it was long since they had been occupied that they were open on all sides and grass was quite high within.”  She had lived there for a long time, perhaps since the uprising of 1824.  The white men saw that “there were several stakes with blubber on them,” and that there “was blubber also hanging on a sinew rope.”  She had baskets, and “fishhooks made of bone, and needles of the same material, lines or cords of sinews for fishing and the larger rope of sinews [which] she no doubt used for snaring seals on the rocks where they came to sleep.”

At the invitation of the hunters, she accompanied the men as they hunted otter and seals on the islands.  She traveled with them for several days. When the wind began to blow too strongly, “the old woman conveyed to us by signs her intention to stop the wind.”  Nidever observed that “she then knelt and prayed, facing the quarter from which the wind blew, and continued to pray at intervals during the day until the gale was over.”  Nidever described a Chumash woman living her life in time with a very old rhythm.800px-sannicolasisland_corral_harbor

The arrival of the woman in Santa Barbara, however, made clear how much the Chumash world had changed.  Less than a century after the Portolá expedition, few Californians had seen Chumash people. The old woman became a curiosity, an exhibit for the amusement of non-Indians interested in an “extinct” people. According to Nidever, “for months after, she and her things, as her dress, baskets, needle, &c. were visited by everybody in the town and for miles around outside of it.” Chumash people were exotic enough, one enterprising ship’s captain thought, that he offered Nidever $1000 for the woman. He wanted to place her on display in San Francisco, and he was willing to split the take with Nidever.  Nidever refused. He learned bits of her story. She had lost a daughter, and she had grieved for many years. It was the defining event in her life. She did not have long to live. At Santa Barbara, she fell sick five weeks after her arrival and died, Nidever curiously noted, because of “eating too much fruit.”  The priests at the mission church baptized her after her death and christened her Juana Maria.

Archaeologist Steve Schwartz, according to a story that appeared in the Ventura County Star on 9 October, began digging through the notes of linguist J. B. Harrington, who visited the Islands in the early 20th century, and determined that there was much more to the story.  Schwartz found in Harrington’s papers answers to a number of mysteries: Why had the woman been left alone on the island in the first place?  Why, after spending several decades largely alone, did she in 1853 choose to accompany Nidever?  Some stories said that when the Nicloleño were leaving the island, the woman forgot her infant and left her kin to go find the child. Schwartz thought it unlikely that a woman would forget where her infant was, and that instead the child might have been 9 or 10; a nine-year old boy wandering off seemed more plausible.  She remained behind with the child. According to Schwartz, “people would come to the island, see her and try to coax her to leave, and she wouldn’t leave.”  Only after this child died was she willing to go to the mainland.

And though a sort of media storm took place when the Lone Woman came ashore in Santa Barbara, newspaper research indicates that bits and pieces of her story already were circulating. She appears in an 1847 Boston newspaper, and in newspapers in India, Australia, Germany and France.

Several years ago, Schwartz was part of a team that conducted excavations on San Nicolas that he believes led to the discovery of the Lone Woman’s cave.  Schwartz and his colleague Sara Schwebel are assembling a Lone Woman website developed by Channel Islands National Park that will launch later this year.


David Silverman of George Washington University has already written two immensely valuable studies of native peoples.  In his forthcoming study of the effects of firearms on Native America, Silverman promises to shed light on a subject that has been dealt with too simplistically by too many historians.  Read about David’s exciting work here.

Ethnohistory, October 2016

CoverThe new edition of Ethnohistory includes a pair of articles that complement nicely Native America: A History.  Sami Lakomaki’s “We Then Went to England: Shawnee Storytelling and the Atlantic World” critically explores native peoples’ understandings of the Atlantic World.   Shawnee narratives, Lakomaki writes, “highlight the complex roles of storytelling in Native-newcomer relations and Shawnee intranational debates during a critical period when growing colonial power rapidly eroded the “middle ground” across the lower Great Lakes and political disputes factionalized the Shawnees, putting new pressures on how people constructed and forgot the past.”   Also worth noting, Elsa Redmond’s “Meeting with Resistance: Early Spanish Encounters in the Americas, 1492-1524,” explores the first few decades after the beginning of the Columbian Encounter.    Redmond focuses especially closely on the military components of the relationships which developed between natives and newcomers.

Journal of the Early Republic

The new edition of the Journal of the Early Republic has appeared.  It includes a number of pieces relevant to the material covered in Native America.  You will want to take a look at Karim Tiro’s review essay covering “New Narratives of the Conquest of the Ohio Country.” Karim, a professor of history at Xavier University in Cincinnati, reviews the following books: Colin Calloway’s The Victory with No Name about St. Clair’s defeat in 1791, William Heath’s William Wells and the Struggle for the Old Northwest, and Sami Lakomaki’s Gathering Together about the Shawnees.

Lori Daggar, an assistant professor of history at Ursinus College, published an article that students might want to consult.  Professor Daggar writes about “The  Mission Complex: Economic Development, ‘Civilization,’ and Empire in the Early Republic.”  The abstract to her article reads as follows:

               The “mission complex” expanded the influence and power of the United States in the Ohio Country and beyond. It linked missionaries, humanitarians, manufacturers, federal employees, and indigenous peoples through networks of markets and capital: the material goods used in the agricultural missions offered a means both to stimulate business for eastern (and developing western) manufacturers and to develop a new consumer base in the Ohio Country. Attention to the functioning of this system, based upon free yet hierarchical relations of power, reveals how the early U.S. empire thrived off of economic growth. Paying attention to indigenous peoples’ appropriation and manipulation of the complex, moreover, reveals that some Native communities and individuals endeavored to take advantage of missionary labor, while others endeavored to facilitate their engagement with the U.S. economy by reinforcing ties with both the federal government and Euroamericans. Ultimately, analysis of the mission complex reveals that imperial state policy, as well as a myriad of Native and non-Native actors, facilitated the development and expansion of capitalist markets and forms of labor in the early republic.


Voting Rights in Indian Country

There has been no discussion of the many issues of concern to native communities across the country in this election cycle, but on Tuesday, NPR’s All Things Considered  aired a story focusing upon Native American voting rights.  Issues of gerrymandering and voter intimidation have long been discussed as problems faced by Native American voters.  See, for example, the 2009 ACLU Report on Native American voting rights, and this story about chronic discrimination against Crow and Northern Cheyenne people in and around Billings, Montana. The NPR story looked at issues posed by English-only ballots and inaccessible polling places, which are also significant factors affecting Native American voting patterns.

A Discussion Forum for Teaching and Writing Native American History