Monday, January 22, 2007


We started watchin my copy of PBS's series "The West" again this weekend. The story of Joseph and the Nez Perce has caught at my heart for years. The real irony is that without the help of the Nez Perce Lewis and Clark's expedition would have come a cropper. They stumbled out of the Bitter Root mountains more dead than alive. The Nez Perce helped them with food and taught them how to make canoes. They wouldn't have made it to the Pacific coast without their help.

Over a century ago, a Nez Perce leader known to the whites as Chief Joseph gave this reply to representatives from the elected hired help in Washington. President Grant had opened the Wallowa Valley in Oregon to European American settlement. I'm not sure if Joseph said these words when his people were told they had thirty days to gather up their belongings and beloved Apaloosa horses and leave for Lapwai reservation in Idaho.

But, these words go to heart of what was wrong then and what is wrong now. The arrogance that allows some of us to believe that we have the right to dispose of the lives of others. All for their own good, of course.

Perhaps you think the Creator sent you here to dispose of us as you see fit. If I thought you were sent by the Creator, I might be induced to think you had a right to dispose of me. Do not misunderstand me, but understand fully with reference to my affection for the land. I never said the land was mine to do with as I choose. The one who has a right to dispose of it is the one who has created it. I claim a right to live on my land and accord you the privilege to return to yours.

Brother, we have listened to your talk coming from the father in Washington, and my people have called upon me to reply to you. And in the winds which pass through these aged pines we hear the moaning of their departed ghosts. And if the voices of our people could have been heard, that act would never have been done. But alas, though they stood around, they could neither be seen nor heard. Their tears fell like drops of rain. I hear my voice in the depths of the forest, but no answering voice comes back to me. All is silent around me. My words must therefore be few. I can say nomore. He is silent, for he has nothing to answer when the sun goes down.

Chief Joseph

And Joseph spoke these words when his people were finally forced to surrender to troops sent to force them onto the reservattion. They'd spent three months in a fighting retreat in an attempt to find refuge in Canada. They almost made it.

"Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before I have in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead.  It is the young men who say yes or no.  He who led the young men is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death.  My people, some of them have run away to the hills and have no blankets, no food; no one knows where they are -- perhaps freezing to death.  I want to have time to look for my children and see how many I can find.  Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me my chiefs. I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I shall fight no more forever." And with that, Chief Joseph and his people surrendered to the U.S. Cavalry and were taken to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and then to Indian territory in Oklahoma.

Chief Joseph

(Thunder coming up over the land from the water)

Nez Perce Tribe
Born - 1845 in Wallowa Valley in Oregon
Died - September 21,1904 on Colville Reservation in Washington
Buried at Colville Reservation in Nespelim, Washington

He was never allowed to return to his beloved Wallowa Valley. And it is beautiful. A gem in a state that has more than one beautiful valley.

A mini bio of Joseph may be found here.

I'm not sure which birthdate is right. And the spelling of his tribal name is different. What is on the record is that he was born in Oregon, died in Washington, and in between spent no little time in hell, no thanks elected hired help that couldn't be depended on to keep their word from year to the next. One month to the next or even one day to the next.


tenyearnap said...

"The more things change, the more they stay the same."

I visited a tribal museum on an island off Seattle a few months ago and was so blown away by the handmade fishing gear and the boats. We have lost so many Wonders in the name of "progress".

toonguykc said...

But I need to know: when is a "correction" of some sort going to happen??!!  The evil empire can't just keep winning...can it?

(shaking head)

hope5555 said...

"My heart is sick and sad" -- such tragic poetry.  What a wonderful reminder you have written, Jackie.