11/1/2010 3:19 PM
On October 1, when I heard Russell Jim talk about the loss of Celio Falls and his dream that the Dalles Dam might be removed and the Falls reclaimed, I decided to share these thoughts developed during the NEH faculty development grant.
Early in my time at Heritage, I visited the Yakama Nation Museum and learned about the destruction of Celio Falls, a place sacred to the tribes and bands collected together under the Treaty of 1855 with the Yakamas. I came to understand the cultural clash, in which the river conditions for Salmon, essential to the Yakama traditional way of life, were destroyed for electricity, essential to the industrial and farming way of life.
This information was especially personal because my grandfather had been active in the Grange, an organization that lobbied for the Rural Electrification Act. My father had left the life of farming at my grandfather’s suggestion to become an electrical engineer. I came to know that our family way of life and subsequent economic success were part of a pattern of development that devastated the quality of traditional Yakama life. In spite of the Treaty, and Article 3’s “usual and accustomed places” language, the “voice” of the Yakama people was not heard by the dominate culture’s decision makers.
Dams were built over the years on the Columbia River, for irrigation and for electricity. This information was a part of my childhood memory, but it was not until about 1989 that I began to hear the “voice” of the Yakama people and know what these changes meant in the lives of friends who welcomed my family into their community.
Studying Leslie Marmon Silko, Yellow Woman
As we began our studies under the NEH faculty development grant, passages from Silko (1996) began to echo in context of my own sorrow and sense of complicity at the destruction of Celio Falls.
When I read “[t]he landscape sits in the center of Pueblo belief and identity” (p. 43) followed by the passage in which Silko (1996) writes “the Jackpile mine is an open pit that has been blasted out of the many hundreds of acres where the [peach and apricot] orchards and melon patches once grew” (p.44), I connected my childhood memories with my adult understanding that the pattern of the U.S. dominant culture’s “way of being” meant destruction of traditional ways of all Indian peoples including the Yakamas and the Pueblo people.
World War II, like the boarding school movement, contributed to the destruction of traditional harmony with the land. As Silko (1996) said, “the old people” knew the stories that taught the lessons of how to hunt and grow crops within the cycle of rain in a desert environment. Many of “the old people’s” children were losing that knowledge, having “worked for wages.” The destructive influences in New Mexico especially included the mining industry. Much of Yellow Woman documents the inter-relationship between the Pueblo way of life and “all things European.”
Silko’s (1996) writings provide an interesting, poignant contrast which is reflected in the life of students at Heritage University. Our Yakama Nation students, if they are lucky, have “the old people” to learn from. Many, though not all, have the sense of place that Silko talks about. Carol Craig, a frequent speaker for Heritage Core, talks of being “the seventh generation” that the signers of the Treaty of 1855 with the Yakamas were thinking about when they reserved the rights to fish on the N’chi Wana, the Columbia River. Craig talks about the responsibility the Yakama People have to the Salmon, the roots, the berries. Her life is dedicated to preserving and reclaiming lands and resources lost since European contact.
Other students at Heritage are a second, third or fourth generation away from their family’s traditional ways of knowing and sense of place. In Heritage Core, some students choose as their mentor project to begin learning more about their own family history. They begin conversations with parents, grandparents, and sometimes family members with whom there has been little contact. Guest speaker Miguel Puente discusses the importance of self-identity, family, place, and the definition of community during the last twenty-five years in the Yakima Valley. He personally wrestles with how to do the best for his children while honoring his grandparents.
Impact of Silko on Humanities 305
The immediate impact of these reading selections is that Silko’s book, Yellow Woman, has been chosen as one of the new texts for Humanities 305. The course has always addressed the cultures of the Yakima Valley with the goal of promoting more understanding and respect. The Yakama People have always been represented by the study of the Treaty of 1855. With the change in texts, we will more fully and deeply explore the new course themes, “Freedom and Confinement,” in relationship to our Valley’s first peoples and in relationship to all of us who come “more lately.”
1 comment(s) so far...
By Jim Borst on
11/4/2010 9:11 PM
Re: Learning with Heart and Mind
I enjoyed reading your thoughtful and well written reflection. Thank you for your very personal and professional contribution to our learning! Jim