Tcha-Mikiti: Camas-Ville 2015

 

Camas at Bush Park 2013
Camas at Bush Park 2013

Its now a tradition, part of my culture. Perhaps five years ago I began noticing and stopping at the camas fields in Salem. The best camas fields are those at Bush Park and at the State Fairgrounds south parking lots of Sunnyview Rd and 17th.

State Fairgrounds parking lot, 2012, off Sunnyview
State Fairgrounds parking lot, 2012, off Sunnyview

Little did I know but Salem, formerly called Chemeketa (tcha mikiti), was the main village of the Halpam Kalapuya tribe. The people (amim), harvested many camas (ti’p) in this area. This was well known camas place for many years, and tribes would travel from all around to dig camas, and rushes for basketry. The rushes probably came from the very large Lake Labish, by Chemawa Indian school, now drained.

Bush Park has numerous camas fields. First they begin in the parking lot, under the oak trees on the north side. The area is very shaded and full of amazingly rich growth of Camas. There are several white camas there. These are not Death camas but instead a white variety of true camas.

Rare "true" white camas, 2013
Rare “true” white camas, 2013

This camas is in the center isle, between the roadways and along the paths. The next field is near the baseball and tennis courts.

Camas going to seed, 2014
Camas going to seed, 2014

This is a very sunny area, very hot in the summer and the camas are smaller but still very many populate this large area. The last field is behind the track, up the hillside by where everyone has daily picnics.

Inatye camas digging 2014
Inatye camas digging 2014

The camas here are very big, having been helped by people working to remove all of the invasive plants. There are numerous true camas here in a white variant color.

Camas bulb from upper area of Bush Park, 2014
Camas bulb from upper area of Bush Park, 2014, held by Greg Archuleta

The Fairgrounds parking lots are full of camas. The south lot has the most, so many that it looks like a sea of camas. There are walking trails through this area and there is a rare varieties of blue camas with blue streaky petals.

Rare "Blue" camas, State Fairgrounds 2014
Rare “Blue” camas, State Fairgrounds 2014

I have not seen other large areas of camas around Salem. The next fields I notice are on the freeway within the grassy areas. One interesting fact about the flowers, is that they are not a perfect star shape, but one petal is faced in the general direction of the ground, while the other five are tipped upward. I have heard this is a trait to help bees orient themselves when they are visiting the flower for pollen collection.

Detail of the flower star with petal pointed downwards
Detail of the flower star with petal pointed downwards
Details of flower star, with one petal pointed at the ground
Details of flower star, with one petal pointed at the ground

The details of the Camas flower should be noted by artists, as the perfectly equilateral flowers seen in many images of the camas is not always accurate. That’s it for my camas obsession for this year. I leave you with some camas now going to seed at Bush Park. I also began collecting seed this year and have seeded my native garden at home.

2015-05-27 09.42.04

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Freely given: Ethnographic collections and their Informants

Tribal traditions, languages, ethnography are integral to research on the cultures of tribes. These are part the libraries of tribal knowledge that are somewhat preserves and lost over the past 200 or more years. Elders have stated that whenever an elder passes, a library is gone. This is especially true for people how are carriers of tribal traditional knowledge, where they are no others who possess the language or stories of the tribe. This event, or series of events has been happened for hundreds of years, and the colonizing processes that are now taking over all human cultures are expanding. In the 19th and 20th centuries ethnographers following a notion of Salvage Anthropology collected millions of pages of indigenous intellectual knowledge. Ethnographers undertook this work thinking that tribal cultures were disappearing and someday their languages and cultures would not longer exist. This seeming disappearance of tribal culture was happening at the same time as the United States, Canadian, and Australian governments were pursuing aggressive education campaigns, forcing indigenous children into boarding school to assimilate them, by eliminating the languages, and cultures. This forced assimilation continued in the U.S. well into the 1970s.  Then In the U.S. was passed the Dawes Act forcing less-than 1/2 Indian blood people to leave the reservations as they could not get on-reservation allotments. This further eroded the cultural base for many tribes.

Clare Pearson, Nehalem Tillamook Myths
Clara Pearson, Nehalem Tillamook Tales by Elizabeth Jacobs

From the 1940s to the present day, much of the intellectual knowledge recorded from native people in the U.S. has never been returned to the tribes. Tribal people had few scholars and thus limited access to where their ethnographic collections were kept. Much of the studies at the time were about language, but there were many studies of culture in the later years. The tribal cultures continued to erode away, with a loss of populations, or out-migration, and then termination of many tribes in the 1950s. The culmination of so much degradation on tribal culture and knowledge caused many tribes to cease to exist.

Everything began changing int he 1970, indigenous peoples began fighting back. There are many examples of cultural revival that began then, Maori, Hawaiian, some Native American cultures, are the most prominent. There are now additional efforts to bring back tribal knowledge. Some work happening in archives of the United States by local Oregon tribes (Coquelle and allies) in the 1990s has brought back field notes of numerous ethnographers to the tribes. Previously I have written about the SWORP Project and Collection, which is the most prominent effort in the area to return traditional knowledge to the tribes (some chapters and articles about this project  are publicly available). What made the project possible was the way in which the collections of the BAE, now the National Anthropological Archives, are considered to be publicly owned documents. As such they are subject to collection, copying by the public, which made their return to Oregon a fairly simple process. The research and copying was time intensive, but there were few hurdles once the documents were copied. In addition, many people (archivists, directors, scholars) working in the Smithsonian and National Archives were very sympathetic to the tribal issues.

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Melville Jacobs and Informant

Now so with some other collections. The Melville Jacobs Collection at University of Washington for some 30 years was heavily managed by a committee where researchers had to request access, request copy rights and request publication rights. The collection is now open, but for some 30 years, they were some serious hurdles to accessing the collection.

Elizabeth and Melville Jacobs
Elizabeth and Melville Jacobs

The amazing part of this collection is that the tribal people, the informants that spoke with and gave their languages and stories to Melville and Elizabeth Jacobs, gave freely of their knowledge. One informant in particular, Clara Pearson, who was an informant for Elizabeth Jacobs on the Nehalem Tillamook language and culture, was noted by Elizabeth in this way;

“To my Informant Mrs. Clara Pearson, I owe my gratitude for non-suppression of any portion of the material for her generous cooperation, and her distinctively creative effort to reproduce as honestly & fully as possible the literature of her people.”

Similar statements from Melville Jacobs about John B. (Mose) Hudson and Eustace Howard were made. Melville noted that Eustace knew more of the culture of the Santiams, while Mose knew better the languages of the Santiams. Both of these informants worked for years, in the 1920s-1930s with Melville to tell their stories, and to accurately translate them. In fact these tribal informants spent much time traveling to Seattle for weeks at a a time in working on these notes. And while they were likely reimbursed for their time, they were very intent to get the information right, as without them, this work would not have been possible. And if not for this, there would not now be an opportunity for the descendants to learn these stories. I believe that these intelligent leaders in their community knew what they were doing and made a choice to save their knowledge rather than let it pass forever. The question then is save it for what? And the answer is they knew that someday their descendants  would be reading these stories again.

Yet, ironically, these collections of fieldnotes were kept in a limited access collection for so many years at UW. This is the nature of some academic institutions, and such limitations to tribal peoples seeking to recover or restore a working knowledge of their culture is unacceptable. This is how I felt about the collection when I first heard about it some 20 years ago. Now the collection is open and available. I wonder how the limitations to the collection slowed down research on our tribal traditions, and hamstrung our ability to recover faster. Did the management of the collection adhere to the wishes of the informants, this is a key question. There are lots of issues at play here. In tribes stories are owned by the tellers, but once they are told to scholars they seemingly become the property of the scholar or university if the collection is housed there. This seems a poor arrangement for native people. Moving forward, there needs to be free access granted to the subject cultures, and more of a partnership arrangement between the tribes and the universities. This would hopefully correct many of these issues when they arise.

There are additional issues in the collection, interpretation, and authenticity of the fieldnotes wherever they exist, but that is for another time.

Marriage Kinship among the Willamette Valley Tribes

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Chinook woman, daughters, 19th century

Much is still not known about how marriages were arranged among the Kalapuya-Mollala-Clackamas tribes. Hints appear in ethnographic literature that still needs to be tracked down to greater specificity.  Generally, it is known that many marriages were arranged by the tribal chiefs and headmen. These arranged marriages were along political and economic lines of reasoning. It was considered preferable to marry your daughter to the son of a Chief of the Clackamas tribe, so that trade for dried salmon would be assured to include good prices and perhaps added benefits. Such marriages cemented relationships in the region so that they was very little war or conflict as everyone was interrelated. It was normally peoples from outside of your region where such conflict originated.

Molalla Encampment, Late 19th century
Mollala Encampment, Late 19th century

In the tribal triangle of kinships within the Kalapuya-Mollala-Clackamas tribes and bands, there was much bride purchase previous to settlement and the removal of the tribes to reservations in the mid-1850s. Then within the Kalapuya tribes there was much interrelatedness between all of the major tribes and bands, Santiam, Ha’lpam, Wapato Lake, Ahanchuyuk, Marys river, all had interrelationships. There were customs and laws among the tribes of the region regarding marriage. It was correct and lawful to marry outside of one’s tribe. Many of these marriages were arranged through annual trading gatherings, where young men and women would notice one another, have an attraction and would petition for marriage. If the genealogy was right, if they were not closely related, marriage could then move on to negotiations over the bride’s bride purchase price. Women of wealth and power would fetch a large price, many horses, blankets, etc. Once married the women would go to the man’s village to live. that was the way it was in this region. Some of the wealthy Chiefs took more than one wife.

When death of one or the other spouse occurred then other marriages could be arranged from the middle aged eligible partners. there was less of a protocol over marriage in this manner. But still the people would avoid marrying their direct cousins. there would be a feeling of guilt if this would occur, a feeling that something was wrong and bad.

Wishram Bride, E. Curtis 1910
Wishram Bride, E. Curtis 1910

When White men came along, everything changed. Indian people were not adverse to marrying Whites and actually sought it out. Chief Concomley of Clatsop Nation actively sought to marry his sisters and daughters to men of the fur trading companies in order to have favorable relationships in the new fur trade. White men were seen as having great wealth and power and the tribes sought a bit of that by becoming related to them. Many Fur Traders married native women and settled in the region, in French Prairie and along the Columbia River. They took Kalapuyan, and Chinookan wives. then later they and their families removed to the Grand Ronde Reservation. There are examples of some of these White men being adopted into the tribes by the tribal leaders in the 19th century.

Grand Ronde Reservation
Grand Ronde Reservation

Everything changed at the reservation. Consolidated on a reservations, the resulting generations of Indians began marrying together, marrying their direct cousins. This was reinforced by new discriminatory notions that came through the Dawes act, that only people of 1/2 Indian blood or better could have an allotment. In this manner many people today have several bloodlines of interrelatedness and many five or more tribal ancestries. This enforced bloodedness was made possible by the subjugation of the tribal people on the reservation, with aspects of a prison; and the fact that they did not have the freedom to leave, which forced a closer interrelatedness. This was noted in the 1920s by Eustace Howard to Melville Jacobs when contributing to the oral history ethnographic and linguistic  research.

That’s very awful, bad, when they do that (i.e. make a relative one’s wife). Now these whites now when they got here now, since that time now, these people (Indian people) some they do get their relatives and make them their wives. That’s the way now it is in this land. Long ago however it wasn’t that way. Now it is different changed now, the earth.

This change in the way people are conceived of as Indian and Native changed the worldview of generations of tribal people through the Dawes act and enforced living on the reservation. Afterwards tribes began to believe in a concept of blood quantum as a real, true, representation of Indianness. This belief system is still in place today.

1840s Methodist Mission, O.T.
1840s Methodist Mission, O.T.

Observations of John Minto, Salem, Oregon 1874

The following is an annotation to accompany John Minto’s 1874 editorial in the Willamette Farmer newspaper. Minto, a notable settler in Salem participated in many aspects of early Oregon society;  in the formation of the government and in the blazing of various trail systems in the area. Minto was an expert on sheep, was on the board for the early Oregon Agricultural Association, and later he took over as the prison warden  in Salem after his brother died. There are some writings by him in various magazines, newspapers and journals, and he was a notable writer of early Oregon history.

The tribes mentioned, the Kalapuya, Klamath and Molalla are all Oregon tribes. The location of Salem is a central location for the village of Chimikiti (Chemeketa) a band of the larger Santiam tribe. The tribal bands had their own autonomy in their region and owned their lands, and would join with the neighboring tribes to form kinship relations, trade and find support for security from invading tribes. The Molalla lived in the foothill of the Cascades and throughout the Cascade Range in Oregon. The tribe mentioned lived in Dickey Prairie just outside of what is now Molalla Oregon. The Klamath people were from the Klamath Basin at the headwaters of the Klamath river of southern Oregon. They were also in into the arid flatlands of the basin where the Klamath river and tributaries meandered southwesterly to the Pacific Ocean. The Klamath were one of the last tribes to be removed to a reservation in Oregon.

The native religions mentioned, Indian Shaker and Warm House, were newly found religions which began in the era of this editorial. they were mixtures of native and non-native religions translated for a reservation society of native people. Warm House and Indian Shaker missionaries and ministers did travel the region as the religions spread from their origin in Washington State. They spread to Klamath, then into northern California, and then up the Coast to Siletz and Grand Ronde. Indian Shakerism did not take hold in Grand Ronde, but Warm House did, for a time, until it was discouraged by the Indian agents. Parties to the religion went underground and practiced in various households, until it disappears with termination in the 1950s. Its is unclear whether this is an early example of the spread of one of these new religions or this is a traditional ceremony, and may represent both styles in practice.

Worship in the Ancient Form, John Minto November 6, 1874, Willamette Farmer

By the merest accident I was riding past the railroad depot at Salem in the evening of Oct. 11th and noticed many Indians coming from their camping grounds east of the depot.

Minto describes these people as Salem Indians later, and mentions George as the last of the Chemeketas, from this last statement there appears to be a camping ground somewhere to the east of the fairgrounds. It is unknown whether this is a permanent encampment, or one established for fairgoers. But we know that there were a few Salem Indians that lived around Salem for several more decades as well. Some of these people lived also at the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation and visited Salem regularly.

At first I thought it might be that one of their numbers had died, but observation soon dispelled that idea and my curiosity was aroused to learn what was going on. Men, women and children were coming from various directions; falling into line they took a course from the city, at a slow pace and in perfect silence. Riding up to the rear of the procession I asked an Indian man of my acquaintance what was going on? He said in a low voice that he did not quite understand; strange people had come among them. I pressed forward and asked another who was carrying a bucket of water, who said he did not know but “may-be it would be like a campmeeting.”

Indian agricultural pickers, 19th century
Indian agricultural pickers, 19th century

The tribal leaders would know and people would gather when they heard something was going on. Campmeeting might be the term for a trade meeting where two or more tribes got together to trade, tell stories and affirm relationships. There were many of these meetings well into the 20th century organized by men like Polk Scott. Interesting that Minto knew that it was something important and knew to be respectful.

Reaching the head of the column, composed of the older men, I put the same question to another Indian to receive another indefinite answer, all speaking in the same subdued tone. Being assured that there was no objections to my seeing what they would do, I accompanied them by a narrow path, into a thicket, where the concourse entered single file. The path led past two tents, into an open circular space that had been cleared for the occasion.

We can assume this was near the fairgrounds. There are photos of gatherings of natives in an oak savannah at the state fair. The fair was a constant draw for the tribes, in other accounts they would attend every year. This is perhaps a replacement event for the campmeeting. The oak savannah still exists at the fair, unused for several years, it looks like a park. The location would have been perfect for a gathering of over 100 natives, there is a cleared area in the center of the stand.

Oak Savannah at the Oregon State Fairgrounds 2015, likely location of a gather like this over 100 years ago.
Oak Savannah at the Oregon State Fairgrounds 2015, likely location of a gathering like this over 100 years ago.

The men and boys ranging themselves around the South side, the women on the North, seating themselves, and the men and boys reverently uncovering their heads, excepting three or four young hoodlums who kept outside and occasionally made jeering remarks in an undertone, because as I afterwards learned, they did not believe in the rites about to be practiced.

This presents aspects of the assimilation occurring for the tribes. Some people are no longer learning the old ways and so make fun of them, not understanding their importance. The arrangement of men and women is important, same arrangement in the plankhouses, separation of men and women for some ceremonies.

Chief Quinaby (Standing), Chemeketa indian who lived at Grand Ronde and came into Salem periodically.
Chief Quinaby (Standing), Chemeketa Native who lived at Grand Ronde and came into Salem periodically.

I became satisfied that I was about to witness devotional exercises in the Old Indian form of worship. I questioned George, the last man of the Chemeketas, who once owned the site of Salem, and he assured me that my presence was not offensive.

This again is significant that they accepted Minto. Startling today, but I am wondering if white men were more accepted back then, if they were respectful. Minto was a known entity, having been among the tribes in the valley for perhaps 30+ years at this point. George is an interesting figure who deserves more research. Is this another name for the other known Indian around Salem? And it is mentioned that he originally owned the site of Salem, so is he old enough to have been party to the treaties, and so then appear on the Willamette Valley Treaty? George is obviously Minto’s friend.

John Minto
John Minto

The inner circle was complete and a second had formed outside of it, when a middle aged man of robust form and strongly marked features passed out of a tent nearby, bearing blankets that he spread down on the west side of the circle, inside, returning to come again with another man and two women. These women were painted with white marks down each cheek, edged with stripes of red. The man first mentioned had some red on his face, but, but the second had no paint, and his countenance, strong in its outlines, was sedate even to melancholy. Moving deliberately and without a word spoken, he shook hands with every adult person in the circle before seating himself on the blankets.
He was evidently the priest, preacher or teacher. He asked Jo Hutchins, head man of the North Santiams, to take a seat inside the circle. Joe’s wife, of the chieftain line of the Molallas, and the last of that line, was seated on the left of her husband and the strangers, at the head of the female portion of the assemblage.

Chief Alquema/Joseph Hutchins
Chief Alquema/Joseph Hutchins

Respected positions for Hutchins/ Alquema and his wife. Jo’s wife was daughter of Chief Coastno (Coosta) of the Molallas. She seems powerful and important for the tribes in this account, perhaps more so than Jo. The notion of North Santiams, assumes a South Santiam band as well. The man band was known to inhabit the area around Scio, Oregon.

The exercises commenced by the strangers lighting the calumet and passing it amongst the men. Then the priest commenced a series of questions in the Klamath language which were answered by Mrs. Jo. Hutchins in the Chinook Jargon. My knowledge of the Chinook wa-wa has grown rusty by disuse, but I have since learned that I was right in my idea of the questions and answers.

Minto would have known the language quite well, and interesting that he calls it Chinook wawa, a term newly adopted by the tribe but existing for some time. It seems interesting too that in this account they use three languages, Chinook wawa, Kalapuya and Klamath, and all the Indians seem to understand.

One question was: “Do you remember when all this country belonged to your people?” The answer was in the affirmative. “Do you remember when your people were many in numbers; when you had many young men and many old men?” Do you remember when many of your people died? Did your heart sorrow for the death of your people? These questions evidently had allusion to the terrible “cold sick” that swept such numbers of the Indian off.

Speaking to an audience that were old enough to have remembered the sickness, implies people over 30 years old, perhaps more like in their forties. The main epidemics began in 1829 and continued until about 1850. These people lived during the time of the death of many people through a massive decline, and then went to the reservation.

Indian Fishing At Willamette Falls 1841, Drayton woodcut.
Indian Fishing At Willamette Falls 1841, Drayton woodcut.

In former conversations George has told me that when a boy he was at the falls of the Willamette during the prevalence of the cold sickness; that the sick were so numerous that many would jump from the sweat houses into the river, die in the water and float away down stream, no attempt being made to take them out for burial. It scarcely needed my knowledge of Chinook to understand the nature of the reply so full of pathos was tone of the answer. She spoke in particular of the death of a little boy as making her heart very sad.

This story of death at the falls is important, and give a character and dimension to the epidemics. Populations went from hundreds to dozens in a short period of time. This could account for the lack of burials in the vicinity of the falls too.

Being asked some questions about the sale of their lands by her people, she expressed an enduring love for her native land and an abiding sorrow that it had been parted with, by expressed herself free from malice or hate on that account. She was submissive but sorrowful. These questions seemed intended to revive the love of country, people and former condition in the hearts of the audience, and so make the coming form of worship more effective and impressive.

A recitation of the trauma, a way to come to terms with the fact that it occurred and find ways to heal. Yes traumatic, but we need to heal and move on, not hold hate. That is a trap that many cannot get out of. The love of the land is more important that the hate for what occurred.

The stranger then commenced a recital of traditional history, which was interpreted by the woman to her own people in her language (not the Chinook) and for nearly two hours he talked to them in that manner, then the pipe was again lit and passed around.
The other stranger now took the lead commencing a song in which the Indians all joined, the two stranger women placing themselves behind the two men. Eight pieces were thus sung, each in a different measure.

Eight songs is important, ceremonial. Does this relate to Warm House or Indian Shakerism?

Time was kept by striking hands; some of the women swayed the body in unison with the music. Then a stranger delivered a short exhortation and was followed by Jo Hutchin’s in a similar strain and at greater length. The company up to this time had been seated, except one whose duty it was to feed the fire in the circle. They now arose to their feet, the drum was struck at intervals of about a minute, the people uttering a low sound after each stroke. After some time so spent, some of the Salem Indians commenced to sing, the women beat time, and the circle joined hands and swayed first to the right and then to the left, first partially and then entirely around the circle and back again. When the dance commenced many of the women adorned themselves with head dresses of painted features and some of the eldest entered into the spirit of the exercises with great enthusiasm, as if animated by recollection of other days. They preserved through all a solemnity of demeanor equaling that of Christians at their devotions. About one hundred persons participated and the exercises continued for about five hours, all was conducted “decently and in order” without indecorous act or sign of impatience.

The style of the songs is very traditional, with the striking of hands, stamping of feet and stamping of a pole if no drum was available. Minto has to say this to dispel the characterization of the tribes as being wild and savage. He talks about the event as if he respects it as much as any other ceremony.

This was the first of a series of seven meetings held here by those people during the week of the State Fair, during which time these two men of the Klamath tribe, propagandists if the ancient Indian form of worship (as I have since learned from Jo. Hutchins, they were) did their best.

Again mention of the Klamath, and their form of worship, may very well be missionaries of the Indian shakers or even Warm House.

I have no doubt to convince their bearers that God’s revelations to man were not all made through books, as the white man believes, but that in times past the Great Spirit made himself manifest to Old men of their race by natural objects and by dreams, when they saw “Tawanamas,” which I understand to mean spirits or angels. John Minto

Minto seems personally open to what the natives believe as a legitimate form of worship. He does not degrade it, but suggests that its reverence is on par with Christianity. He even equates some of the spiritual beings of the region with similar aspects in Christianity. This sort of comparison is out of place for this time, as normally this would be called savage heathen rituals or something similar. He was pretty far advanced in understanding other cultures and peoples.

The depth and description of this account is ahead of its time. Minto was obviously very intelligent and was practicing participant observation, well before the term was created by anthropologists. in fact anthropology as a science was not formed at this time as many scholars and research collected information they were interested in, mostly language. The earliest studies at the Grand Ronde reservation at about 1877 by Albert Gatschet, so Minto was well ahead of the scholars.

The ceremony represents a significant event for the tribes. I feel this is a way the tribes had traditionally to confront, heal and come to terms with death and devastation that they all lived through. There are similar ceremonies today for some tribes.

Special thanks to the Historic Oregon Newspaper Project for making many of the early Oregon newspapers available free online.

100,000 Native Foresters Made the World in Oregon

De Girardin in 1840s at Willamette Falls, with Native Longhouse in foreground
Woodcut by De Girardin in the 1840s, looking at Willamette Falls, with Native Longhouse in foreground

One hundred and sixty years ago, before native people were taken to reservations in Oregon, there were hundreds of native communities in all areas of Oregon. They were the remnants of an estimated 100,000 native people in Oregon before epidemics caused the collapse of the tribal cultures. In the year 1800, there were many hundreds more native communities scattered throughout the land. These communities disappeared under epidemics and the weight of colonization by American settlers. By 1850, there were dramatically fewer native communities with most communities the surviving remnant people from the epidemics. They condensed together for safety and security with many tribes disappearing as distinct entities. Less and less native people were allowed to fire their lands.

Jesse Applegate wrote this about his childhood memories of the settlement in the small community of Salt Creek (roughly 1844), which is about three miles north of where the city of Dallas, Polk County, is now.

“… the native population in our neighborhood was a tribe of the Kalapooya and near and far, even to the sea, were the Tillamook, Tawalatin, Chemeketa, and Luckyuke, all appearing to be one tribe and speaking the same language. … their language was remarkably smooth and musical. It was a custom of these Indians, late in the autumn, after the wild wheat was fairly ripe, to burn off the whole country. The grass would burn away and leave the pods well dried and bursting. Then the squaws, both young and old, would go with their baskets and bats and gather the grain.

It is probably we did not yet know that the Indians were wont to baptize the entire country with fire at the close of every summer; but very soon the fire was started somewhere on the south Yamhill, and came sweeping up through the Salt Creek gap. The sea breeze being quite strong that evening caused the flames to leap over the creek and come down upon us like an army with banners. All our skill and perseverance were required to save our camp. The flames swept by on either side of the grove; then quickly closing ranks, made a clean sweep of all the country south and east of us. As the shades of night deepened, long lines of flame and smoke could be seen retreating before the breeze across the hills and valleys. The Indians continued to burn the grass every season until the country was somewhat settled up and the whites prevented them; but every fall for a number of years, we were treated to the same grand display of fireworks. On dark nights sheets of flame, tongues of fire, and lurid clouds of smoke made the picture both awful and sublime.” (Applegate, Jesse, Recollections of my  Boyhood: 134-135)

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Native people managed their landscapes with fire and with harvesting of specific plants. Then would set fire to their lands, the prairies and even forests, every few years in an attempt to keep the underbrush down. In the process, they managed insects, diseases, and revived the the landscape with new growth. The fires would burn off the extra built up dead material (duff) left from the past year’s seasonal plant cycles. The constant practice of fire management also annually deposited nutrients in the soil, created the amazingly rich agricultural lands of the Willamette valley, built up on glacially deposited soils from eastern Washington. Fire management happened in every region where native peoples had a stake in harvesting the forest, where that needed to walk the trail systems, and where they needed to eliminate underbrush. That means that there were upwards of 100,000 foresters in Oregon alone. In short, the system of fire management practiced by native societies was the largest group of foresters the world has ever seen.

Upper Table Rock
Upper Table Rock

In the last century and a half, the people of the northwest largely have arrogantly assumed that someone else will take care of the management of the forests. Few people are invested in understanding the need to manage the forests, and who are compelled to work toward that purpose. Perhaps a few hundred people actively work in this arena as managers of their forests. We spend more efforts to stop fires in the summer, since so many communities and people live now in and amongst the forests. They now live within literal tinderboxes and trust to fate every day for the survival of their living spaces.

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Dry trail and forest on Upper Table Rock, southern Oregon

 

Today, we have federal, state, tribal and private systems of managing the colonized landscape. The Federal and State systems, built up over the past 120 odd years, have steadily decreased in recent years. Their early theory about the land, to stop forest fires, have caused now generations of massive forest fires, larger than ever seen in pre-United States times. For the past 20 years the forestry authorities have realized their mistake, and begun making changes, begun incorporating let it burn policies with forest fires that are naturally set. and in some places, they are now practicing intentional fires.

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Portion of Albrecht Painting showing colonized landscape.

The Human world needs fire management, especially if we are going to live amongst the forests as our playgrounds and living spaces. Perhaps it is time that local communities are allowed to again manage their landscapes, since it is clear that federal authorities are increasingly unable to do so. (from recent funding models) We need communities where the people are invested in the world around them, where they are empowered as forest managers, and have a responsibility to learn how to manage their landscape and where to build and where to live. We need tribes to again be allowed to practice their traditions. We need some new thinking as to how to manage our cultural world.

Camas Field , Salem
Camas Field , Salem
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