Sunday, January 03, 2016


Yesterday's Chinook

The government is dithering over whether the Chinook is a tribe or not.  It’s a legal category with money implications.  One day they are and another day they are not.  Sometimes they are an umbrella called “Chinookian” and another day they are a trader’s language and not a tribal language.  One day they’re seen as coastal and the next they’re called plateau.  Some say the problem is competition from the Quinault tribe, others say this is not true.

My fourth grade teacher, Miss Colbert (b. 1890), had no doubts.  In 1949 in Portland, OR, everyone knew that she was Chinook and that it was an honor.  She had written a book called “Kutkos, Chinook Tyee,” which won prizes.  In the Nineties the Multnomah County library had one copy left and you could read it, but you had to sit next to the librarian so she could watch you.  I finally found a copy in a bookstore in Ireland — online: I didn’t go there.  Someone pointed out that she wasn’t a full-blood since her father was a Norwegian seaman.  No one would have dared say that to her face when she was living.  The woman carries the culture.  Her house near the mouth of the Columbia is an historical site.

Colbert House in Ilwaco, WA

In Portland she lived with a brother and at least one sister, not that far from Vernon Grade School.  The brother got into trouble in the way that minority men do, and in the next few years after I was in her class, she was suffering while trying to help him.  I remember her crying which was shocking.  The other teachers didn’t quite know what to do though they wished her well.  The school district was proud of her.

Also, while I was at Vernon in the mid-Fifties, there were a brother and sister, Victor and Norma Owens, who were in my classes.  Norma was also in the 4-H sewing class my mother taught.  I thought they were Cherokee.  They lived in an apartment over the stores on Alberta.  They didn’t stay long and my mother was exasperated that Norma was so erratic in attending.  

When my mother was a young woman in Roseburg, OR, they used to have a strawberry festival every spring and the female students were each put in charge of a table from which strawberries and cream were served.  The hostess of the table that attracted the most customers was crowned the Strawberry Queen.  My mother’s proud memory was that the chief of the local tribe came to her table, a great honor.

What I’m trying to demonstrate is that in my life it has not been reservations that defined Indians.  Indians were part of life, in neighborhoods and schools.  But it was not easy and sometimes took a couple of generations of being uncomfortable, not fitting, wondering what a person was supposed to do, before things could be habits, taken for granted.

Coyote and Ed Edmo

A more recent example might be Ed Edmo, a teddy bear of a poet whose childhood was erased when they built the Columbia Highway on the Oregon side right through the location of his former bedroom.  When I knew him, it was because his white wife, their child, and he were members of the Rose City Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.  The marriage was highly negotiated: they had a formal protocol for what to do when he could not resist a drinking binge and how he could come back.  He could be quite fierce, but his wife was likewise.

Here’s a YouTube of him talking about a figure on the high Washington bank of the Columbia near Kennewick that was a kind of icon of ministry for me at that time.   It had nothing to do with Blackfeet.   And that’s another point:  no two tribes are alike and the people in each tribe are individual in various ways.

Dr. John McLoughlin

Marguerite McKay McLoughlin

In Oregon one of the key figures of the early days was Doctor John McLoughlin who was called “The White-Headed Eagle.”  He was originally  Jean-Baptiste, Quebecois and one-quarter Irish, married to an Indian woman named McKay.  In the early days the factors of the trading posts were accustomed to forming relationships with indigenous women “in the fashion of the country.”  When it came time to end the man’s career, the choices were rigid: the woman was not likely to enjoy Scots life or be welcomed there, but without her husband’s livelihood she would suffer, there were children who were mixed and showed it to various degrees — but the women could often find a new HBCo. man.  By then she would have skills and connections of great benefit to him.

Dr. McLoughlin was a man of wisdom and determination, the Oregon version of George Washington.  Though employed by the Hudson’s Bay Co. in the then territory belonging to England, he saw the future as American.  He married his wife formally in church, Anglican in early life, later Catholic.  Efficiently, Mrs. McLoughlin, a wide-waisted woman, managed his large house — preserved for history in Oregon City — with all its civilized characteristics, and produced children.  

McLoughlin House

McLoughlin had one son educated to be a doctor, like himself.  The young man was the personal physician of the King of France and lived a European life until his rather modern “middle-aged crisis,” at which point he came back to Oregon, burned his European clothes, built a cabin and lived an indigenous life.   Another son of Dr. McLoughlin’s, John McLoughlin, Jr. was murdered by a clerk in the post he was managing.  The whole McLoughlin story is amazing, but usually much of it gets dropped out in order the satisfy the notion of tribes as little fenced boxes.

Thomas McKay

WIKI:  McLoughlin’s step-son, Thomas McKay (1796–1849) was an Anglo-Métis Canadian Fur trader who worked mainly in the Pacific Northwest for the Pacific Fur Company (PFC), the North West Company (NWC), and the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC). His father was the fur trader Alexander MacKay. His mother, from a marriage 'à la façon du pays' (in the style of the country), was a Métis woman named Marguerite Wadin, the daughter of a Cree woman and Jean Etienne Wadin, a Swiss fur trader. Marguerite later became the wife of Dr. McLoughlin.  He accepted and protected her son.

Thomas McKay had at least three wives during his life. His first wife was Timmee T'Ikul Tchinouk a Chinook woman, daughter of Chief Concomly and they were married sometime before 1824 in the Oregon Territory. Their children were: Joseph McKay, Margaret McKay, William Cameron McKay, John T. McKay and Alexander McKay.  The McKay family is large and respected on the Blackfeet reservation but I don’t know the original genealogy or if there is any connection.

McKay's second wife was She-Who-Rides-Like-The-Wind, a Umatilla.  They were married about 1834 in the Oregon Territory. Their child was Donald McKay.

At Fort Vancouver in 1838 or December 31, 1839, he married his third wife, Isabelle Montour, daughter of Nicholas Montour, Jr. and Susanne Humpherville. Their children were: Maria McKay and Thomas McKay.  They had six sons and two daughters altogether.

Janet Campbell Hale

A granddaughter or great-granddaughter of Dr. John McLoughlin is Janet Campbell Hale (b.1947) whose father was a full-blood Coeur d’Alene.  Born in Riverside, CA, she grew up on the Coeur d’Alene and Yakima reservations and then pursued a California grad school education.  Her memoir “Bloodlines” is explicit and vivid in exploring what it means to be gifted but dark, descended from major figures but discounted because of being female.  Her own family, aspiring to be white, resented her darkness.  Ironically, her celebration now is due to identifying her as Native American.

Over the years I’ve heard many educated people remark casually, esp. around the time a Montana law was passed requiring Indian history to be taught in the schools, that they didn’t see why they had to study “their” history.  This is a major error because “they” are “us,” NOT OTHER.  A policy of inclusion needs to break open our laws, our boundaries, and our assumptions.  We need the intelligence, the resourcefulness, the willingness of our whole selves and whole mixed peoples.  And yet justice demands respect for uniqueness and bloodlines.

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