In this episode we talk with novelist and scholar David Treuer, author of The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee, Rez Life, and many other books, about land, possession, and his recent article in The Atlantic, “Return the National Parks to the Tribes.” We’ll also hear from Christine Dupres, Portland author, therapist, and member of the Cowlitz tribe, reading from her 2016 essay “Between Ribbon and Root.”
David Treuer's article "Return the National Parks to the Tribes" was published in the April 2021 issue of The Atlantic. Treuer's books include the nonfiction works The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present and Rez Life and the novels Providence, The Translation of Dr. Apelles, The Hiawatha, and Little. Recordings of our full program with Treuer are available on Soundcloud and YouTube.
Christine Dupres is an author, therapist, and member of the Cowlitz tribe. Her essay “Between Ribbon and Root” was published in Oregon Humanities magazine in 2016. Her essays "Seen Though Not Heard" and "Earth on Fire" also appeared in the magazine. Her book, Being Cowlitz, is available from University of Washington Press.
Historian David Lewis writes at ndnhistoryresearch.com.
Other writing and programs on land and possession from Oregon Humanities:
- Consider This on the Klamath Basin with Russell Attebery, Mark Bransom, Don Gentry, Becky Hyde, and Joe James: audio | video
- "Cekpa" by Leah Altman - Reflections on revolutionary decolonization, ownership, and power
- "Reciprocity of Tradition" by Joe Whittle - Native Americans of the Columbia Plateau use traditional practices to strengthen their communities and preserve their union with the land.
David Treuer: We live in a time of historical reconsideration, as more and more people recognize that the sins of the past still haunt the present. For Native Americans, there can be no better remedy for the theft of land than land. And for us, no lands are as spiritually significant as the national parks. They should be returned to us. Indians should tend and—protect and preserve—these favored gardens again.
Adam Davis: Welcome to The Detour, a show about people and ideas from Oregon Humanities. I'm Adam Davis. Today on the show, we're exploring ideas of land and possession.
This episode is inspired by a conversation we had with David Treuer in April 2021. David is an Ojibwe Indian from Leech Lake Reservation in Northern Minnesota, professor of English at the University of Southern California, and best-selling author of The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee. We invited David to be part of our Consider This series after he wrote the article you just heard from. At the end of the show, you'll hear from Christine Dupres, a writer, teacher, and member of the Cowlitz tribe. Thanks for being here.
David, it was the cover article in The Atlantic that inspired us to reach out to you— the cover article about returning the national parks to Native American tribes. There's a very potent sentence in the piece about the West beginning in war—the American west started in war and ends in parks. Maybe I can just stay there for a minute and ask about that. Cause it's a short, really powerful, here's the story. Here's how the American west starts—war—and look at what it is now: parks. So I guess I want to ask about that juxtaposition and then how that move leads to the suggestion that you make in the piece.
David Treuer: Yeah, I mean, Black Elk hadn't even more pithy way of putting it in, I don't know if it was in Black Elk Speaks or in an interview he gave, but he's like, yeah, the White men, you know, came to the, our homelands, and they made little boxes to put all the four-legged creatures in—those are national parks—and made other separate boxes to put the Indians in. And those are reservations. And what's interesting is that the park process, starting with Yellowstone in the early 1870s, exactly paralleled the reservation process. You know, parks were starting to be made right when treaty making was ending in the 1870s. And now in the period of time from the 1870s to the present moment over roughly 90 million acres were transferred into parks and national parks and national monuments and historic sites. The same exact time period, from the 1870s to the present, tribes around the country, lost an identical amount of land: around 87 million acres transferred out of native control and into White control through various urban programs and policies like allotment and things like termination.
Adam Davis: A quick note about these terms with the help of David Lewis, a researcher, scholar, educator, and member of the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde.
Allotment was a top-down assimilation policy developed by Non-native lawmakers under the guise of helping the tribes develop farming practices, despite tribes already having sufficient food sourcing methods. Under the act, each family received 160 acres of tribal land. Land that was left over was sold to non-Native settlers. When allotment began in 1887, the total land held by tribes on reservations was 138 million acres. By the end of allotment in 1934, it was only 48 million.
Termination refers to a set of colonial style policies between 1945 and 1960 that eliminated federal management of Native Americans. The reasons were many: lawmakers viewed assimilation as progress, so they forced Native Americans into large urban areas. Tribal reservations contained some of the last untouched land to the West, with valuable resources like timber and clean water resources and underwater mineral deposits. The Klamath tribe was one of the earliest to be terminated and removed from their reservation due to the natural resources. During termination Congress terminated more than 100 tribes and small bands. Eleven and a half thousand Native Americans lost their legal status, and nearly 1.4 million acres of trust land was stolen by the federal government. No terminated tribes improved economically, and poverty increased. Since the end of termination, seventy-eight of the 113 terminated tribes have been recognized again by the US government. Twenty-four of these tribes are now considered extinct. Ten have state recognition, but not federal recognition, and thirty-one are landless.
David Treuer: When I was seventeen, I was leaving home to go to college. You know, I swore up and down, um, I'm getting the hell out of here and I'm never coming back. I'm getting out of the reservation. I'm getting out of the town of Bemidji, where I went to high school, getting out of the North. I'm out. And within months, not weeks, I yearned for it. And I, I yearned for sort of the only place that really made sense to me. And I mean that in terms of landscape, but also in terms of kinship and culture. In California, I don't feel like I have any relationship with the land. As much time as I spend camping and hiking as out in the desert, you know, maybe at Joshua Tree with my kids, and with people from there, I don't feel like the land recognizes me, and I certainly don't recognize it. And it feels almost like an antagonistic relationship that I have with that landscape, like it could care less about me. It couldn't care less. Whereas here, I feel like there is a relationship and I feel it feels reciprocal. I care about this place, and I feel like it also, in its own way, cares about me.
But it's funny, like, just look at a personal anecdote, you know, family story. Like when I was a kid, my mom was very successful. My mom was Native, but dad's not. And my mom came from very humble origins to become an attorney. She grew up in a two room shack in the village of Bena, tiny village of 140 people, which is mostly my family, on the Leech Lake Reservation. It had electricity, but they didn't have running water. She had to walk to the well down the hill, pumped the water, carry it back, they heated up on a woodstove. Um, she grew up hard in ways that I can't possibly understand because I didn't grow up that hard. She went on to become an attorney and, uh, the first Native American woman judge in the county.
Um, she was really impressive, but when we were kids, we were forced—and I'm not using that word carelessly—we were forced. In the fall I was forced to harvest wild rice. And then later in the fall I was forced to hunt. And then in the spring, I was forced to tap maple trees and make maple sugar and syrup. In the summer I was forced to pick berries. And I say forced because I hated all that crap when I was a kid. Hated it. And my mom, like a lot of people do those things and they do them because they have to, because wild rice crop is a staple food source, and people are so poor. Like they rely on the wild rice to survive and they hunt because meat is expensive and they can't afford it. And so they hunt to fill their freezers, you know, same with Barry's. Maple syrup is a little more niche, I suppose.
But so when I was done with all that, and I was like out of college and I was desperate to come back, so I could be here for ricing season, so I could be here for hunting seasons, so I could be here for sugaring down. Not so much picking berries, I never really learned to like that very much. I would, I would, I yearned to do these things with my brothers and my sister and my cousins and extended family. And I asked her, I'm like, why did you make us do this stuff when I was a kid? You didn't have to, you could buy rice, you can afford meat. You know, she's like, well, I wanted to make sure that you knew how to survive the way that we'd always survived. And if you know, the world went to hell out there, and if you failed out there, you could at least come home and you could feed yourself, clothe yourself. You know, you'd be OK. And I was like, I mean, she was deep gaming the whole thing, you know.
Adam Davis: But it's interesting. I wondered if she was going to go in a different direction as you laid that story out. I wondered if you were going to, if you were going to say that she had an argument about connection to each other, or culture, but the argument was survival.
David Treuer: Not really, that wasn't it. I mean, those things happens. Without being raised that way, I wouldn't have the connection I have. I wouldn't have that sense of reciprocity with the place that I'm from. You know, we were unfortunate as Ojibwe people in lots of ways. The treaty process, the process of colonization hurt us in many ways. The allotment policy that started in the 1890s or late 1880s rather, boarding schools, all of that stuff that happened to a lot of other tribes happened to us too. We were really fortunate compared to some other tribes who were displaced or relocated. For example, There are communities on the three largest, most important life-sustaining lakes in the state on Mille Lacs, Red Lake—or four—Leech Lake, and Lake Superior. You know, we, we were able to remain in our homelands. And so we had access to the fish that sustained us, wild rice, and things like that. So it's with that in mind that I approach this piece about national parks.
Not all tribes were that lucky when they created Yellowstone, Shoshone-Bannock, Crow and other tribes from that region were, were promised that they could still exercise their treaty rights. They could still travel through, hunt, gather, et cetera in the park. Those promises, those assurances, uh, were quickly forgotten, and Natives were barred from entering park lands. You know, ditto for the Blackfeet and subsequent creation of Glacier National Park in the early 20th century. And this story was repeated throughout Miwok people and other tribes in Yosemite Valley were punted out of the valley-- some remained, but very few. And those tribes suffered immeasurably and in different ways than we did, because they didn't have access and they didn't have the land to keep practicing both the things that sustained them calorically, but also that sustained them culturally.
Adam Davis: I want to ask about the claim to land. I don't know if the right word is recognition, belonging, ownership-- based on prior habitation. That, that, that argument seems like it can go-- like, it's an argument that appeals strongly to me when I hear you make it. And from some groups, that argument feels really right. And from other groups, that argument scares me.
David Treuer: Yeah. Oh yeah. I can see that. But you can reframe it right? And deserve the morality of it, which is that, you know, that which was stolen should be returned.
Right? Your kid boosts at 25-cent pack of gum from the, from the store. What do we, as parents do? We're like, "Kid, not cool. You got to go back. You got to give it back. You got to apologize. For instance, I got--On Leech Lake, we suffered-- so, for those of you, the viewers who don't know, the federal government had this genius idea of, "How are we going to help the Indian?" Well, you know, the way to make an Indian civilized is to teach them to be civilized. The main way you do that is by owning things. So instead of, instead of the land within the reservation boundaries, you know, being held in common by the tribe, that's backwards and savage and stupid. It's holding-- reservations are holding Indians back. What you really need to do is give Native people the chance to own a plot of land and to work it. So that was the allotment policy.
So on my reservation, which is roughly 40 by 40 square miles, 40 miles by 40 miles, so it's more than that. They allotted individual parcels-- I can't remember if it was, I think it was 80 acres or maybe sometimes 120, to every head of household. And then, once that was done, they're like what to do with the surplus land? 'Cause there was more land than there were people to give it to, you know? Okay, well then we'll just open that up to the White people. They can buy it and they can live there. They can homestead it. So the result of this policy, which we didn't like in which we were coerced into agreeing with, in which we were sort of, at a moment of incredible political weakness, forced into-- 10 percent of the land within the boundaries of my reservation is owned by the tribe and owned by Native people. Ten percent. So when I moved to California, I'm like, I'm not moving to California unless I got a foot back on the rez, so I bought a little house at the end of this dirt road on a lake, right? Like two, three miles from where I grew up and I really love. When I was getting my mortgage, like a good American, you know, they had to do title research. That bit of land moved from Native control to a White owner in about 1903, right. During allotment, right. And I was the first Indian to own it in a hundred years.
Adam Davis: And this occurred on many reservations.
David Treuer: It's true. Most reservations. There's only some notable exceptions like Navajo Nation, Red Lake, some others that, that successfully fought allotment, and the land is held in common. Very few reservations that were successful like those ones were in in fighting, and some others were too. Other reservations were completely terminated in Oregon and Wisconsin.
Like, "here first" can, can get a sinister anti-immigrant kind of flavor. Absolutely. I mean, I hear what you're saying. So there's other ways to think about it and that might make it palatable and less, less sort of frisky.
Adam Davis: Yeah. Well, yeah. I mean, that's what I, I like that word frisky in this instance. Um, I, I th I actually think title to land is complicated.
David Treuer: Yeah.
Adam Davis: It's hard to make it simple, and that's really what I think I'm trying to ask about, is what should claim to land be based on? And what should the status of that claim be? Does it mean ownership or does it mean something else?
David Treuer: Right. I mean, even if, even if The United States only at, at the minimum, honored its treaty commitments to the tribes it's signed treaties with, if it only did that much, that would be huge. For, for example, if the Lakota were once again, the possessors of only the land that was remained unceded at the 1868 treaty of Fort Laramie, it would mean that they own the Eastern or sorry, the Western third of South Dakota and some parts of North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. All of those lands were illegally taken from the Lakota, all of them. And they won in court. The Supreme court, I think in 1980, decided and ruled in favor of Lakota saying, "Yes, indeed, this land should be yours." Instead of getting it back. they're like, "Here's a bunch of money." And the Lakota are like, "We don't want it. We want the land." We are not gonna settle for cash, period. The cash is still sitting in an account because the government's unwilling to undo the effects of its theft.
What about for White people living in Rapid City or, you know, the Black Hills or whatever? Well, you know, they can go to the government for redress. At a minimum, if they just honor treaties, that would be something. This is patently obvious to me and to most Native people that I know that we are really good at honoring the treaties that we signed. And by abiding by their rules. The US government, not so much. But the fact is in this, these are the words of, of a, of a Canadian Native person, not my words. I wish they were, because they're brilliant. But he said like, we made treaties-- native people ade treaties with the government in order to find a way to live together. The government made treaties with tribes as a way not too. So were the parks to be gifted back to a consortium of tribes, we have a pretty good track record of, of honoring our word and honoring our treaty. You know, we have a pretty good, pretty good track record doing that.
But you know, it's complex. So were the [parks] to come back to tribes, it would be complex. But you know what? Know what has also happened since this country was founded? Thirty-seven other states have been admitted to the union. That was complicated, but they did it. You know what else has happened? We gave the Panama canal back to the country of Panama. Certainly complicated, but that happened. And then further afield. You know what else has happened? The British gifted Hong Kong and gave it sovereignty. These complicated administrative changes of character and scenery have happened many times. We can put a guy in the moon. Elon Musk can go to Mars. We can figure this out.
Adam Davis: And so I just want to ask about the status of patriotism among Native Americans, given what you described gently as unsavory along the way.
David Treuer: Outsiders think of this as deeply ironic, but it doesn't feel ironic to Native people. I mean, at least not the people that I know and people in my family and people I talk to. Like Native people are deeply patriotic, dual citizens, right? Citizens of our tribal nations, which exist inside of the American republic. That's not a contradiction for most Native people. My grandfather was incredibly patriotic, proud to have been a veteran of world war II, combat veteran, um, deeply patriotic. Um, wasn't a contradiction for him to be a Native man from Leech Lake Reservation, you know, from the Ojibwe Nation, or one of them, and to be an American at the same time.
This country grew up around our Native nations. It didn't extinguish them. Very hard for people to understand, really. And as you noted, and this drives people, people just, their eyes go wide. Native people have served in every war that America has fought in numbers exponentially higher than any other demographic. By choice not by draft.
My grandfather and two of his brothers all volunteered for World War II well before they would have been drafted, and they each served in a different branch. Cause my, my great grandmother's like, "If you're all gonna join up, then you're all going to be different branches, bigger chance of more of you coming home." They all came home, shockingly. One of the Navy, one of the Air Force, and my grandfather, he was Second Division, US Infantry. But it's not surprising. And this is the thing that I argue for less overtly in Rez Life and more clearly in The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee, is that America has always has grown up and only makes sense in relation to Native people and Native history.
And I can give like a rapid fire, a little thing, which: you know, not only did we serve with the revolutionary forces that only did Oneida Native people break the famine at Valley Forge and teach Washington and his troops how to, how to get nutrition from Indian corn. The very first treaty that the United States signed was with the Delaware, and one of the provisions of that treaty was promising that they could enter the union as the fourteenth state if they protected America's Western frontier from British incursions, like an end around the Great Lakes and from behind, which the Delaware did, and prevented the British from attacking us on two fronts.
After the revolutionary war, when the government was looking around for a new form of government, like "What kind of government do we want to have that's never before been seen on earth that's a true democracy," to whom did they turn for inspiration? They turn to the Iroquois Confederacy. And it's on them that our separation of powers was modeled. The judiciary, the executive, and the legislative-- that was from the Iroquois.
So from the beginning, America came to be what it is in relation to, not in spite of Native tribes. This extends to the modern day. Between 1965 and 1995, the United States Supreme court heard more cases about federal Indian law than any other genre of law, more than civil rights or reproductive rights, more than women's rights, more than immigration, more than banking.
So as America was trying to reimagine itself during, and after the civil rights, Vietnam war, Pentagon papers, Watergate, it did so, at least in the courts, in relation to the question of Native sovereignty. Even more recently, the fight over the Dakota access pipeline and Keystone XL, and now over Line Three in Minnesota, pipeline fights, are not fights of like, the White man trying to destroy Indians again. These are Native people fighting for all Americans. The fight there is not over pipelines or not pipelines, but over what's more important, the common good or corporate profit. And it's Native people who are fighting that fight on behalf of all Americans. So from the beginning until now America doesn't make sense unless you think of it in relation to Native lives, being lived now, and Native history.
Um, one of the last things Obama did in office was to to enlarge and add protections to the Bears Ears National Monument and also to Grand Staircase Escalante on the border of Utah and Arizona. It was one of the very last things he did by presidential order. Within two weeks of taking office, Trump undid those, and he ended them for one reason only. His very first feud when he became president was with the National Park Service, because the National Park Service manages the National Mall, and it was their duty to report the number of people at Trump's inaugural festivities. So they reported the real numbers, which Trump didn't like, because not that many people showed up for the shit show.
That was his inauguration. So he's very first viewed as with the park service. And so he undid those two things. Because he could. So wouldn't it be better for parks if they were protected from the whims of this or that president, the shifting sort of, the shifting sort of winds of federal policy? Wouldn't it be better if this land were protected under a different structure? So that some asshat like Trump can't just undo a park because he feels like it. I think it's good for the land and it's good for all Americans.
It would be nice, and I say this in the piece, America is, is wrestling right now. And you hear this, this debate being carried on in arguments around critical race theory. We hear it in arguments around civil rights. But this country is trying to reckon with a complicated, violent, unsavory past. It's trying to find a way, at least some people in this country are trying to find a way, as Camus put it, to loved one's country and still love justice. And my proposal would be one way to acknowledge the problems and mistakes and sins, I think we can call them, of the past. Not to pave over them, to recognize, them to atone. And so wouldn't it be, wouldn't it be nice to stand in Yellowstone, knowing it's protected? To look up at El Capitan or Half Dome and know that you're looking up at Miwok land as well as American land. And to know that you're standing once again on Native land, and you're looking up at a mountain, but you're also looking up at the practice of justice. That would be profound.
We were talking before about comments, I've gotten for the Atlantic article and there was some surly, silly rejections of my modest proposal -- and it is modest -- that all the national parks and monuments be returned to a consortium of Native tribes to manage on behalf of all Americans and park visitors. Someone said something to the effect of, "Native people lost, get over it," you know, and I actually -- I don't respond to comments very often,
I responded to that one. And I'm like, "Don't you think you're calling the game a little early? You may be done fighting, so if you surrender, I accept. But we're not done. You think we're done? We're not done. We haven't stopped. We're still at it.
Adam Davis: I feel like that's a big part of your argument in the two nonfiction books that we've already touched on a little bit is your, your argument is, uh, look, actually, we're moving towards thriving. And there've been steps, which you yourself sounds surprised by, but I wondered. And so, so casinos, for example, figure in, in an important way, from a small court case to wealth generation, not in every case, but in a significant number of cases. They create their own problems sometimes, but they've also helped build power. So in a way, I guess I want to ask about your sense of flourishing among the tribes here.
David Treuer: Well, the numbers don't lie. As of 1890, which was kind of a watershed moment. That's when the frontier was declared officially closed. There were a couple of parks created before 1890, but really the movement took off around that time. Around the time they figured that, you know, nature was disappearing. The American landscape was being eroded by business and development and logging and winding and so on. Not untrue, it was disappearing. That same year, 1890, the census, the story the census told was there were roughly 220,000 Native people left alive in the United States, down from a population at first contact between 15 and 30 million. Hard times. we were like American nature, I suppose, in danger of being snuffed out. But as of today as of the last census -- and this new one will be interesting to read once it's all compiled and published -- there were over 5 million people who identified as Native in the United States, up from 220,000 130 years ago. That's a resurgence, that's boom.
There are more Native people in the United States than there are people who identify as Jewish American in the United States. There are twice as many people who identify as Native as there are people who identify as Muslim American. Those are important numbers to recognize, that we have, we are growing. We are growing at a faster clip than any other demographic in this country. So in places like Montana and North Dakota, for short, maybe South Dakota, it's conceivable that in a hundred years, they will be Native majority states. White people are having fewer kids and the ones they're are having are leaving. Native people are having more kids, not leaving.
People can surrender now and save us all sorts of tension and stress. I don't represent any tribal groups, but I am more than willing to accept the United States' surrender to the Ojibwe people at this moment. I will give good terms. I'm not going to screw anyone over, but I'm here to accept people's surrender if they're, if they feel like it.
Adam Davis: Yeah, I can't speak on the United States' behalf. And it's interesting to think about in a way, a couple of things you said along the way to this offer. One was. You use the verb, identify people who identify as Native American, and maybe you can stay there for a minute, in part because some of the questions that came in were about the mechanics, in a way. You propose that the management of the parks should go over to a consortium of tribes.
And there's a complexity to the details, which your article doesn't, your essay doesn't try to go into. And I don't think we should go too much into now in a way. Read your piece. You mentioned the word policy before, and I don't think it's a policy piece. It points toward a policy, but it feels like it's before the policy.
David Treuer: Yeah.
Adam Davis: Can I ask you a little bit though about the identity native American in part, because you address it in different ways in the books. Blood quantum language. How do you see native American identity? Uh, as a thing, where do you see the limits and the substance.
David Treuer: It's interesting and misunderstood. You know, how identity, culture and sort of federal recognition and enrollment and all of that stuff works in the Native context. Unlike any other category of people in the United States, to be legally Native, which is to be an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe, is a legal, political designation. It's a form of citizenship. Problematic how one is a citizen or not of a tribe. And it varies from tribe to tribe, but most tribes -- this was per US government policy -- determine citizenship based, not based on language, not based on residency, not based on anything other than blood quantum, what percentage of Indian blood you have. And again, it varies: some tribes you need to just need to prove descent. Other tribes, you need to be a quarter. Other tribes, you need to be 51 percent. Other tribes, 50 percent. Other tribes are, are matrilineal. Tonawanda Seneca, you're not really Seneca, you're not legally Seneca, unless your mom, is passed down through your mother's line. And so if your mom's not Seneca, you're not Seneca, even though you might be culturally Seneca.
And that's, that's the thing. It's like, to be Native legally is one thing. To be Native culturally is another. To have a Native identity is yet another thing, you know. So I explain it this way: identities are always constructed, multiple, and overlapping. So me, identify as a man is part of my identity, as a hetero, cisgendered man, I suppose. That's one. One identity overlapping with that is an identity as a Native person. On top of that is my identity as a northerner. All of those things are constructed. Those are things that I sort of make for myself as a way to understand myself.
Culture is not the same as identity. Culture is not, is not constructed. It's not a willful conscious way of perceiving oneself. Culture is a web of relationships that you were born into. It's almost like, it's almost like being a first-language speaker of any language. You don't know the rules, you inherit the rules. Most of us -- and I'm an English professor -- would be hard pressed to sort of lucidly describe the rules that govern my language. Same thing with our culture. Culture is a sort of, it's a water you swim in, and you don't choose that water, but it shapes, shapes so much of who you are. You don't choose your cultures. You don't make your cultures. You're born into them. So this is very different than identity, very different than race, and race is just, uh, an imaginary construct. It's a category that people usually make for others.
Adam Davis: In the modest proposal, which when I hear the phrase modest proposal, I think satire.
David Treuer: Right? I'm not satire, I'm for real.
Adam Davis: It didn't sound like Swift. It sounded like you were for real about it and building up to a real, somewhat modest proposal. And also if we think about the steps to get there, those wouldn't be modest steps.
David Treuer: No. Another interviewer, not as either genteel or conversational as, as you, um, said like, "Well, this is a really radical proposal." Like what, you know, "What, what made you think of having this radical proposal?" I'm like, you know, I don't think it's very radical. Honestly. What's radical is to steal land from other people, to pretend like you didn't steal it, to then exclude them from it, and then to mismanage it for about a hundred years. That to me is radical. To sort of give the parks back to a consortium of all the tribes in the United States to manage on behalf of all the people of this country and visitors to it is much less radical than sort of such brazen theft.
Adam Davis: Yeah.
David Treuer: And so the proposal isn't just a way to right a historical wrong vis-a-vis Native people, although my proposal would do that. It's also a proposal that would help protect the parks as they move into the future. It would be good for the land itself, not just for Native people.
Adam Davis: Could we say your argument for the parks and what that, that argument rests on about prior habitation and a certain way of stewarding the land? Would you be comfortable making that argument wherever it happens in whatever part of the world you see a similar situation, or is there something really exceptional about the relationship between the tribes that had been here and the US government that form that makes this argument especially salient here?
David Treuer: I don't know. I mean, similar things to my proposal have already happened in other places. In New Zealand and in Australia in particular. There's a river New Zealand which was just recognized as having personhood. So all of those protections an individual human person has that river now has, for instance. Huge areas in, in New Zealand were returned to Maori communities and Maori governments, um, for them to manage national parks, like on behalf of, you know, all the people in New Zealand. Same thing in Australia. So it's already happened in other places.
But I would say this, the United States is a unique creature, and it's not a very popular thing to say, but that doesn't make it untrue to say that this country, its existence, is founded on taking Native lands. Expropriating Native land to be then improved and monetized by expropriating the freedom of African American human beings by enslaving them to work the land stolen from Native people, all financed with Northern money in New York. So that's, that's how this country was literally built on land stolen from tribes. And worked by enslaved African people.
Until we reckon with that. So this whole, like, you know, like culture, war, that sort of the right is trying to start, you know, it's a good war to have, because you can't understand this country's founding documents, which refer to, the Declaration of Independence for first to Native peoples as merciless, Indian savages, like you can't understand independence or the subsequent constitution without understanding and engaging with critical race theory. They're racial documents that disempower enslaved African Americans and push us and exclude us from the provisions of the constitution. All of the protections of the bill of rights and all that stuff didn't apply to us. We were outside of it. Similar arguments and similar things are, are actually already happening in other places, but also America is uniquely different.
You know how, like you're a father, you know how like when your kid does something, does something wrong and they carry themselves differently. When they know they've done something wrong, it's like, they've, they've been bad. And it's almost like a weight around their necks.
Their postures changes. They act. They lash out out because they, they lost their dignity for a moment and in a small way, maybe. And it's up to us as their parents to help them regain it by recognizing what they've done by owning it and moving on. When I look out at this country and I look out at sort of, it's in aggregate, but when I look out in particular recently, like at the state of Texas and their efforts to sort of restrict voting rights and restrict women's rights to choices over their own bodies. When I see Trump's behavior, when I see sort of, I see a country dying to regain and find its own dignity, and unable, unable to find a way to get it back, and suffering as a result. Suffering all sorts of agonies over racial, racial and economic justice, over reproductive rights, over all sorts of things. And it makes me incredibly sad that, like my grandfather, this country I love -- and I love this country. I love the United States of America. Probably not quite as much as I love my tribe, but still -- it makes me incredibly sad to see the shape it's in now. I'm here and available to help it recognize, admit, make up for it, move on from the things it's done. Like a good father. This country doesn't need a great White father anymore, you know, in the old language, like, it needs a great red father. Is what it needs. I'm not the person to do that. I'm not a politician. I should never run for office, but it needs somebody.
Adam Davis: Since our conversation with David in April 2021, there've been a number of significant changes to Native representation and federal lands. Deb Haaland, a member of Laguna Pueblo, was sworn in as the Secretary of the Interior. This department is responsible for the management and conservation of most federal land and natural resources, including the Bureau of land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the National Park Service.
And Chuck Sams, a long time member of the leadership of Oregon's Confederated tribes of the Umatilla Reservation and also the board chair of the Oregon Cultural Trust, was nominated by President Biden to serve as the director of the National Park Service. He will report to Deb Haaland.
As we near the conclusion of this episode of The Detour, here's a couple of questions to walk with. What does it mean to respect or manage land, or to be in right relation to it? How did you grow up thinking about your relation to the land? And how would you like people seven generations after us to think about it?
And now, "Between Ribbon and Root" by Christine Dupres.
Christine Dupres: His hands are grubby and his nails ragged lined with honest and not so honest dirt right now he's scrambling for something shoulder deep in the wetlands. We're visiting eventually with a triumphant. He pulls his arm from the muck, waving an object that looks a lot like coyote scat or desiccated apple in his dripping hand, WAPA toe.
My Cowlitz Ashkenazi kid has just pulled up Wapato the very word and exclamation his face is oriented to the sun, his skin as finally poured as a peach. And though he's now grown a young man of 24. I can remember clearly what a beautiful baby he was times with him are tough lately. This baby shine melts my heart.
Let me tell you a bit about winter seed. Let me tell you about early winter walks with my son and the bitter root. That is the fear. I might lose him about a tenuous, but rooted faith that he can let his people dig deep and spring, even from dormancy. That he can pull sustenance from the muck. Once I had conviction that my child contained within him, the seed of remembering, and so the seed of his own regeneration, but my faith is flagging only recently.
Granted it's federal land. The Cowlitz Indian tribe was until the year 2000, a non recognized people. This means that only 16 years ago, We were still neither formally recognized by the federal government nor bestowed any of the mixed blessings that that entails. Nevertheless, we managed a successful tribal cohesion in late December, 2014.
I joined hundreds of my Callots relatives to celebrate and bless the site probably passed while traveling on interstate five, exit 16 at the center in Washington. We gathered to celebrate a future reservation on soggy, but tree-lined acreage just seconds from the freeway. You could hear its home as the drums, beat out a blessing for this place and this auspicious time, you've seen it.
No doubt. The sign that reads Cowlitz reservation as you make your way north on I five to visit a Seattle relative. And you've wondered perhaps just what that newly minted reservation is about. Or maybe you think, you know, precisely what that reservation is about because you know, a Vegas style casino is going in there and has in fact broken ground.
I wonder how you feel about that. On Monday, March 9th, 2015 Stanley speaks the regional director from the bureau of Indian affairs, signed the final document to establish our first ever reservation. I was there then too. And so where my ancestors. With the stroke of a pen, the federal government now holds in trust 152 acres of property in Clark county.
On behalf of the Cowlitz tribe. It took 12 years for the signing. And in the meantime, there have been appeals from law centers, card rooms, Clark county, and the city of Vancouver to name only some of the descent we've met along the way. So 12 years might seem like a long time to secure some land. The Cowlitz are used to protracted struggle.
We have been actively engaged with the government for nearly 160 years ever since we refuse to negotiate a treaty with Washington's territorial, governor Isaac Stevens in 1855, as I grappled with the problem of my own and my people's history of coming to believe that the preservation of the Cowlitz and the sustenance of our community relies on a persistent enactment of the motions of the everyday.
And upon a quiet livid awareness. One I've grown to understand can bring a seed of cultural continuity up from the ground and back to the light. Perhaps it can even bring a child back to the light. Mine is with me right now, just over two decades old and suffering Cowlitz people were not agriculturalists.
They were gatherers relying on a seasonal bounty of root fish and bad. Their lives were characterized by seasonal migrations, long walks to where the food laid just below the snows melt, chasing spring of the mountain. This is in part why my son and I now walk to find edible and usually indigenous plants, which are surprisingly abundant in almost every Portland nook, cranny and yard in this.
He always knows the. He knows where the blooms are, where the berries burst, where the brand new growth is ready to eat. Our walks have taken us deep into forest park to a culvert off north Willamette Boulevard to a neighbor's rock wall in order to grab and especially lush bunch of little bittercress when he's not gathering plants.
My boy is less sure. Sided, more likely to drink, to argue, to fight, to be beaten, to disappear. Our walks allow for time to flow and time to be forgotten. There's a little to be sad and much to be accomplished together. We can do what our people have always done. And together we remember.
Adam Davis: You can find a link to David's article in our show notes at oregonhumanities.org, where you'll also find suggested readings related to today's show handpicked by our staff. For more on Oregon's native history, visit David Lewis' ndnhistoryresearch.com as well as the book The First Oregonians.
The Detour is made possible by Oregon Humanities' partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities. You can support this show by subscribing wherever you get your podcasts. I'm Adam Davis. Our producer is Kieran Bond, our editor and engineer, Dave Friedlander. Additional. Thanks to David Lewis, Ben Waterhouse, Alexandra Bugden-Powell, and Karina Briski.
Thank you for being with us, and see you next time.