Traditional Statements at U.S. Ecological Conference

Sept. 15, 2004

Listening closely at Ecological Society of America meeting

by: Jean Johnson / Correspondent / Indian Country Today

PORTLAND, Ore. - The title of the 89th annual Ecological Society of America conference might have been "Lessons of Lewis and Clark: Ecological Exploration of Inhabited Landscapes", but the real theme of the August 2004 gathering in Portland was hair. Especially on the men - long hair.

The Indians outdid the Anglos as far as length went, of course. But even the guys from mainstream society have lots of it. Unruly curls of it, beards of it, silvered strands of it that went with their Birkenstock sandals and rumpled khaki trousers and field vests.

Granted, they didn’t have braids, like Shoshone-Bannock storyteller and published author, Ed Edmo. Nor the length, like Louis Pitt, director of Government Affairs and Planning with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, who had his hair tied in back.

But the white guys had enough. Had enough hair to think seriously about not only ecological issues, but cultural ones. Enough hair to not only listen, but also, perhaps, to hear.

Not to overdraw the situation. The conference was a huge five-day event, and only two of the sessions were directly related to the tribes. Still, there was an unassuming feeling associated with the gathering that gave the impression people were more receptive to Indian points of view that those at more run of the mill events.

In particular the session, "Sense of Place: Indigenous Homelands of the Pacific Northwest", set the tone. Ed Edmo spoke mostly of Celilo Falls, the famous Indian fishing and trading center on the Columbia River that was inundated by water backing up behind The Dalles Dam in 1957.

"I was 11 when they flooded Celilo," Edmo said. His hands went out and hung in the air. "The way you have to think about it is how something you’ve lost has affected you today, and what are you doing to heal."

"I was angry for a long time … "But I’m not like that any more. People have the power to change. The question is what will people do to heal this cultural wound, and what will you do?"

As Edmo pointed out, though, he’s moved beyond hatred. Moved beyond grief to some extent. Moved beyond the pain he endured as a boy. In his closing remarks, he invited everyone to Celilo Village.

"I still remember all that from when I was a boy," he said. "We had the longhouse and had to be quiet. Everyone talked on and on. And then there was the salmon feast and everyone was invited. And Halloween weekend, too, for a pow wow and clown contest. So this Halloween, get on down to Celilo. Also the second weekend in April for the First Salmon Feast. There’s feasts every weekend from there to the Umatilla on the fourth as the salmon move up the river. So you can eat salmon all April on the Columbia if you want to."

Louie Pitt, didn’t have Ed Edmo’s literary bent. Instead, the policy analyst was all business. "Go ahead and feel guilty about the past if you must," Pitt addressed the Anglo audience. "But it’s now that I want to change. We are the people of the land and are the spokesmen for the land. It’s a land ownership far beyond the usual. We are of the land and in the land. The one thing you have to know about Native American people is that we would still be here. We would still hang out in places we call home. I’ve seen it with tribes that were terminated, and they’ve stayed. We’re connected to our land. It’s part of who we are."

Pitt proceeded to line out the details. "The United States, before it was a country, was very Christian, very Anglo in its approach. And the people developed laws and tools to steal lands from ‘heathen savages.’ From ‘uncivilized people’ that occupied, but didn’t own the land. Discovery doctrine - terrible."

Pitt’s voice was low and gentle, but he had his facts in order and didn’t pull any punches. "In 1787, the Continental Congress wrote "that the utmost good faith shall always be observed toward the Indians, and their lands and property will never be taken," he quoted. "Still, in the 1859 treaty, the Warm Springs gave up 10 million acres in return for the way of life they live today on the reservation. A lot of folks say the United States did a lot for us, but not really when you look at the record. Our reservation today is 650,000 acres, and it’s up on the dry east side, away from the Columbia River."

Pitt underscored, however, that usufructory rights were retained. He recited the line from the treaty that has been critical for Northwest tribes: "retain the exclusive right of fish taken in streams running through and boring said reservation and at all other usual and accustomed stations."

"Very strong," Pitt said. "This is the deal between the United States of America and our people. Of course, even back then non-Indians challenged it. In U.S. v. Winans (1905), though, the courts said that the treaty was not a grant of rights to the Indians, but a grant of rights from them."

The Warm Springs people work hard, explained Pitt, to manage their reservation lands, their forest lands, and their wilderness. They monitor water quality and use controlled burning to keep wildfires down. Said Pitt, "We’re not opposed to burning. That’s how the tribes used to manage the forests, and it worked. The thing is, we have a drought every year, and it’s called summer. So we burn."

"The idea," said Pitt in closing, "is to take care of your neighborhood.

Directly dependent on natural resources, the tribes long understood the concept of taking care of one’s homeland. The good news is that even in the 21st century as food and the material trappings of culture come more and more through the marketplace, members of mainstream society, at least the long-hair types like those attending the ESA this year, are listening. They are listening and by their attendance, tribal members like Ed Edmo and Louie Pitt are holding out for hope that perhaps, just perhaps, the white men would not only listen, they might also hear.

Printed for educational purposes only: The news that is reported is not necessarily the viewpoint of IndigenousNews

Reprinted under the Fair Use Law: Doctrine of international copyright law. http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html

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Western Shoshone Defense Project
P.O. Box 211308
Crescent Valley, NV 89821
(775) 468-0230
Fax: (775) 468-0237

Informant: Carrie Dann


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