Oregon Magazine
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European Author Delivers
Epic Native American Account


          By Fred Delkin

     My son, my body is returning to my Mother Earth, and my spirit is going to see the Great Spirit Chief.  When I am gone, think of your country.  You are the chief of these speople.  They look to you to guide them.  Always remember that your father never sold his country.  You must stop your ears whenever you are asked to sign a treaty selling your home.  A few more years and white men will be all around you ... my son, never forget my dying words ... never sell the bones of your father and mother.

This haunting quote is attributed to the father of the legendary Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe in a new book. (OMED pronounced "nay persay," which is commonly reported in the American Pacific Northwest as being French for "pierced nose," Joseph the younger, when photographed at least, didn't have one)  The text above is the set piece in "Selling Your Father's Bones," a heart-rendering account by a European student of the events transpiring in Oregon and Idaho in the mid-19th century.  Joseph is well remembered for his heroic battle to restore peace and freedom for his people.  His brilliant military tactics are still studied by cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point.

(OMED: Oregon Public Broadcasting disputes Joseph's tactical expertise.  Here is a quote from http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/people/a_c/chiefjoseph.htm    By the time he formally surrendered on October 5, 1877, Joseph was widely referred to in the American press as "the Red Napoleon." It is unlikely, however, that he played as critical a role in the Nez Percé's military feat as his legend suggests.)

Brian Schofield's work will be released for publication by Simon & Schuster in February 2009.  After reading a review copy, I consider this a classic worth every American's perusal.  Schofield is a British travel writer and editor of the London Sunday Times Travel magazine, which brought him to northeastern Oregon's Wallowa region to research "the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce, among the last Native peoples within the United States whose lifestyles remained largely unsullied by European influence." 

It is an ambitious undertaking, a masterpiece at reflecting the philosophy of "manifest destiny" that underlay Thomas Jefferson's dispatch of Lewis & Clark to claim the American West as our rightful domain.  That political stance prevailed in our federal administration's often corrupt treaty dealings with the natives whose domain we invaded.  Schofield provides a telling account of attitudes still exstant among the settler descendants residing in places such as Lewiston, Idaho.  He provides an outsider's view of community celebrations in our region.

History is layered by Schofield with travelogue, environmental lament and a provocative examination of where we are today.  Schofield, only 33, "creates both a poetic sense of place and a prophetic sense of mission to his writings," according to his publisher, and we can agree.  His prose burns brightly with the fuel of numerous interviews and local exhausting research.

Joseph, known among his tribe as  Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekhat (OMED: sometimes spelled Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, meaning Thunder-rolling-down-the- mountain) is an heroic figure well deserving of Schofield's attention and our study. 

(OMED: Joseph the younger's most famous words: Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.  

A further note:  The following comes from editor@wildfirenews.com   

RE:
http://oregonmag.com/DelkinChiefJosephReview109.html

This piece contains several errors that you might consider correcting.

1.
OMED pronounced "nay persay,"

Who told you that? The Nez Perce Tribe and its members pronounce it "nez purse," but their word is Nimíipuu.  (OMED: some of the mountain men were of French origin, probaby out of New Orleans.  Until we hear from somebody French, we will continue to believe that it means what we said, and is a misnomer.  Such mistakes happen.  Our English term "high muckymuck" for "bigshot" comes from the Chinook Jargon term "hiyu muckamuck" which means "plenty of food.")

2. Joseph is well remembered for his heroic battle to restore peace and freedom for his people.  His brilliant military tactics are still studied by cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point.


Though Joseph is highly regarded for his efforts to restore freedom to the Nez Perce who were imprisoned in Vancouver WA and in Kansas and Oklahoma, he was not a war chief. Several of the other chiefs who made the epic flight of 1877 were indeed war chiefs, and their battles and tactics confounded the Cavalry for months. Perhaps the writer meant the "brilliant military tactics" of the Nez Perce.

3. By the time he formally surrendered on October 5, 1877,

The common white view is that Joseph surrendered. "We will stop fighting" is not the same as "we give up."  (OMED: a difference that makes no difference is no difference.)

4. (OMED: sometimes spelled Hin-mah-too-yah-lat-kekt, meaning Thunder-rolling-down-the- mountain)

Joseph's Niimiipuutímt name was Himmatóowyalahtqít, or "thunder coming up over the land from the water."  (OMED: Then, you disagree with Oregon Public Broadcasting.  We have done that from time to time, ourselves.)

5. OMED: Joseph the younger's most famous words: Hear me, my chiefs!

Most famous for sure. But Joseph never said that.
http://missoulian.com/articles/2008/03/18/territory/ter56.txt
  

Original text © 2009 Oregon Magazine