Anne de Graaf's blog: International-Intrigue-Injustice

20 July 2015

Tamástslikt–the paper

Filed under: SWIP (Supposed Work-in-Progress),Write on — annedegraaf @ 8:45 pm

Reservation-20150718-00470(By popular demand-ha! here is the full text of the paper I presented at the International Studies Association National Conference in New Orleans last February. The response I received then, both from Native and non-Native academics, encouraged me to return to the Umatilla Reservation, where I am conducting interviews now. I post it to provide background and answer questions about why I’m here. Thank you everyone for your interest. All comments and suggestions are most welcome, as this remains, of course, a work-in-progress.)


(to interpret, turn over, or turn around in the Walla Walla dialect):

The interpretation, turning over and turning around

of a Native community

By Anne de Graaf*

Amsterdam University College, University of Amsterdam


The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR) consists of three tribes, the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla, located in northeastern Oregon. With a 10,000-year history, they view the past 180 years as a season to survive. According to their culture, the land and the people, both Native and non-Indian, make up the homeland, or regional world. The CTUIR exercises a unique pattern of governance that rejects an identity of victimization, and embraces “cooperation over confrontation.” Although they acknowledge that three generations of children were systematically humiliated and taken out of the community and forced into boarding schools, and despite a long list of land betrayals, the CTUIR has chosen what they call, a “path of survival.” Admitting that “past history is living history,” and encouraging creativity, they engineer projects crafted and implemented by local citizens, aimed at fostering understanding. Examples include innovative education policies such as a local school where children learn the tribes’ dialects and customs, earmarking profits from the reservation casino for scholarship funds and (re-)acquisition of tribal lands, salmon restoration in local rivers, and job creation. Their model for peacebuilding utilizes voice, agency, and youth and sees growing understanding as key to conflict resolution.


The list of 566 federally-recognized Tribes within the United Sates includes the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla (CTUIR). Among the U.S. government and the 566 tribes there runs a tangled web of laws, treaties, court cases and appeals, in an attempt to establish human security, sovereignty and justice. National statistics on the Native American population reveal shocking statistics, such as 27 per cent living in poverty, the highest rate for any racial group in the country, and nearly double the national average (United States Census Bureau, 2013). Tribal communities undergo much higher rates of violent crime and domestic violence than the national averages (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2011). In addition, the suicide rate of young people is 2.5 times higher among Native youth than non-Indian youth (Executive Office of the President, 2014), and Native communities seem plagued by high levels of alcoholism and substance abuse. After generations of living in such discouraging conditions, most reservations seem steeped in disheartening despair, and surrounded by local prejudice.

The CTUIR is located in northeastern Oregon. With a 10,000-year history, they view the past 180 years as a season to survive. According to their culture, the land and the people, both Native and non-Indian, make up the homeland, or regional world. The CTUIR exercises a unique pattern of governance that rejects an identity of victimization, and embraces “cooperation over confrontation.” Although they acknowledge that three generations of children were systematically humiliated and taken out of the community and forced into boarding schools, and despite a long list of land betrayals, the CTUIR has chosen what they call, a “path of survival.” Admitting that “past history is living history,” and encouraging creativity, they engineer projects crafted and implemented by local citizens, aimed at fostering understanding. Examples include innovative education policies such as a local school where children learn the tribes’ dialects and customs, earmarking profits from the reservation casino for scholarship funds and (re-)acquisition of tribal lands, salmon restoration in local rivers, and job creation. Their model for peacebuilding utilizes voice, agency, and youth and sees growing understanding as key to conflict resolution.

Due to the space limitations of this paper, it will only summarize a wide variety of aspects pertaining to the CTUIR governance model. Further research is necessary in order to more thoroughly analyze the effects of this governance model, as well as its shortcomings. But in Indian Country, as the greater national Native community is referred to, the CTUIR stands out as an exception. This paper explores its governance model, in an attempt to provide a possible governance framework which might apply to other marginalized communities. It attempts to answer the question: How did the CTUIR set itself apart and develop such a different governance model, providing much more far-reaching support to its members, than other Native communities?

This exploration of CTUIR governance first paints the picture of modern-day Native communities in the U.S. by means of several statistics. The paper then provides a brief summary of the history of the Tribes, both before and after the Treaty signed in 1855, and the ramifications of the Treaty itself. An additional historical perspective is provided by means of Native oral histories of these periods. Voice, agency and youth are key concepts within the CTUIR framework. The paper then turns to a description of the CTUIR and its governance style and traditions. In this section an attempt is made to identify the turning point in governance style and the men and women responsible for this change in direction. Examples of CTUIR governance strategies illustrate this style, and include several programs for which the Tribes have received national attention. This is followed by an examination of how CTUIR governance specifically targets its youth, in terms of education, language, identity, and employment. This section ends with quotes by two young women, whose voices act as inspiration for the Tribes, and indeed, all of Indian Country. The paper concludes with statistics and observations which act as a counterweight to the positive results outlined previously, but calls for further research to establish additional contributing factors that might be avoided, in order for this governance model to serve as an example for other marginalized groups.



The Umatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla tribes are part of an Indian presence that has hunted, gathered, and fished in the Northwest of what is now the United States, for over 10,000 years (Zucker, Hummel, & Hogfoss, 1983). Their particular tribal characteristics have been shaped by living on the broad plateau near the Columbia River basin. These characteristics include no dominant food resources, low population density, long-distance seasonal movement, and travelling by canoe or on foot. In the mid-18th century they acquired horses and the Cayuse especially, became famous for their horse breeding and riding skills (Jersyk, 1998).

The first non-Indian contact occurred in 1805-1806 with the Lewis and Clark expedition, sent out by Thomas Jefferson. It would take another twenty years before pioneers began to penetrate the Oregon wilderness, and tribes there met and welcomed them, granting shelter and food to the often undernourished and exhausted families travelling the Oregon Trail. The legal history includes milestones in 1823, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that settlers “discovering” land had the right to take it from Indian tribes, who were considered to be nomads. In 1831 in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, the Court changed its mind and stated that tribes are “domestic dependent nations,” yet still subordinate to the U.S. In 1842 only 150 settlers used the Oregon Trail. By 1847, this had increased to 5,000 (Jersyk, 1998). In 1848 the Oregon Territory was created. By 1850, there were over 10,000 settlers living in Oregon, and many felt there was not enough space (Beckham, 2007). So, in 1850, the Oregon Donation Land Act was passed and the U.S. government gave away 2.8 million acres of tribal lands to settlers. The Umatilla Reservation was established on June 9, 1855.

1855 Treaty

The 1855 Treaty between the U.S. government and the Walla Walla, Cayuse, and Umatilla tribes marks a watershed moment at many levels, but especially in terms of land, and in terms of governance. Before 1855 their territory equaled 6.4 million acres. The reservation established in 1855 was only 245,699 acres. In 1887 the General Allotment Act/Dawes Act called for Tribes’ communal land to be divided into individual plots, which broke up the reservations. By 1979, the reservation had been reduced to 85,322 acres.

Non-Indian observers of the signing of the Treaty noted that thousands and thousands of horses grazed across the plateau. At that time it was common for a Cayuse to own 15-20 horses, with rich tribe members owning up to 2,000 horses (Jersyk, 1998).


From 1855-1956 a century of so-called civilization programs aimed to turn Indians into “sedentary, agricultural, English-speaking Christians” (Zucker et al., 1983). Children were forcibly sent to boarding schools as far away as Kansas and Pennsylvania, not to create future leaders, but to “westernize” them and make them forget their language and culture.

In the meantime epidemics of smallpox, influenza, measles, and venereal disease claimed the lives of 75 to 90 per cent of the tribal population (Zucker et al., 1983).

Native Americans fighting in WWI led to their being granted U.S. citizenship in 1924 (Woody, 2007). A major turning point for the CTUIR included the completion of the Dalles Dam in 1957, and the consequent loss of their traditional salmon fishing location, Celilo Falls. More positive significant milestones include the openings of the Nicht-Yow-Way Community Center, and the Yellowhawk Clinic in 1973.

By the 1980s the U.S government recognized that Oregon tribes have sovereign rights. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) continues to be the main institute responsible for Indian affairs, although Congress has the final say.

Native history as portrayed in history books and articles like the ones quoted above, often omit the Native perspective itself. Traditionally this is part of an oral historic tradition and as such, does not lend itself to the written word. Nonetheless, it is certainly a valid perspective to be included, as it is the perspective of the people themselves about whom history is written. To include their voices is to avoid their being spoken on behalf of, and this engenders agency.

Voices of History

The Native perspective on history brings a third dimension to the events and dates mentioned above. Indian history is often passed down from generation to generation by means of storytelling. The CTUIR culture recognizes the importance of oral traditions. Individual voices are often the vehicles for passing on this history, and these echo through the years shaping both the present and the vision for the future, as well as reinforcing identity.

Examples of this include the telling of a grandmother’s story (Carrie Sampson)of being chained outside during the winter because she refused to give up her language at St. Andrews Catholic school (Karson, 2006).

Another example of how this other Native voice can shed light on history, is how the 1855 Treaty Council is portrayed among the Tribes. It is the CTUIR who point out that the U.S. government paid 3 cents for every acre of Native land during the 1855 treaty (Wroble, 1998). According to Tribal history, the 36 chiefs and headmen of the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla Tribes who put their “X” mark on the Treaty of 1855 are regarded as wise ancestors who showed the foresight to lead their peoples onto a path of survival. The words of Governor Stevens are repeated, when he told the interpreters to tell the chiefs that “if they don’t sign this treaty they will walk in blood knee deep” (Karson, 2006). The tribal leaders during the Treaty-signing event put on record how important the land is and how the children are their main consideration, while nearly 5,000 people witnessed the event, which lasted 13 days. Another part of the treaty these tribal leaders insisted on includes the U.S. government’s pledge to protect the Tribes’ rights to survive by means of hunting, gathering and fishing. In this way the Treaty that appeared to take away the Tribes’ rights and lands, actually became the means by which they could claim rights back, once the political climate had shifted. The Treaty is now something the CTUIR see as a gift from their ancestors, and a roadmap for their children.

Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR): Walla Walla, Cayuse and Umatilla Native peoples

Today there are over 2,900 enrolled members of the CTUIR, about half of whom live on the reservation in northeastern Oregon, near Pendleton. The 1855 Treaty and its guarantees make up a central part of the motivation and vision behind the CTUIR, as the Tribes are determined to press the U.S. to honor the Treaty. The governance style of the CTUIR reflects this priority in unique ways, and how this shift away from more common Native governance styles occurred can be uncovered in its history.

In 1934 the Collier Act gave U.S. tribes a choice of governance form. Three were offered, including a business council, or traditional governments. The latter was adopted, for example, by many tribes in the Southwest, in New Mexico and Arizona. The CTUIR chose to reject all these models and have a constitution instead (Karson, 2006).

When I explored how the unique governance style of the CTUIR came into being, I discovered that voices held the key, even more so than articles or books. One example is during an interview with Chuck Sams, III, head of communications and director of legislative affairs for the CTUIR. His voice took on a deeper timbre as his words echoed a cadence I surmised he had heard many times before. He told me how the big turning point for the Tribes’ governance style occurred just after WWII. At that point, Native men and women who had served overseas in the military returned to the reservation. “In Europe they saw something they wanted” (personal communication, 2015). There was a great deal of discussion between 1934-1949 about the government style the Tribes were considering. In 1949 they voted and passed by only seven votes, the motion to create a constitution. “That way we could fight the U.S. on equal ground, as a democracy with a constitution” (personal communication with Chuck Sams, III, 2015).

The generation that fought in WWII was the “bridging” generation (Karson, 2003), between the old life and the new. Maudie C. Antoine, Chairwoman, Board of Trustees, or leader of the Tribes, (and first woman to hold that position among the northwestern Native Americans) outlined this vision in her speech at the 1855 Treaty Centennial observance in Walla Walla, Washington, June 11, 1955. She said their role was to end

the 150-year long nightmare. . . . The past shadows every act and thought for my people today; it circumscribes our dreams and, to a large degree, has limited our future. Thus today for us, past history is living history. These truths have been handed down to us over the generations, not to create hatred but understanding and the ability to enable us to meet with faith and courage our responsibilities in a time and age when we face confusing accusations of being the offspring of generations of savages. (Karson, pp. 91-92, 2003)

According to Sams, this governance style is rooted in the belief of individual sovereignty. “No Indian can tell another Indian what to do. The Creator gave us free will. How you conduct yourself is what you do with the gift of the Creator. Rights give you individual sovereignty.” Embedded in the Tribes’ belief system is the conviction that personal security means the ability to hunt, gather and fish. These rights were also embedded in the 1855 Treaty. Sams said, “It is not just about surviving, but about thriving. This is paramount in understanding the significance of the Treaty. Because of individual sovereignty, our ancestors kept repeating that they could not give away the right to hunt, fish, and gather—this was an individual right. It meant keeping the people alive” (personal communication, 2015).

From the WWII veterans to current tribal leaders, having key individuals as elders and members of other management bodies has impacted the CTUIR. When viewed as individuals, these men and women have helped plot the path of the Tribes, heading it in the direction of health and survival, due to a wide variety of programs.

Examples of CTUIR Governance Strategies

The post-war leaders of the Tribes often felt inundated with good ideas and new plans, but eventually, with the consensus of the community, clear priorities emerged: Land and Education.

In 1965 the CTUIR won a court case against the government in compensation for lost land. The $2 million awarded to the Tribes was dispersed among members in “per-capita” payments, and became the seed for what would later become $1 million in education funds. Tribal leadership would have preferred the money to be invested in projects, but members made clear their preference for individual cash payments (Karson, 2003). Many in leadership saw this as a missed opportunity. In later years the Tribes took measures to reinvest future windfalls. Presently the CTUIR has an important economic and political impact on the economy of northeastern Oregon (Tower, 1998).

A large percentage of the present profits made by the Tribes goes toward the (re)acquisition of land (Karson, 2006). After the economic crisis of 2008, many ranches neighboring the reservation foreclosed, enabling the CTUIR to acquire land that was previously part of its holdings before reservation lands were sold off after the 1855 Treaty was signed (personal communication with museum personnel, 2009). The “Buy-Back” scheme sponsored by the Obama administration in 2014 is another example of how the CTUIR has set land strategy at the core of its governance style. This program involves federal subsidies to assist the Tribes in buying back sections of land so that the Tribes become a collective owner. It counteracts to a small degree, the far-reaching effect of the “checkerboard” reservation, or small plots of land, which may or may not be connected, but make up the reservation piecemeal. In this way the CTUIR aims to increase its collective landholdings and hold it in trust for future generations.

In addition to increasing their landholdings, the Tribes have set a priority on environmental restoration. Traditionally, they are a river people, and salmon has always been a source of survival and trade for the Tribes. To restore the water and the salmon to the Umatilla river became a project referred to as the “River of Hope.”


The CTUIR views land as something that cares for them, and they care for the land. The right to fish is a right guaranteed by the 1855 Treaty. So tribal leaders and members agreed that fisheries policy should be a high priority. In 1980 they initiated the Umatilla Basin Salmon Recovery Project

to restore water and salmon to the Umatilla River. The challenge was to achieve this while also protecting the local non-Indian economy, which is dependent on irrigated agriculture. The core of this ecosystem-based restoration plan is an innovative water-swapping agreement in which local irrigators agreed to relinquish their claims to water from the Umatilla and instead receive water piped from the Columbia River in order to raise the Umatilla’s flow to a level sufficient to bring salmon back. (Record, 2008)

The fisheries policy exemplifies the Tribes’ approach of “cooperation over confrontation.” Antone Minthorn, Chairman of CTUIR’s Board of Trustees, or leader of the Tribes, said, “If we have to, we will litigate to protect our treaty-reserved rights, but we have seen that we can create solutions which meet everyone’s needs by sitting down with our neighbors, listening to each other, and developing our own solutions. … We believe the cooperative process between neighbors can be used as a model for success in the region and beyond” (Record, 2008).

The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development listed the CTUIR as an Honoring Nation award winner for its Umatilla River Basin project (2014). The Harvard Project recognizes conditions when American Indian nations use applied research and service to achieve sustained, self-determined social and economic development. It recognizes outstanding examples of Tribal governance through the annual Honoring Nations Awards. When the CTUIR won this award in 2002 for its Salmon Recovery Project, it was just the first of several such awards. The other qualifying projects are outlined below, as further illustrations of the CTUIR governance model.

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (2002) is another example of programs that integrated fisheries enforcement, policy development and litigation support, fish marketing, and watershed restoration.

Healing Lodge (2002)

The Healing Lodge of the Seven Nations (a cooperative effort with the Colville, Spokane, Kalispell, Kootenai, Coeur d’Alene, and Nez Perce Tribes) is a treatment center that helps Native American youth and their families heal from substance abuse. The focus combines culture and spirituality with mental health/chemical dependency treatment. It includes family counseling and a juvenile justice improvement project, recreation, education, and cultural activities.

ONABEN’s Innovative Models for Enterprise Development (2005)

This consortium of Native nations in the Pacific Northwest aims to increase self-reliance by promoting the development of tribal-citizen-owned small businesses and the diversification of reservation economies. The programs provide financial counseling, business mentoring, start-up financing, links to tribal efforts, and access to a network of experienced teachers and business people: Native and non-Indian.

Financial, Credit and Consumer Protection Program (2006)

This CTUIR program recognizes the links between promoting a strong economy, maintaining positive cultural connections and the ability to own a home. Information covered includes generating awareness about predatory lending practices, and developing financial literacy skills, and generally bringing the dream of homeownership closer to reality. It is recognized that as members build and own homes on tribal land, the community and the Tribes are strengthened.

Public Transit (2010)

In the last decades the CTUIR became one of the larges employers in eastern Oregon. This caused many tribal members to return to the reservation. Nonetheless, a lack of transportation options often prevented them from availing themselves of local employment opportunities. The present Transit program includes a free bus and a taxi voucher service, covering a large service area both within and beyond reservation boundaries, and is interconnected with other non-tribal regional transport systems. This transit system has helped alleviate poverty, promote stronger inter-governmental relations, and facilitated community engagement (Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, 2014).

Cultural Resources Protection Program (2003)

The aim of this CTUIR initiative is to educate non-Indian agencies about pertinent laws and treaties with regard to tribal, federal, state, and private lands. In this way they strengthen cultural resource laws and policies, craft government-to-government relationships, train other tribes, and incorporate Native knowledge into a field historically dominated by non-Indians.

Archeology policy

In addition to the projects outlined above, the CTUIR has asserted its sovereignty in the field of archeological remains. When a 9,000-year-old skeleton was found in neighboring eastern Washington State in 1992, the CTUIR and other local tribes protested when scientists took the bones to perform research on the extremely rare, largely intact skeleton. Native groups claimed they had the right to their ancestors’ remains under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The scientists sued and won the case in 2004. Rather than pursue the issue further in courts with an appeal, the Tribes decided instead to try to change the system from within through fostering a growing understanding. By means of the above-mentioned Cultural Resources Protection Program, they now do this by fighting artifact trafficking and burial desecration. “The CTUIR have and will continue to demonstrate that American archaeology is better served when there is a relationship between the non-Indian archaeological community and Indian people, tribes, and bands – the only legitimate and true owners of native cultural resources” (Preston, 2014, p. 51).

In Burney (2002) tribal leaders are quoted as saying that they have been prevented from handling their cultural resources because they are not certified, and are not considered experts. In answer to those charges, the CTUIR spent 1986-1992 developing a tribally owned and managed contract archaeology program. Though some non-Indian archaeologists view this as a threat to a discipline previously dominated by non-Indians, the Tribes say they see this as an opportunity to realize a vision, a vision of respect for all parties involved.

The CTUIR says this raising awareness is a form of reaching out to help allies build up resources and strengths through training and workshops. Tribal leader at the time, Armand Minthorn, stated, “The CTUIR eventually lost the case, and the Kennewick Man was subjected to scientific research. Instead, CTUIR decided to focus on improving NAGPRA legislation (Minthorn, n.d.).


The Tribes continue to assert their sovereignty at as many levels as possible. For example, the updated Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) will officially take effect in early 2015, but in 2014, the Umatilla Tribe was elected to become part of a pilot project that will enable the Tribes to enforce this law sooner. This means that non-indigenous men who assault Native American women can now be persecuted by the CTUIR itself, whereas previously this was impossible (United States Department of Justice, 2014).


Within the Native American population, 39 percent are aged 24 and under. According to the 2014 Native Youth Report, researched and published by the Executive Office of the President in December, 2014, more than a third of all Native American and Native Alaskan children live in poverty. In addition, the high school graduation rate is well below the national average. And perhaps most disturbing of all: the suicide rate is 2.5 times as high as for other youths aged 15-24.


Education policy is an extremely sensitive and complex issue within Native communities.

Past efforts to meet trust obligations often have led to problematic results, even when intentions were good. Education was at the center of many harmful policies because of its nexus with social and cultural knowledge. Education was—and remains—a critical vehicle for impacting the lives of Native youth for better or worse

The hallmarks of colonial experiments in Indian education were religious indoctrination, cultural intolerance, and the wholesale removal of Native children from their languages, religions, cultures, families, and communities. The overlapping goals of this “education” and “civilization” operated as euphemisms and justifications for taking culturally and physically injurious actions against Native children and their peoples. (Executive Office of the President, pp. 4, 7, 2014).

This history of Native education policy started with words like the infamous ones of Captain Richard Henry Pratt, founder of the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, founded in 1879. He said, “Kill the Indian, save the man.” However, in 1923, John Collier, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, said, “The administration of Indian affairs [is] a disgrace – a policy designed to rob Indians of their property, destroy their culture [,] and eventually exterminate them.” The year 1969 saw the establishment of the Subcommittee on Indian Education, and the subsequent Kennedy Report, “Indian Education: A National Tragedy, a National Challenge.” Important changes in the law occurred in 1972 with the Indian Education Act; in 1975 with the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act; in 1978 with the Tribally Controlled Community College Assistance Act; and in 1988 with the Tribally Controlled Schools Act (Executive Office of the President, pp. 8, 10-12, 2014).

Kevin Gover, Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, said in 2000,

This agency [the BIA] forbade the speaking of Indian languages, prohibited the conduct of traditional religious activities, outlawed traditional government, and made Indian people ashamed of who they were. Worst of all, the Bureau of Indian Affairs committed these acts against the children entrusted to its boarding schools, brutalizing them emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually.

The trauma of shame, fear and anger has passed from one generation to the next, and manifests itself in the rampant alcoholism, drug abuse, and domestic violence that plague Indian country. (Executive Office of the President, p. 13, 2014)

As a result of all the above, only 13 per cent of Native Americans and Alaska Natives have a bachelor’s degree, whereas the national average is 29 per cent. Only 39 per cent of Native students who start a bachelor’s degree complete it, compared with 62 per cent of non-Indian students.

According to the 2014 Native Youth Report, causes include:

  • Lack of tribal involvement/control over native education
  • Lack of support for poor Native American students
  • Lack of good teachers (wages too low, rural setting)
  • Lack of native languages and culture in schools (only 38 of 187 native languages in US/Canada are currently being taught to children)
  • Insufficient funding
  • Child poverty at 34 per cent, compared with 21 per cent nationally
  • Lower wages, employment levels than other groups
  • Obesity (40% of 2-4 year olds) and diabetes
  • Substance abuse among adolescents (alcohol, drugs)

The President’s Report made the following recommendations for change:

  • More tribal control over education (also beneficial for incorporating language/cultural education, adapting the curriculum to local needs)
  • BIE Blueprint for Reform: transfer control over education from Bureau of Indian Affairs to tribal governments
  • State Tribal Education Partnership (STEP) grant program
  • Community based student supporters
  • More native languages and culture in the classroom
  • Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) on Native Languages between various federal agencies
  • Native American Languages Summit; Working Together for Native American Language Success – June 2014
  • Support for teachers and school leaders (to address current shortage)
  • Implement 21st century technology (internet is very slow in many BIA schools)
  • Suicide prevention
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Tribal Behavioral Health Grant (TBHG/Native Connections)
  • Address behavioral health issues

As a sign of the commitment on behalf of the Executive branch of the federal government, Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior, states in the 2014 Native Youth Report, “The future of Indian Country rests on ensuring American Indian children receive a world-class education that honors their cultures, languages and identities as Indian people.”

I have included this extensive list as a means of highlighting how CTUIR governance has already been aware of these issues and working on similar solutions. In this way the 2014 Native Youth Report serves as a checklist for the CTUIR, affirming the direction of its programs. On their website the following categories can be found under Education:

  • Adult Basic Education
  • After School Education Program
  • Day care Program (Ataw Miyanasma)
  • Head Start
  • Higher Education & Adult Vocational Training
  • Language Program
  • Nixyaawii Community School
  • Summer school.

Before the Report was even issued, the CTUIR had targeted many of these areas as ones in need of time, energy, and investment. Their governance model also includes the need for language education, as this reinforces a sense of positive identity.


The Nixyaawii Community school offers language immersion programs, with the aim of contributing towards revitalization of the Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Weyíiletpuu (Cayuse) languages. The program is designed to “retrieve, preserve, invigorate and teach the three dialects to tribal members and wholeheartedly involve all fluent language speakers to their full capacity” (, 2015).

Currently, the Language Program offers a language immersion program for children aged 3 to 5, who spend four hours a day in the program. There are also adult classes offered for Tribal members to learn from fluent speakers. An annual Language Knowledge Bowl brings students together from the Warm Springs, Yakama, Lapwai, Kamiah, Goldendale, and Pendleton areas to compete in the annual event. The competition is composed of a large vocabulary list where student are required to translate verbs, nouns, adjectives, animals, plants and phrases in to their respective languages they are studying. In the past this event has attracted over 80 participants and 200 observers (, 2014). CTUIR sees language as a tool for renewal.

Language for the people of Nixyáawii, the place of many springs, is a way of life and being. Within the phrases and words of our language is the history of our people and the strength and emotion of our tribal community.

By tapping into the knowledge of our fluent speakers, we are working to recapture our language for the benefit of generations to come. Our Language Program is dedicated to recording fluent speakers, archiving language material, making language accessible for all tribal members and teaching the languages of Umatilla, Walla Walla and Weyíiletpuu (Cayuse) to all ages. (, 2015)

In addition, there is an Umatilla Dictionary, published in November, 2014. According to UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, Umatilla has 100 speakers and is “severely endangered.” Today, speakers of all levels speak Umatilla and Walla Walla. The Umatilla language is the southern Sahaptin dialect and the Walla Walla is the northeast dialect of Sahaptin. Weyíiletpuu is a dialect of the Nez Perce language as used by the Cayuse people. A distinctive dialect of the Cayuse people has not been used since the 1940s and is designated as extinct (, 2015).

According to the Tribes’ mission statement: “The CTUIR Language Program will work towards revitalization of the Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Weyíiletpuu languages.  And will preserve, retrieve, document, teach and increase or restore language usage to tribal English-first speakers and beginner native language speakers and wholeheartedly involve all fluent speakers to their full capacity” (, 2015).

The establishment of language education has strong ties with confirming a positive image of Native peoples, linking back to an affirming sense of identity. Giving young people, especially, something more than alcohol and drugs to relate to, in terms of identity, helps them reinvent their identity, or rediscover it, as in the case of the CTUIR.


The Tamástslikt center on the Umatilla Reservation is off of Exit 216 on Interstate 84, the connection with Pendleton. The center took 10 years to build and cost $18 million (Egan, 1998). Tamástslikt is a means of attracting tourists and increasing understanding about the Tribes’ perspective on history. The location is key because it is part of the old Oregon Trail that pioneers traversed in the 1880s.

As an example of the innovative way in which the CTUIR places itself in the tourist market, in 1998, they sent a delegation to Berlin’s biggest tourism trade show in the world. They handed out posters of a Cayuse Indian leader in a buffalo headdress with the slogan Nicht Ihr Durchschnittlicher Reisefuhrer or “Not Your Average Tour Guide.” The Tribes strive to be perceived as a “dynamic, evolving, healthy people. That’s not exactly what people expect to see when they visit a reservation” (Conner, quoted in Egan, 1998).

The center plays a key role in confirming a positive identity among all members of the Tribes, but especially the young people. According to tribal elder Les Minthorn, “Tamástslikt is a source of strength and a repository for all tribal members.” Here, the stereotypical and prejudiced scripts of Indians as nothing but drunks and drug addicts is countered with a narrative of strength and wisdom.

According to Thomas Morning Owl, a modern-day tribal member, “Children today don’t understand who they are. . . . They begin to accept and follow other ways, they shrug their shoulders when they are told what it means to be native, a person of the land. To be Indian is to be a person who is independent, who is worthy, who is disciplined in life and respectful of things around you – elders, home life, education. Too many of us fit the stereotype that fails and blames everybody else for our own actions.” To belong to the “Rez” means not daring to get off it because expectations are so low, they guarantee no failure (Phinney, 2007).

By providing an alternative script for the young people of the CTUIR, the community opens up a new, or renewed sense of who they were and who they are, as well as who they may become. This is, in fact, how the Tamástslikt cultural institute is structured. Visitors see exhibitions about the past, learn about the present, and share a dream of the future. Part of this future will be a continued renewal of water resources. As explained at the cultural center, the Walla Walla tribe’s own name is wánapam, which means “people of the river.” The Umatilla river project is called the “River of Hope” by the Tribes, because of its success in bringing back the salmon after 70 years of extinction. There is hope that the subsequent Walla Walla basin project may succeed in the same way in future years.

To be a people of the river, means that the metaphors of running deep, and the river of life, and peace as a river, all resonate among members of the Tribes. Members say it gives them a sense of being rooted in the land and having the support of not just their present community, but past tribal members as well. The leaders who fought in WWII are quoted as having handed down a work ethic to the Tribes, which has meant that providing jobs and training, especially among young people, is another top priority demonstrated by CTUIR tribal governance policies.


Across the street from the cultural center stands the Wildhorse Casino, which opened in 1994. Fifteen per cent of its revenues are paid to reservation residents in so-called “per-capita payments.” In 2006 these payments totaled $1400 per tribe member (Phinney, 2007). In addition, Cayuse Technologies, an outsourcing business, is located in the Coyote Business Park. Other enterprises owned by the Tribes include Arrowhead Travel Plaza—a truck stop; the Mission Market—a convenience store; and the grain elevator. The CTUIR is the second most important employer in Umatilla county, after the State of Oregon.

The presence as a major employer ensures that the CTUIR is taken seriously by political and economic leaders in Oregon. Keeping its members employed contrasts with the generalizations and prejudice usually associated with Native communities. Young people say they find inspiration and role models among themselves. What follows are two examples of youth voices that have inspired not just the CTUIR community, but all of Indian Country, as the Native community on a national basis is referred to.

Voices of the Present

An article in USA Today on 10 December 2014 quoted a CTUIR member, Denise Wickert. She attended the Tribal Nations Conference in Washington, D.C., which marked the release of the 2014 Native youth Report, commissioned by President Obama. Wickert is 26 and admits in the article to underage drinking and barely graduating from high school. While attending high school off the reservation she was stigmatized. “Being native, I was labeled a gangster. We were automatically seen as troubled youth.” Wickert took part in an Upward Bound program at the University of Colorado, then continued her studies while living on the reservation. There, she started a tribal youth council in 2012 with a $5,000 grant. She says her motivation was to provide other Native youth with a program supporting leadership goals. Wickert says she now celebrates sobriety, is taking online courses for a bachelor’s degree in social welfare, and she helps Native youth with college preparation. She admits that the statistics are against Native people, and she works full time in the drug, alcohol and suicide prevention programs at the CTUIR Yellowhawk health center.

Another inspiration for young people at CTUIR is the basketball player, Shoni Schimmel. She grew up on the reservation, but went to high school in Portland, where her mother got a job coaching the women’s team. She and her sister Jude both helped bring their school into victory after victory. Shoni then earned a scholarship at University of Louisville, where she was voted most-valuable player and again assisted in Louisville’s epic run throughout the NCAA tournament. Now as a player in the professional team, Atlanta Dream, Schimmel has had a film made about her, called Off the Rez. She is responsible for bringing huge crowds to women’s basketball games around the country. When asked about her rough style of playing, Schimmel said, “Rez Ball. It’s run and gun, shoot whenever you’re open, trust in your heart” (NY Times, 2013). Her older brother Shae says she played basketball with him and other boys on the reservation. “She used to humiliate guys,” he said. Schimmel describes her style of leadership as “stronger, tougher, wiser” (Schimmel, 2015). Her aunt, Michelle Moses, says of Schimmel, “She can be an inspiration, she can be a motivation. She can be a voice” (Schnell, 2010).


Despite the optimistic strategies and programs put in place by CTUIR leadership, when viewed as a group, troubling recent statistics point to results that might belie the pro-active governance style. Whereas the relative wealth of the tribe has increased over the years due to these programs, a new study (Guedel, 2014), the reliability of which is under question, reveals that the poverty level has increased. Tribal gaming revenue nationally yielded $28 billion in 2013, roughly the same since 2008, but up from $6.3 billion in 1996, when tribes across the country began using the loophole in federal laws to establish casinos on reservations. Tribal governments throughout the U.S. use these funds as a sovereign resource and utilize them for economic and human security development programs. In 2000, the percentage of CTUIR members living at or below the poverty level was 17.2, or 279 of the 1562 total members. In 2010, however, the poverty percentage had risen to 23.2 percent. Tribal members receive per-capita payments based on the casino profits, and these are often viewed as a form of collective support. Tribes that do not pay their members in this way, also do not show the increase in poverty levels (Guedel, 2014). The study itself, and the policy both are controversial, and other contributing factors to the increase in poverty need to be identified. In the CTUIR’s case, this increase reflects 94 more people living in poverty among the 2010 population of 1605, compared to a total 2000 population of 1562.

Future research could include further investigation into why there is such a disconnect between the rhetoric of CTUIR success, and the alleged reality of increased poverty levels.

However, the governance style of the CTUIR, with its emphasis on earmarking profits for scholarship funds, acquisition of tribal lands, job creation, and environmental restoration, provides a possible blueprint for other marginalized groups wishing to increase their voice and agency.

There is a legend among several Native American tribes that the sacrifices made in the last 180 years would be redeemed in the seventh generation. Modern environmentalists sometimes use this phrase, seventh generation, to refer to the need for forward-thinking and visionary environmental policies. But the Native seventh-generation prophecy, as it is sometimes referred to, is not about environmental policy. It is about hope. This governance model practiced by the CTUIR recreates an identity, rooted in youth role models, language, and tradition, while looking to the future, beyond even the seventh generation. In doing so, it gives hope to all communities battling to escape a legacy of despair and injustice.


Beckham, S. (2007). Chapter 11: Federal-Indian Relations. In L. Berg (Ed.), The First Oregonians. Portland, OR: Oregon Council for the Humanities.

Bureau of Justice Statistics. (July 26, 20111). Census of State and Local law Enforcement Agencies, 2008. Retrieved from

Burney, M. (2002). It’s About Time: A Decade of Papers 1988-1998. Moscow, ID: JONA (2015).

Egan, T. (1998, September 21). Indian Reservations Bank on Authenticity to Draw Tourists. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Executive Office of the President. (2014). Native Youth Report 2014. Retrieved from

Guedel, W. G. (2014). Sovereignty, economic development, and human security in Native American nations. American Indian Law Journal 3, 1

The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development. (2014). List of 1998-2010 Honoring Nations award winners. Retrieved from

Jersyk, J. (1998). Cayuse. In S. Malinowski (Ed.), The Gale encyclopedia of Native American tribes (V. 3, pp. 384-389). Detroit, MI: Gale.

Karson, J. (Ed.). (2006). wiyáxyxt As days go by wiyáakaa?awn: Our history, our land, and our people the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla. Pendleton, OR: Tamástslikt Cultural Institute; Portland, OR: Oregon Historical Society Press; Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

Minthorn, A. (n.d.) Human Remains Should Be Reburied. Retrieved from

NY Times. (2013). Retrieved from

Phinney, W. (2007). Chapter 9: The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation: Modern Indian Peoples Sustained by the Land and Rivers of Their Ancestors. In L. Berg (Ed.), The first Oregonians. Portland, OR: Oregon Council for the Humanities.

Preston, D. (September 2014). The Kennewick Man Finally Freed to Share His Secrets. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from

Record, I. W. (2008). JOPNA (Joint Occasional Papers on Native Affairs). We Are the Stewards: Indigenous-led Fisheries innovation in North America. Retrieved from

Schimmel, S. (2015). Living My Dream …Off the Rez, in R. Minthorn & A. F. Chavez, Indigenous Leadership in Higher Education. New York: Routledge.

Schnell, L. (2010, March 5). 6A girls: Franklin star Shoni Schimmel driven to inspire other Natives. The Oregonian. Retrieved from

Tower, C. (1998). Umatilla. In S. Malinowski (Ed.), The Gale encyclopedia of Native American tribes (V. 3, pp. 488-492). Detroit, MI: Gale.

United States Census Bureau. (Feb. 20, 2013). American Indian and Alaska Native Poverty Rate about 50 Percent in Rapid City, S.D., and about 30 Percent in Five Other Cities, Census. Retrieved from

United States Department of Justice. (2014). Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization 2013. Retrieved from

USA Today. (2014, Dec. 10). Native Youth Initiative. Retrieved from

Woody, E. (2007). Chapter 1: The Tribe Next Door: Tradition, Innovation, and Multiculturalism. In L. Berg (Ed.), The first Oregonians. Portland, OR: Oregon Council for the Humanities.

Zucker, J., Hummel, K., & Hogfoss, B. (1983). Oregon Indians: Culture, History & Current Affairs. Portland, OR: The Press of the Oregon Historical Society.

* Many thanks to my Research Assistant Amanda Geenen for her tireless work. I am grateful to Professor Ali Watson, and to Bennett Collins, both of whom encouraged me in this research.

18 July 2015

Cowboys and Indians

Filed under: SWIP (Supposed Work-in-Progress),The Children's Voices — annedegraaf @ 5:04 pm

Pendleton-20150718-00472Pendleton-20150718-00473Pendleton-20150718-00474Pendleton-20150718-00475I’m just saying…I decided to explore the area around the Umatilla Reservation yesterday. There’s a tiny grocery store on the Rez called the Mission Market. “Mission” because that’s the name of the small town on the Rez. It’s actually not much more than a 4-way flashing red stoplight with an Appaloosa mare and her foal grazing nearby. Not going to comment on the irony of the name Mission, except to say, let’s hear it for manifest destiny. At the Mission Market I asked two lovely ladies where there might be more shops. “In town.” Which town? “Drive straight this way into Pendleton.” So I did, and 15 minutes outside of Mission, this is what I found. Couldn’t resist the Group Therapy sign (aiming for lowest prices). Then I walked into Garner’s Sporting Goods and holy shmoly, found myself in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie! Guys dressed in khaki all hanging around the door as I entered. They held it open for me, though. But these guns!!!! Ok, so I’m from a slightly different culture, and had to put on my social science hat and observe, not judge, right? When I tried to take these photos as unobtrusively as possible, the owner came up to me, “You’re not from some group, are you?” No, don’t worry, I smiled charmingly. And left quickly.

Great interviews yesterday. I won’t tell you what was said, though. Why? Because for the first time in my many years of listening to young people in post-conflict areas, I heard young people ask me about how the information they were sharing would be used. I reassured them that before anything they said was made public, I would clear it with them and with the Communication Director for the Tribes. They were aware of their rights! That was amazing cool thing number 1. Amazing cool thing number 2 was that the CTUIR Director of Department of Children and Family Services, who is herself a former member of the Board of Trustees (9 elected members who govern the Tribes), reassured these young people that I was safe to talk to and had been vetted. So I really am in.

So, though I can’t tell you what they said, I can say they were just back from Washington, D.C., where they met Michelle Obama and were told that both she and the President have their backs. (But what does that really mean, I’m wondering. They looked so proud when they told me this.) And I can say they were articulate and honest and gutsy. I was thinking, oh, these guys would have been so good to have along on Peace Lab. (That’s the course I taught in June when Erik and I took 21 students to Kosovo.)

Had an excellent interview with the woman who set up the Youth Council. It’s barely two years old. The language of the documents is straight out of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. When I asked her about this, she said they used the language from their own Board resolutions. So this tells me a rights discourse is embedded in their governance structure. Voice is very prominent in the language, that youth have a right to voice. And despite older tribal members saying when they were young they were told to keep quiet unless spoken to, these same elders now embrace and encourage their youth to speak up and bring about change. Youth, voice and agency. This makes my young heart happy.

17 July 2015

High stakes

ImageWhen I checked in to the Wildhorse Casino Hotel on Wednesday, the front desk lady said, “Good luck!” I smiled and asked why, thinking, does she know I’m here not really knowing what I’m looking for?! And she said, “You’re checked in for so long, you’re here for the million-dollar high-stakes poker game, right?” I laughed and said not really. But then again…maybe yes, maybe no, maybe ice cream! Have never stayed in a casino before, ha!

Had my first interview yesterday—with Chuck Sams, III, Director of Communications, Confederated Tribes (Umatilla, Cayuse, Walla Walla) of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR).  He had a different kind of job in Portland for 14 years, where he worked with the Trust for Public Land as National Director of the Tribal & Native Lands Program. Assisting over seventy tribes and native communities, he helped develop strategies to reclaim Native lands with a focus on watersheds, wildlife corridors, working forests, and waterways. He told me, “Then I came home.” Two more times during the interview he used that word, instead of reservation or Rez. “At home, we…” And each time, the word resonated.

Shocking thing to hear (but then I can be so naive sometimes. As my students know, it’s all about sovereignty): “Obama might have told our youth in Washington, D.C. that he has their back, but we cannot trust the courts, and Congress runs our affairs, contrary to international law. And this Congress will do nothing for us.” What was shocking was his resignation and acceptance. I KNOW this, I know the history, but to be sitting across from a nice 40-something man who is articulate and kind and willing to put up with my questions, and hear, “We don’t trust the courts,” in a tone which brooks no argument, brings the history into the room and I look at his photos of military buddies and think he might have been in Iraq during Desert Storm, and my heart is not happy.

I am struggling with many emotions on this trip, and as is my way, writing is how I process. Which is why my long-starved blog is now feeding on words. One thing is that I’m seeing through a Social Science point-of-view…me! Well, my own people. I’m not in South Africa listening to Eastern Cape Xhosa anymore, I’m in America, watching white (maybe) Christians in a casino. And what an eye-opener that is! I walked through the casino yesterday for the first time and had a physical reaction to the noise and cigarette smoke and passivity of the people I passed. They are either heavily tattooed or elderly, mostly very overweight, slumped in front of the 1200 slots, eyes glazed over, pushing buttons, as music and video game racket screams from each machine over and over. Multiply that 1200 times and it’s a shocking contrast to the Nixyaawii Governance Center where I met Chuck. This tall building of stone and wood reached out and welcomed me with its peace and quiet. As I waited for Chuck (arrived 10 minutes early in true Dutch fashion), an elderly Native man, tiny, sat at the reception desk and told me how he doesn’t mind the 90-minute drive to work every day because he lives in beautiful country. Where, I asked. “You know where Pilot Rock is?” I nodded I saw the exit the day before. “Get on that road,” he said, “and just keep on driving.”

The Governance Center, like their museum is an architectural delight: high ceilings, a turning and twisting of corners and hidden corridors, so I am disoriented, but willing to trust the being lost. A water exhibit on the ground floor explains water rights. So still, then laughter from an office. In the parking lot, there are spaces spray painted: Reserved for Elder.

After the interview I go to the museum, then back to the hotel to type my notes. I need a margarita, I think. But I discover no alcohol is served in the hotel. What, no alcohol served anywhere on the reservation except the casino? Is this the elders’ doing? I go to the sports bar in the casino. Have to walk through the casino again, and this time I find myself holding my breath as I pass the bodies hunched forward over the slots. There are more of them. The contrast with the people I just spoke with is as great as the living and the living dead.

I do a mini-interview with the bartender: Why no alcohol served in the hotel? “Tribal law. This is sovereign land, so some of the laws are different than those of the state of Oregon.” Like what? “No liquor store either. We allow smoking in public places, like the casino.” Why? “It draws more gamblers.” What else? “No pot allowed on the reservation” (Oregon recently legalised pot and there were farms selling it during my drive on Wednesday). He smiles. “But this might change.”

I order a margarita and it is a huge bowl of ice with some mix and a few drops of tequila. Ok, that wasn’t worth the walk through the casino. I look up at the screens and see the Open being played at St Andrews!!! Yes, something familiar!! And they all look so cold and windblown. My eyes feast on the green dunes of the Old Course.

On my walk back through the casino to get to the hotel, I get all turned around. It’s a confusing place with all the noise and Annie really doesn’t like it there. So I try and hurry, but I pass the poker room, where the first rounds of the million-dollar tournament are being played, and sneak the shot shown at the top of this post.

See who the dealers are? See who the security guard walking the tables is? Native. Back in the hotel lobby a young man is sweeping the stone floor between stunning bronze statues of horses. His hair tied back, reaches below his waist. I wonder what the people who work here, mostly from the Tribes, must think of the people who come here and provide them with jobs. Am I the only one who sees the irony of white greed providing jobs for a Native community?

More interviews today: a former member of the Board of Trustees (their term for Council of Elders), she is an advocate for children’s rights and helped establish a Youth Council, and I’ll be listening to some of the young people on that council. Chuck has set this up for me. And he is also setting up an interview with at least one of the Elders, who are very busy and very protected.

I keep wondering why I have been accepted, or am being tolerated. When I first spoke to Chuck on the phone in February for my paper (see previous post), instead of me interviewing him, he interviewed me and put me in my place. (“We don’t need your help,” when I had asked, what do you need? And he got all quiet and didn’t like it when I referred to them as a marginalized group. Steep learning curve for me.) Now I have found favor. Maybe the TEDx talk helped? Yesterday’s interview with him was all about my establishing trust. I found myself telling him stories of Dad; it’s a precious story he told on the Hoek van Holland beach as we were walking together many years ago. A story about when he was 18 during WWII and on the Navy carrier off the coast of Japan. A friend of his was gay and Dad woke up one morning to find his friend gone. He’d been thrown overboard during the night. Because it was wartime, they had called it a casualty. Dad said he was so afraid to speak up, scared if he did that the same might happen to him. So he kept quiet for 60 years. And I was the first person he told. He still felt so bad about not saying anything. I told him it’s high time to let it go; it wasn’t your fault.

And then, when Dad was with me and Juul in eastern Oregon during our road trip several years ago, he told the only other war story I ever heard from him, about how ashamed he was of friends who raped Japanese women at the end of the war. “Good Catholic boys like me,” he said.

So, for whatever reason, I told these stories to Chuck yesterday. Offered them up like gems. And it broke through, bringing a new depth to our conversation. He leaned forward and nodded. “Anne, you asked why our WWII veterans came back and took the tribe in a different direction. It’s exactly because of what your father experienced. They saw the American war machine close up and knew the U.S. can get what whatever it wants. They could come and take away our land at anytime. The only way we would survive is if we learned to speak their language. So they convinced the members we needed a constitution. And we hired a lawyer on a $5 retainer to write one for us.”

That constitution was the turning point for the Tribes.

Anyway, certainly a place of shrill contrasts here. A people not just surviving, but thriving. I’ve read their 2010 Comprehensive Plan and they have a long-term vision. They have grown from 200 members in 1900 to 3000 today, and had an operating budget in 2010 of $194 million. They use the money to buy back land (sometimes from bankrupt ranchers), and to give scholarships to their youth. I asked him about present challenges, and he said dealing wisely with their prosperity.

Doesn’t really fit the picture of your average Indian reservation, does it? That’s why I’m here.

16 July 2015

On the road again

Filed under: SWIP (Supposed Work-in-Progress),Words by Others,Write on — annedegraaf @ 4:29 pm

View from my casino hotel room on Umatilla Reservation, near Pendleton, OR.

(I’ve come back to the U.S. to spend a few weeks in a Native American community I first visited with my father and daughter several years ago. I was so impressed by the books I read, bought at their museum store then, that I never stopped wondering how they had managed to create such a unique community. I wrote a paper for the International Studies Association last year, based on preliminary research and interviews done over the phone, and it was so well received, I thought it would be worthwhile to come back and meet people in person to try to understand more. So here I am–looking into youth, voice, agency, and a unique governance style. What follows was posted on fb, as well.)

Spent 9 hours driving from Vancouver, B.C. to the Umatilla Reservation near Pendleton, Oregon yesterday. Temps around 100 (38 C) in some places. So hot it hurt. I listened to the radio a lot and learned there’s such a thing as New Country music. And I heard pro-gun arguments. I sang along to the Classic Rock station (yay James Brown, Led Zeppelin, and Stones songs!). And I listened to preaching and tunes on several Christian stations. I listened closely, and heard something subtle and disturbing, a scurrying down the slippery slope. To my not-been-in-America-for-a-couple-of-years ears, it sounded like sexism and racism and homophobia–sometimes blatant, but mostly systemic–so engrained in the way of thinking and talking it could not even see, let alone hear, how hurtful the statements might be from a position outside of white privilege. A clear line-drawing in the sand of them vs. us. Who are they? I wondered. And why are “we” so afraid, so ignorant?

Then today when I interviewed a wise man of the Tribes, the Communication director and sort-of gatekeeper to the Elders, he asked if I noticed changes in the U.S. I said yes, and without his knowing I felt as I’ve described above, he told me about a retired congressman from Oregon he knows, who said instead of trying to improve the country, we have become only interested in protecting our own interests. Me. And at the political and many other levels, that means no longer saying I understand you and I disagree, or even help me understand you, it means give me what I feel I’m entitled to. Protect my interests. Me.

I sometimes say to my students, you’re probably wondering where we’re going with this. Something about the most powerful country in the world feeling so misunderstood and persecuted that its people have to lash out at others. See, and that didn’t make sense, until I read a blog entry by someone else (see bottom of this post), shared by my wise friend Howie. The victim rhetoric described here, and repeated on the radio stations I listened to yesterday is crippling for our society; it prevents people from entering into what is a sign of civilization: public debate. It blocks a society from growing and flourishing. When a discourse lashes out at others, alarm bells should go off because it’s time to start searching our own hearts. Referring to people with verbs used for animals, denigrating groups with a single story of being evil, is a path that ultimately ends in human rights violations and sometimes, horribly, in genocide. The alternative? Listen to others’ stories without judgment, try to see, hope to hear, and strive to understand. Realize we all share a common vulnerability.

(Hmm, so much for not lecturing during the summer….)

22 September 2013

Change of direction

_69699014_arrows_thinkstockSo is this up, or have I turned left? More than a year since my last post. Why is that? Look at the title of that entry, take away the first, second and fourth words, and you’ll have your answer.

And now…now I have a new job at the Free University and University of Amsterdam’s honours college: Amsterdam University College (AUC). Am in joy working with new colleagues from all over the world, and teaching my new students: so smart and engaged and multilingual and caring. They come from South America, all over Europe, Vietnam, and Pakistan.

We’re slogging our way through the theory now, but soon, soon they’ll be flying–choosing their own directions as we learn together how to better understand the world around us. Such a privilege to be part of that process. I threaten them with midnight phone calls, when I’ll ask them random questions about International Relations (IR):

  • 1648? (Westphalian Treaty)
  • The one sure rule in IR? (Don’t invade Russia in the winter.)
  • What is IR about? (Perspectives).

I’m a fulltime Lecturer at AUC–all IR classes, from the current IR Theory and Practice to next semester’s Human Rights and Human Security to Violence and Conflict, as well as Global Identity. Dream classes all–and with only 25 students per class. Started 1 August and feel very at home. So that’s good.

Direction is relative, right? One person’s up is another’s down. And left in the mirror looks like right. Yet, while all the gurus tell us change is good, it remains hugely threatening. BECAUSE WE’RE NOT IN CONTROL.

So my advice: Let go to lay hold.

And don’t look back.

7 April 2010


Filed under: SWIP (Supposed Work-in-Progress),Thin and Thick Places,Write on — annedegraaf @ 6:46 pm

(Fifth and last in a series)

This is Frankowka. It is an artists’ retreat, a bed-and-breakfast (Agatha cooks the most unbelievable vegetarian meals, as well as the softest and moistest cakes ever). It is an antique and art gallery, art renovation studio, home away from home (see previous four posts). You can go there. You can rest and find yourself here, in the Polish countryside, 900 km from Amsterdam. Beautiful en-suite bedrooms, art that opens your eyes, long walks in the countryside, all on the road to Warsaw. You, too, can enjoy this magic place–but I won’t give you the phone number–you’ll have to email me for it.

In future years I will return to Frankowka with more students and we will write on. There will be open-mikes for our poetry readings in the jazz cafe-slash-art gallery. There may even be a twinning between Webster and the local university, where the grandfather teaches Aesthetics.

When I came home from Poland, my family and friends and colleagues asked me how the writing retreat went. “It was an extraordinary week,” I told them all. But the secret is, I came home filled with words, filled with peace, filled with hope.

That there is a place on earth that give such gifts, deserves to be advertised.

Here’s the poem we all wrote:

Ode to Frankowka
Tears in my fire, voldka cried when I saw the art.
Calm art, sweet art, dream of my art.
Words and all that jazz.
You pay a price for things in life,
Be it illness or be it strife.
Zulu’s in my bed,
Can’t wait to rest my head.
Philosophy in the air,
Came before religion, so there!
Don’t down too much emotional engagement
Where you go, in Malibu
Lola, lola, lola,
Everything we say comes true,
Can’t wait to spend my time with you.
Practicize, you snobbistic woman.
Old eyes of wisdom, but young at heart,
Never fell in love, but loves his art.
Polski pierogi pasta platcki petrol
Oh my pregnant belly!
Szymon says, szymon you.
Szymon’s bed says, who ARE you?
Unexpected gifts at unexpected times
Is the way to a woman’s heart.
A longer second toe, have we all,
It helps us balance, not to fall.
Kelsey kicks ass at soccer,
Yeslek skcik ssa ta reccos.
She has a way of pulling emotions,
Kelsey and the grandfather are crying oceans.
Agatha bakes
Delicious cakes.
Never-ending homework, lousy internet connection
Why can’t Szymon get this done, intellectual masturbation.
Wroclaw fever,
Tire pressure weaver
Can’t go home
Gotta leave her.

6 April 2010

Process of renovation

(4th in a series of five–Written in Poland 13 March 2010)

Interview with Jurek Ludwikowski:

First, look at the frame itself and imagine which picture it will fit and the right period and color. Imagine a hidden image. For example, the frame near the dining room has a lot of brown in it and silver, old silver on the edges.

Secondly, look at the quality of wood—what can be improved and renovated Once you decide to renovate a frame, you must be very careful because when you renovate a frame, you change the character of a frame. He has to change anyway, but you want to change it without losing the essence of the frame, without changing the soul of a frame.

For example, Impressionist painters like to have Baroque-style frames. But you must also keep the differentiation between the painting and frame—consider the tone and color of the painting and the tone and color of the frame, as well as the paspartout. There is a separation between the expression of the painting and the expression of the frame. This separation is important

What is the soul of a frame? It’s not just the frame; the interaction of the paspartout plus frame plus picture, all of this together is the soul.

Here is an example of the process: I bought a painting that expressed a classical idea. Would this fit in a normal frame? So I asked myself, “What can I do?” I decided to extend the picture. I used the paspartout to put an oval painting into a square frame. The painting itself is highly symbolist, it’s expressing something of high quality.

Art and imagination, the combination is so important!

This painting was a coincidence. I went to a framing store in Brussels, and decided what they were asking for was ridiculously expensive and I could do it himself in my own workshop, since he I the tools.

Look at the framework. Ask what the connection is between the frame and the picture. Keep the soul of the painting.

Is there a golden rule, what sets you apart from bad renovators? I don’t differentiate—I use different sources. What you are doing with poetry, I do here. I spend hours to bring more feeling—it’s the same process as asking over and over again, what am I really trying to say? It’s a matter of interpretation; you and I just use different materials.

What is art? Beauty is intellectual (K: it has to do with the associations), but a decorator is fighting for his own beauty; a combination between humanism and softness, this is beauty.

How do you feel when you get it just right, the right combination of frame and picture? I always have a “but” to my own work. Never satisfied. I could always do better.

To create beauty is the highest motive in life. I have failed a lot of the time; it’s a matter of emotion, that of the creator, and that of the person who sees the final version. It’s a combination of work, emotion, and intellectualism (associations).

Art is the element of two creators:  the one who gives, and the one who receives.

5 April 2010

Falling off the map

(3rd in a series of five–Written in Poland 10 March 2010)

Today we left the safe-haven, poetic retreat and visited a nearby town. Wandered between patches of melting snow and ice and looked up at gables and pastel-colored houses, medieval architecture poking its head around every corner. Visited a farm where they made wine in 1665. Thought of the 17th century and what happened then: Hendrickje Stoffels (see painting) and young Titus, the beloveds of Rembrandt, both of whom died of the plague before him; explorers falling off the map into the New World; the Dutch Golden Age.

This is what I noticed: when I was last in Poland 11 years ago, there were fewer billboards and gas stations. There were more prostitutes along the highway. More children now. No mobile phones then. More cars now, and traffic. When I used to crisscross Poland for stories and interviews with elderly people, I drove too fast on empty roads. I lined up for hours to buy gas. The U.S. embassy sold me gas in Warsaw. Now it’s the gas stations lined up along the road instead of the cars.

But there’s something more, something beyond the youth and the technology and the shopping malls, soft toilet paper, double-paned windows and mod-cons. My student friend said it has to do with a new attitude: “Polish people have always been cynical and negative. Lately people are more positive.” I wonder if this is hope, hope for a future, hope to build something, hope of freedom.

My Poland, the one I traveled to several times a year from 1988-1998, the one I brought vacuum-packed meat and vitamins and bananas and oranges and morphine to, was a poor Poland, downtrodden, beaten into submission by Soviet humiliation. The daily indignity of not having enough toilet paper, waiting in endless lines for everything from bread to deodorant, the unreliability of flows of electricity and water, all served to keep an entire population from hoping.

What I saw today was a third-dimension Poland, one enjoying normalcy. No longer a crisis-state, bent beneath martial law and fear of the secret police, a dread of the shaking ground preceding the oncoming tanks, this Poland revels in daily debates among the different political candidates for the upcoming election—what fun to argue like this! This Poland has opinions about everything, outspoken—of course! With shoulders shrugged high—opinions. I only saw one little old woman wearing army boots today—they used to be walking down every street. And instead of half-empty shop shelves, now the most chique boutiques and department stores line the cobblestoned streets.

Isn’t materialism delightful?

So what I feared all these years in my staying away, was that a cheap, plastic, imitation-America longing would have replaced the sincerity and integrity and deep devotion of the friends I knew here twenty years ago. This afternoon we visited a jazz café-slash-art gallery, owned by friends of the grandfather for 18 years. All these cigarette-smoking, intellectual-looking women sizzled their stares down at us from the walls, appearing as if they knew more than we ever would about the ways of the world. I could see the crowded, blue-with-smoke evenings, intellectual conversations about politics, hear the crooning jazz.

What the grandfather has done this week is open up to us about his life: the jazz café, the architects in the restaurant where we ate, his theories about love of art, the family photos of barbecues and short-sleeved laughter.

I wonder at my own falling-off-the-map reaction to the art here, to the grandfather. For years Poland drew me home, and now I have returned again, a prodigal daughter in search of some soft reconciliation of mind and heart, spirit and soul.

4 April 2010

Language of the heart

(2nd in a series of five–Written 9 March in Poland)

We hunted poetry Sunday, driving 900 km to find this place of peace, wondering at the words of poems read in the car. I’m told that after I went to bed the first night, poetry was recited by heart in Polish before a crackling fire and emptying bottle of vodka. We find ourselves in rich hunting grounds. I passed fields full of deer and thought of betrayal and communism and empty villages where people sold their souls.

“No prostitutes standing along the highway anymore,” I said. “We don’t do that anymore,” came the answer.

The one piece of research I still needed for my novel was how old painting frames could be renovated, and yesterday, after falling asleep in rooms with 200-year-old hardwood floors, every plank a story, we went to the grandfather’s studio and old frames looked back at me through hollow eyes

And winked.

Old and new.

Renewed, rejoicing, resurrected, rehabilitated, renovated, relaxed, rested, resuscitated, revelatory, redeemed, revealed, reborn, and released.

Sunset, orange with purple hues seen out of a snowladen window: dried-up well, trees, fading sky,

Back home.

So tonight he cried. The grandfather. And so did I. And then my student friend also. “She has this effect on people,” she said, I think about me. For a few precious seconds we spoke the language of the heart. It had been two days of Polish, French, and English, words all around us, some invisible, others so tangible they cut us open, poetry and vodka at night before an open fire place until 1:30 a.m., poetry our own, poetry by others, words like balm over the wounds of time.

La langue du cœur. She: “That was such a powerful moment. Did you see his eyes, they watched his grandfather and filled with such emotion.” It was the first time he’d seen his grandfather cry in 20 years.

The letting go, the white-hot power at the table; we all sat so confused, struck dumb with compassion, even the words did not know what to say.

This after the grandfather told about being asked to write a book about his childhood during the war and surviving the Warsaw Uprising as a child living in the sewers. I sit beside him now and watch him laugh, tortoise-shell round glasses, a cap patchworked velvet with holes around the sides, “so my head can breathe,” slippers gray with white embroidery flowers. “My way of creating is a mess, a catastrophe. I have no method, no regimen,” said the man who roams the flea markets of Brussels and rescues his prizes like released hostages. Labors of love, the paintings restored, the frames enhanced, wooden sculptures, refurbished furniture, polished wood, all these sculptures and carvings and Italian Renaissance and Art Nouveau and Impressionist artists, they crowd around us, a cloud of witnesses to the words whispered and sighed, poets present, poets past.

Last night one of my student friends heard the news that an article he wrote would be published by one of the top Foreign Policy journals in the world. We celebrated with vodka, of course.

I asked the grandfather how he decided what to work on; so many projects calling to him, what filter did he use?

But the other student said to me, “Anne, your writing is different than his workshop. If he doesn’t work on something, it’s still on the table a week later when he returns to the studio. If you don’t write down what is there when it shows up, you lose it.” So what I’ve heard today is 1) to follow my heart, 2) to do what is burning brightest, like a child builds a fort—work your hardest, and when you’re finished, you walk away.

I’ve known this. I’ve known that the writing is supposed to be played like music, in childlike abandon. I unburied this treasure all those years ago, yet again and again I squandered the knowing, imposing schedules and deadlines, restricting the flow, damming the Living Water to a stagnant hell.

I told the grandfather in a previous life I was a mafiosa. He told me in a previous life he was my servant. I told him, “You are mistaken; in a previous life, we were brother and sister.”

3 April 2010

Like a lover

Filed under: SWIP (Supposed Work-in-Progress),Thin and Thick Places,Write on — annedegraaf @ 4:38 pm

My previous blog entry says October. October what? October, pre-2010. The world I’ve landed in this last year is one of students, papers, a rhythm of 8-week terms: steady, then work like crazy, relax—another 8 weeks. I have wanted to write, often wanted to write about my students and their stories: the one who might be very sick, the one who flew home to be with a dying father, the one who learned how to cook from YouTube, the ones who laugh at all my jokes, the ones who write, the ones who don’t write, the ones who fly when they write. It’s a privacy thing and I’ve probably already written too much here; if you recognize yourself, forgive me.

I just need to say, I love my students; I have the best students in the world. They come from India, the Philippines, North and South America, the Caribbean, the EU, Africa, and the Middle East. We share our worlds in writing. I read poetry and essays of longing. I tell the men if they want a woman, then they should learn to cook. I tell the women to find a man who cooks and never let him go. A little short-sighted maybe, but it makes them smile.

In my graduate classes I’ve been privileged to get to know students who have MBAs and are lawyers and are soldiers and are experts, looking for more—all of us looking for more…what? Knowledge and understanding, a grid to hang our questions on? I have learned and written about war and diplomacy, the Middle East, and my own young theory of the role of youth in International Relations—I call it the YPs’ Theory, and YPs stands for Young People; it’s pronounced, “why peace.”

But a month ago, the first day of break between terms, I found myself in my husband’s car speeding on the German autobahn at 170 kph on the same corridor of highway to Berlin that used to be patrolled by helicopters making sure no car stopped so East Germans might escape. I wasn’t behind the wheel. A student was, and another student sat beside him, and I fell asleep in the back seat, smiling to myself, on a road trip to Poland.

I wrote this the day after we arrived: Haven’t been back in Poland for 11 years. Used to make this drive four times a year to interview elderly people about their memories. Wrote three novels to get this place out of my system. We came here in the summers when the kids were small and swam in lakes and “dobbered,” floating like a cork, in a rubber boat full of children, turned it over to laughter, grilled sausages and felt like we’d gone back in time.

Sometimes the many parts of your life come together in a synergy: Poland, my love and heart and favorite family memories, my students and Finders Keepers, the novel I set aside six months ago like a lover I didn’t know how to talk to anymore. I told myself if I waited and studied and taught I might find the words again.

So I came here. And what am I doing here? Me and my two young friends are here to write, and to talk and breathe poetry. The grandfather of one of the students has this amazing, 200-year-old country home he renovated from scratch and filled with antique paintings and sculptures, like you fill you heart with kind thoughts. And now the house is like its owner, full of grace, creativity, and wisdom.

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