My writing tour is a reading tour, a research tour, and a travel tour.  Please join me as we travel through the resources of the present to uncover the forgotten truths of the past. 
The Imagination: Writing the novel
The seed of a novel is growing.  We know that in 1847 Father Chirouse along with other Catholic missionaries, the Sahaptan, the Protestant missionaries, pioneers, the millitary, and fur trappers were all inhabiting the Oregon territory.  It was a collision of cultures,  economies, governments, and personalities.  I want to enter the contiousness of each group, and understand their relationship to the land.  So my tour includes reading through layers of history.   Uncovering information creates more questions.  That's when I realized that reading wasn't enough:  I have to go to the places, feel the ground under my feet, and feel how the air hits my nose.  Those are things that haven't changed much in the 150 years that have passed between now and back then.  

The Beginnings of Colonialism

I am discovering some excellent books to take me back to the 1800's to the time when the Pacific Northwest was nearly inaccessible.  The motivation to explore and to bring this part of the world unter a national flag was mainly greed.  It was perceived as a place that could be exploited if only it could be reached.  Later it could be evangelized and colonized.  There was international intrigue and positioning.  The French, British, Scottish, Russians, Spanish, Hawaiians, Chinese, and Native Americans were all major players in the development of this land that moved from being a remote wilderness only understood  by the First Nations, to the home of jet manufacutring, hydroelectricity, and technology giants within the space of one hundred and fifty years.
Finding the French Connection

The French presence in North America was strong and contributed to the settlement of the West.
Discovery of France a Historical Geography, by Graham Robb, W.W. Norton and Co., 2007.  This book describes how much of a wilderness the country of France was far into the 1800's. Far from the country well connected by air travel, rail travel, and highways, there wasn't even a practical map of the country until far into the 19th century.  The major thoroughfares were the rivers.  No wonder the early river travel in North America was dominated by the Voyageurs, and river men.
Astoria

John Jacob Astor had a vision for a fur trade on a global scale.  He would create a center on the Pacific Northwest coast for shipping furs to China, trading them for trade goods and exchanging the Chinese merchandise for  cash and more goods in Europe and the United States.  Astoria, by Peter Stark, Harper Collins, 2015, is a facinating story of the enterprise, its challenges, and the cultures and personalities that converged in order to bring commerce to the rugged coast of Oregon and Washington.  This is an amazing book full of facinating information, and drama. 
Fur Trappers

The forts and trails carved out by the trappers made the Oregon trail possible.  Their stories are the story of the land before the thousands of wagons wore ruts through the buffalo range and the camus prairies leaving in their wake measels, small pox, cholera, and typhoid.  A book that gives a detailed history of trapping the Northwest is, A Majority of Scoundrels by Don Berry, reprinted by Oregon State University Press, 2015.

Visiting First Nations

St. Mary's Mission, Stevensville Montana

Father DeSmet immigrated from Belgium in 1821, to become a missionary to the Natives of the Northwest.  His family was heartborken but he was resolute.  He was invited by the Flatheads to build a mission.  

Week of March 1st, 2016

I want to write scenes from the Nez Perce point of view.  But I am a 63 year old priviledged white woman,  raised in the city, educated in the all white schools of the 50's and 60's.

How can I possibly adopt that point of view?  Except that I know and understand that humanity is universal.  Otherwise how could Shakespeare create such a believeable character as Iago?  

Thankfully there are writers who are helping me to build an understanding so that I can broaden my ethnocentric point of view... and how grateful I am to have found them along the way.  I am proud to share these authors with the hope that others will find looking at the world through Native American perspectives will add a spirit of gratiude and understanding  to their awareness.  Listed below, in no particular order are some of the books that I have been studying in order to develop enough of an understanding of the Nez Perce and Cayuse so that I can create characters that interact with Father Chirouse, the fur trappers, and the Protestand Missionaries of Walla Walla in 1847.

Braiding Sweetgrass Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer,  2013, Mildweed Editions'

This book is  memoir, essay, an explanation of principals of botany and ecology, part poetry, part story.  It is a beartiful reading experience, and it has placed me squarely between the collision of values between the Native economy of reciprocity and the European concept of economy as competitive and exploitive.

The Nez Perce visited camus prairies when the bulbs were ready to harvest.  It was a cellebrative time, and the people of many groups of Sahaptin would gather together to dig the bulbs and roast them in communal ovens.  Poles used for temporary housing would be left in one place with the understanding that they were there to by used by anyone who needed them.

My reading of Robin Kimmerer is helping me to internalize the facts that I am learning, and to make an argument for the Native perspective.  Her descriptions of wild strawberries,  watter lillies,  and the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Adddress, are comingling in my imagination, and I hope I will be able to filter through their essence to create characters who can authentically speak and act from that base.

Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys, A Native Aerican Expression of the Jesus Way, by Richard Twiss, 2015, Intervarsity Press. 

Another dilemma I've had with approaching the writing of my novel, is how can I understand the Nez Perce and Cayuse relationship to Chrisianity?  Everything I've read from conventional history indicates that the Native Americans not only requested instruction in Christianity, but also invited missionaries to live among them.  This book is challenging for me intellectually.  So it is slow going, but so insightful and challenging to my perspective.  I can learn so much by taking the time to really consider what Richard Twiss is patiently explaining about how our modes of worship may be different, but that doesn't diminish our sincerity, and how mistaken a colonial perceptions have injured the real message and effects of evangelical intent.

Badger and Coyote were Neighbors on Northwest Indian Mysths and Tales, by Melville Jacobs,  2000,  Oregon State University Press

What better way to understand a culture than to study their folk tales and myths?  Luckily I found the writings of Melville Jacobs, an anthropologist who in 1926 began traveling among native peoples of the Northwest, collecting and recording their stories in their native language.  This man deserves a book just about him! Or a movie!  A handsome, well groomed New Yorker travels to the remote regions of the Northwest to record on early phongraphs the almost forgotten stories of the remaining Sahaptin.  This book contains stories, myths, and Melville Jacobs painstakenly detailed annotations.  The stories and Mr. Jacob's explanations offer insights into the values and customs of the Sahaptin.
The People of Cascadia Pacific Northwest Native American History, by Heidi Bohan, 2009, 4 Culture Special Projects Grant.

This is a very detailed and comprehensive non fiction description of the Natives who lived in the Pacific Northwest.  It includes drawings of different types of canoes and shelters and seasonal cycles of hunting and gathering followed by each geographical group.  The target audience is intermediate to high school, but it is so informative that it could be useful to anyone wanting to increase their knowledge of how the first people of the Northwest region of Canada and the United States flourished and developed their cultures.

Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce, the Untold Story of an American Tragedy, by Kent Nerburn,  2005,  Harper One


I am looking for ways to leave my old TV perceptions of Native Americans behind and to develop an new understanding.  Kent Nerburn does an excellent job of challenging the taken for granted stories, and adding new information and interpretaion.  I am so grateful that others have come along and done so much of this work.  I can follow the theme of Robin Kimmer's economy of reciprocity, and connecti it with Kent Nerburn's description of the history of the Nez Perce,  and see how it fits together.  When I try to interpret history from my priviledged perspective,  I just keep regurgitating the same dangerous views that caused the massacre of the Whitmans, and which marginalized every culture that threatened the self righteous momentum of economic expansion that some could argue got us into trouble as a planet in the first place.  

This is how I'm going about writing my novel.  I delve into the culture,  history, and consciousness, then let go of everything a try to be present in a scene, writing from the perspective of the character.  Writing a list of my reading material seems a lot easier.



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I was a teacher for thirty years, and always loved the power and mystery of words. Now retired, I am able to pursue my goal of telling the story of the transformation of the Northwest.  
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