Tuesday, October 20, 2009

?Confrontation, Accommodation, Adaptation?

My Sep 29 entry, "Walking a Different Path", offered, as an alternative to our political-legal system, Martha Knack's conceptualization of how the Southern Paiute tried to use their culture's tools of accommodation to deal with the Mormon settlers' overrunning of their places and resources. A couple of articles by other prominent researchers have sharpened this picture: other researchers, other biases. 

They did more, though, than remind me that other archeologists bring different baggage to their interpretations. For Research itself is another of the tribes for whom the Grand Canyon is a place of work, and thus a place for political action.  Research, with all its divisions, constitutes a tribe that, by and large, belongs to the larger culture of Whitefolk, though often not as vigorous as, say, miners, in pressing claims for an exclusive use and occupancy. So I suspect that the political history of Research in, around, and of, the Grand Canyon is a rich subject, about which more needs to be known. its practitioners have requirements in order to get their work done, and that work often leads them to form opinions which, taken together, will contribute to the mosaic of the Canyon's future.

The articles are from the journals "Current Anthropology" and "American Indian Quarterly". They were written in the 1990's by practitioners immersed in their subjects, Richard Stoffle (et al.) on the Southern Paiute, and Henry Dobyns and Robert Euler on the Hualapai. In particular, Stoffle et al. was writing about the Canyon and Kanab Creek as cultural landscape for the Paiutes. Dobyns and Euler were presenting the XIXth-century Hualapai leader Cherum as an icon of individual and cultural change in the face of savage pressures.

Stoffle et al. take an expansive view of the Paiutes' Grand Canyon landscape, going both upstream, downstream, and into Utah, with upper Kanab Creek a specific area of interest as the setting of the Paiutes' enactment of the 1889-90 Ghost Dance. This landscape, long supportive of the Paiutes' way of life, changed into a place of death and dislocation as the XIXth century brought the Mormon expansion and occupation, with its successive germs and their plagues.

The grimness of Stoffle et al.'s depiction is certainly not contradicted in Knack's work, but nor does it break out of the traditional story of American Indian victimhood. What I appreciated in Knack's idea -- echoed, I wondered, in the experience of the Havasupai Ko-hot' -- was the brave attempt to apply their cultural techniques of accommodation to whitefolk invaders. Brave, but mistaken; the carriers of the conquerors' legal-political system believed in exclusivity of occupation, not in cooperation. However, the idea of accommodation leading to co-existence (important, I suspect, to contrast this with appeasement of the unappeasable) was possibly out of its time. In the XIXth century, whitefolk were on the move, full of their own superiority and other bigotries. It was not a settled moment; that is, if we accept Knack's view, the long-established ways of the Paiutes were out of joint with whitefolk expansionism. Now, 150 years later,  with conquest in not such good odor (at least at home), the accommodationist, collaborative paths may be more attractive.

Stoffle et al. present the Paiutes' sense of a holistic cultural landscape as a way of understanding how current-day land managers need to look beyond and around any specific landmark or object in considering decisions about development. A specific object --they discuss Vulcan's Anvil near Lava Falls in the Canyon -- is part of an assemblage, a culturally (if not spiritually) connected space. When the Paiute speak of protection, then, they are not talking about locking up some specific treasure, but of treasuring the connections as well as the connected things. Surely, then, a conversation between the Paiute and Grand Canyon National Park officialdom about the Vulcan's Anvil area, would be one that is absolutely best carried on in the accommodation mode. Were NPS to simply be stiff-necked and say, in effect, this is our land and you can butt out, that stance would have the whole of XIXth-century imperialism as justification. Possibly, however, it is time for the exclusivist "this land is our (and NOT your) land" rubric to make room for the Paiutes' centuries-old accommodationist practice.

Dobyns and Euler promote Cherum as a wise, tough, enterprising leader. He made war for a time. Later, he made an economic success in trade. Confronted by the removal of many Hualapai out of their own land, he not only led a march home, but worked with the army to obtain a million-acre reservation. He pursued, for a time, the hope offered by the Ghost Dance. When wage labor for whitefolk became essential for survival, he took on the role of work-gang boss. He confronted, he accommodated, he adapted. Dobyns and Euler use him as the exemplar of how false the idea of some static aboriginal culture is. Instead, the individual, and the culture he is part of, a leader in, changes to deal with alterations in the environment, physical and social.

However, Cherum, like the Paiute and Ko-hot',  was ahead of his time. Turning the Reservation into an economic base for the Hualapai is only succeeding in recent years. Dobyns and Euler present Cherum as a leader suitable for today's Hualapai, but in 1900, there was still almost half a century of removing whitefolk cattle-growers and successfully contesting railroad claims to half the reservation. Then came decades of raising their own cattle and chasing the dam fantasy, that ultimate statement of whitefolk exploitation of the Canyon. Today, with the development heat turned way down, the Hualapai work with the Las Vegas crowd to see what industrial tourism can do for them. The vision of Fred Mahone (see Sep 27) is being acted on, and in the spirt of Cherum, who understood the world is now in flux and wanted to ride with it.

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