By: Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee and Elders Cultural Advisory Council, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 2005. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. 216 pages. $29.95 cloth.)
THIS REMARKABLE and beautifully produced book examines “the historical meaning of Lewis and Clark within the context of Salish culture and history” writ large (p. xii). It flips the standard lens of history to portray a critical American historical event from the perspective of the Salish people of western Montana. The Salish and their relatives, the Pend d’Oreilles, share the Flathead Reservation with the Kootenai. For the Salish, the encounter with Lewis and Clark, while significant, makes up only a brief moment in both Salish history and the history of Salish survival of the onslaught from white America. Most of the narrative derives from oral interviews with tribal elders, some done by early scholars but most by the tribes’ culture committees over the past thirty years. Supplementing this, the authors utilize Gary Moulton’s recently published Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
The Salish People and the Lewis and Clark Expedition begins with a description of “The Salish World in 1805” (pp. 1–78). This details the millennia-long seasonal rounds that shaped Salish life before contact, and portrays the landscape and the Salish interaction with it. Stories by tribal elders told in the Salish language are transcribed in Salish and English, side by side, using a font developed at the Salish-Kootenai College. A discussion of place-names in the Bitterroot Valley — places important to the Salish and places referred to in the Lewis and Clark journals — builds on the description of landscape. Before readers actually encounter Lewis and Clark, they have a sympathetic understanding of some of the social, environmental, and cultural complexity of the Salish world.
“The Salish Encounter with the Lewis and Clark Expedition” (pp. 79–123) comes next. As tribal elders recall, Lewis and Clark merely played one part in a multi-century history of invasion that began before their arrival and continued into the twentieth century. The Salish felt impacts of diseases and the advent of horses and guns before 1805. For the Salish, the meeting with Lewis and Clark — whose purpose was to expand the American commercial empire — an 1855 treaty by which the U.S. took the majority of the tribes’ lands, the late-nineteenth century removal of the Salish from the Bitterroot Valley to the reservation, and the 1910 allotment of tribal lands that opened up much of the reservation to ownership by non-Indians are all part of the same story. This text does a good job highlighting miscommunication on both sides. These misunderstandings ultimately had a much more deleterious impact on the Salish than the Americans.
After the main text, the authors provide an extensive biographical section discussing tribal elders who contributed to the project and a helpful guide to the Salish language. The tribe took two major risks in publishing this book: they identified places of historical and cultural significance to the tribe and they shared some Coyote creation stories. The risks of the first are well-described; such acknowledgement of important places in the past has led to their destruction by non-Indians. They hope that this will be different — that these revelations may lead to non-Indian neighbors having greater respect for the significance of these places. The inclusion of Coyote stories includes this cautionary aside: “As readers discuss this book, we ask that the Coyote stories mentioned in these pages be repeated only in the winter” (p. 7). The apparent importance of this request deserves better explanation, perhaps of why this is a taboo and what constitutes repeating the stories; that is, to what extent can they be discussed in other seasons? This would be helpful information for teachers trying to use the material respectfully.
In addition to teachers, this work will be valuable to those interested in the history of the west, the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the Salish. This is an attractive coffee-table book because of the beautiful paintings, historical photographs, landscape photographs, and readable text. The book should be useful to academics as a source of primary source material relating to one tribe’s recollections of the impact of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Since the interviews are not accessible to the general public, this work is all the more valuable. Endnotes let readers know the sources of materials and ideas presented, although in several cases they deserve better copy-editing.
This book should also be of interest to other tribes as a model for writing tribal history, blending together a visual experience of a place and people and a textual explanation of their own cultural history. Perhaps the most important reason the authors were able to write such a compelling narrative is the three decades of cultural preservation work, including extensive interviews with tribal elders that have been recorded and stored in the tribal community. This truly beautiful book is a community-based project.
DAVID R.M. BECK
University of Montana, Missoula
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