Alexander Pope may be the master of the mock-epic and the unrivaled wordsmith at “flipping the bird” to the ill morals of high society, but America reigns supreme at turning cultural tradition into stereotypical tripe. Welcome to Southern Oregon where you are more likely to find a white girl that says My great grandmother was a Native Princess, than a shred of history about the Takelma People of the Rogue River Valley in a standard textbook. While America is the land of the freehand dreamcatcher tattoo and home of the Braves racist logo, I would like to explore just how equitable the “Blue” state of Oregon actually was to our Native neighbors.
Once upon a time in 1819, some fur trappers from the Northwest Company met some Umpqua Natives and killed many of them - because racial profiling is vital to manifest destiny. Before the process of white male rage took full effect, there were an estimated 3,000-4,000 Natives in the Umpqua Valley and around 500 along the coast, estuary, and estuary tributaries. By the mid 1850s the fur trappers nearly wiped out the future official state animal - the beaver, therefore uprooting and set up shop elsewhere while upsetting the balance of nature and the Indigenous peoples’ way of life. When I first came to Southern Oregon there was a saying that I often heard, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 15 minutes.”and the Natives made it work 8,000 years prior to the appearance of colonizers. In fact, the Indigenous peoples that lived along the Umpqua rivers and the surrounding areas had rich and complex traditions that relied on the natural cycles of the land. They had permanent cedar homes in the winter and seasonal camps for food sources the rest of the year. There are about four tribes that lived in the Umpqua River Basin each with their own traditions and rites of passage, but today native speakers of their languages no longer exist.
A few months ago, I was at a protest in Rogue River Oregon and saw a white guy holding up a sign that said, The Whites Built the West, and I truly could not stop laughing! While this is a prime example of why defunding public schools breeds toxic ignorance, we have to explore why that fallacy sums up the attitudes of some of the locals. It all started with the Organic Act of 1848 and a branch for the Office of Indian Affairs later to be called the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The harmful effects of white supremacy aren’t without liberal moderates to smooth over its jagged edges temporarily. Joel Palmer was the “bleeding heart” that wrote the first Oregon tribal treaty in 1853 and just like the liberal moderates of today, his proposal was declined by the “minorities” who knew it was a scheme designed to get them booted out. So, what was our white knight going to do in such a conundrum? He arranged temporary reservations throughout western Oregon until establishing a permanent Coast Reservation in 1854. My recent summer trips to the coast have taught me quite a few things about the end result of manifest destiny, such as hearing white men say there is no racism in Coos Bay because Mexicans live there. This is honestly the epitome of putting a hat on a hat, but I digress, the treaty for the coastal tribes including the Coos was signed in August 1855 but never ratified by the U.S. Senate. What exactly did that entail for the ancestors of our Native neighbors? Basically the U.S. government thanked the Natives for their generous donation to white hegemony by offering land to white settlers at $1.25 an acre on December 1, 1855. The painful irony is that the descendants of these white settlers are concerned about violence and looting from people protesting against state-sanctioned murder.
This anti-fairytale ends with stolen land infected with cultural appropriation and the blissful ignorance of “patriots” complaining about a mask mandate and calling it oppression. As for our Native neighbors, it’s written that, specifically the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua, they used their payment from the colonizers in 1984 to establish a bingo parlor in 1992. As an outsider looking in, I can’t help but wonder if it was worth the extinction of a culture and the genocide of a people for a casino in Canyonville.