My great-great-great grandfather Tumalth, headman of the Cascades, was hanged by the U.S. Army in 1856, a year after signing the Kalapuya Treaty. He was accused of treason, but he was innocent. I feel like I should say I’m tired of writing this again. I am always writing that Tumalth was hanged a year after signing the Kalapuya Treaty. I am always writing that his daughters were taken to Fort Vancouver when the Cascade leaders were hanged. I am always writing about the resistance of the women who hung tough along the Columbia River for generations, even after the disruption of the systems of hunting, fishing, and gathering our family maintained for thousands of years. Actually, I’m not tired of writing about this, and I may never be, but sometimes when I say once more that my great-great-great-grandfather was hanged by the U.S. government I can feel someone thinking, God, she’s back on that.
The last time I watched television, a man kept touching a screen with a red-and-blue map on it. After a while, I was nauseous and my whole body felt held up by metal rods. Stop putting your hands on that map, I wanted to tell him. I was in a huge room full of people who were booing, crying, and drinking heavily. Termination, I thought. They are going to terminate my tribe. They are going to finish what they started. I am certain that I was the only person in the whole venue—a concert space—thinking about tribal termination. I am always in this room and I am always lonely.
From 1953 to 1968, the U.S. government tried to wipe out some tribes by ending their relationships—withdrawing federal recognition of these tribes as sovereigns, ending the federal trust responsibility to those tribes, allowing land to be lost to non-Natives. The tribes terminated, for the most part, were those the U.S. government considered to be successful because of the wealth within their tribal lands: timber, oil, water, and so on. Terminating a tribe meant fully forsaking all treaty responsibilities to them.
In 1993, Donald Trump testified in front of the House Native American Affairs Subcommittee:
If you look, if you look at some of the reservations that you’ve approved, that you, sir, in your great wisdom have approved, I will tell you right now—they don’t look like Indians to me. And they don’t look like the Indians … Now, maybe we say politically correct or not politically correct, they don’t look like Indians to me, and they don’t look like Indians to Indians.
Earlier that year, Trump had made efforts to partner with the Agua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indians as manager of their proposed casino near Palm Springs. The tribe declined.
In 2000, Donald Trump sent a gold-monogrammed letter to the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, of which I am an enrolled member. Hoping to partner with us, he toured our proposed casino site, which he said was the most incredible site he’d ever seen. In 2002, Trump submitted a proposal to partner with the tribe in developing the casino. The tribe declined.
In the letter he sent us in 2000, he wrote, “I want to assure you and all of the members of the Tribe that I do now, and always have, supported the sovereignty of Native Americans and their right to pursue all lawful opportunities.”
Our casino will open in April. By then, Donald Trump will have a hand in determining what’s lawful.
While I watched television and listened to the pundits talk about the man who loves revenge, I began having a panic attack that, as I write this, is eight days deep, the longest I can remember in my decade of PTSD, which I developed and cultivated as a response to multiple rapes, sexual assaults, threats of violence, and acts of stalking that accumulated over the years. For me, a panic attack is dread made physical, an embodied trauma response: nausea, insomnia, a pounding heart, headaches. My psychiatrist said my triggers are many because I went years without PTSD treatment.
In The Beginning and End of Rape, Sarah Deer writes, “Colonization and colonizing institutions use tactics that are no different from those of sexual perpetrators, including deceit, manipulation, humiliation, and physical force.”
I watched the man touch his hand to the map and knew what my body was trying to tell me: the sexual violence against my body has been carried out in response the settler state’s instructions to its white men, and now the instructions would be delivered clearly, from behind no screen. Maybe my triggers are many because to live in the United States of America is to wake up every day inside an abuser.
Boston is the chinuk wawa word for white (adj.) or white person (n.).
Boston-tilixam also means white person, or white people.
Siwash is the white people word for savage Indian (n.).
I saw the word siwash attached to a photo embedded in a wall in a park in the Seattle suburbs.
I know only a few words in chinuk wawa:
Mahsie is thank you.
Klahowya is hello.
Some people say chinuk wawa, also known as Chinook jargon, isn’t a real language. This, I think, is because, before the boston-tilixam had us speak English, the jargon was the assemblage of words we used to talk to each other, all up and down the coast.
A few days after the last time I watched television, I went to a community response forum in my neighborhood. A line of people hugged the side of the building, waiting to enter. Two boston-tilixam asked the people in line behind me, “Is this the line to get in?” When they heard that it was, they went to the front of the line. Inside, a volunteer said that people who live north of the ship canal would meet in a gallery down the block; people south of the ship canal would stay here and would split into groups by neighborhood. A group of boston-tilixam didn’t want to be split up. The volunteer assured them that it wasn’t mandatory that they separate. The boston-tilixam, relieved, chose a group they could all agree upon.
Chief Tumalth’s daughter Virginia Miller (my great-great-grandmother’s sister) was photographed by Edward Curtis, a boston best known for his sepia-toned portraits of unsmiling Indians posed in their ceremonial dress. Curtis interviewed Virginia, who spoke through an interpreter about traditional Cascade life and her father’s hanging. And she told Curtis this, presented here in his words:
An old man dreamed and announced that new people were coming, with new ways, and the Indians would die. He made them put coyote-skins over their shoulders and two by two, men in front and women behind, march in a circle, while he sang his song of prophecy. The old woman who told [Virginia] about this said it happened when she was a little girl. She took part in the dance, and laughed at the flapping tail of the skin on the girl in front of her, and the old man seized her by the wrist, flung her aside and said, ‘You will be the first to die.’ As it happened, she outlived all the others.
The U.S. has been a party to many treaties.
Some bind the U.S. to its allies: an armed attack on one member of the alliance is considered a threat to the other members, who agree to “act to meet the common danger.”
Some are with other international sovereigns, settling all sorts of agreements.
Some are with tribes; all of these have been broken.
One is with my great-great-great-grandfather and a bunch of other men, some of whom were hanged for treason.
The U.S. did not enter into treaties with tribes in order to create alliances.
This feels like a logic game that I am too tired to play.
Now I see I’m inclined to write, again, about how my great-grandma gave birth to my grandmother with no help but from scissors and string because she didn’t want any boston woman messing with her. Like I do in all my essays, I try to explain that she did this at a time when boston-tilixam were stealing Indian babies because it was the quickest and easiest way to turn Native people into boston-tilixam: turn their tongues before they take on an Indigenous language they’ll have to unlearn, keep them sheared so there will be no braids to cut. I am alive because of the scissors and the string, because of the everyday resistance that led my great-grandmother to turn away the boston ladies who wanted to help her learn to do white lady things like crochet.
I am most thoroughly colonized by the desire to have the boston-tilixam like me. I look like them, and I try to use this to say things that wouldn’t be tolerated from someone who doesn’t look like them. But sometimes my desire silences me. Sometimes it speaks so loudly that I can hardly hear the ancestors’ instructions for surviving genocide.
I sleep less than before. I wake up before sunrise and research things I don’t understand. The river where Edward Curtis photographed Virginia Miller with her canoe, the river that is home to salmon and smelt and steelhead, the river where my family lived for ten thousand years—I am forced to imagine it covered in oil. I learned about Environmental Impact Statements and tribal consultation ten years ago, when I was in an entry-level position with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, making best practices flowcharts and compiling resource manuals, but I abandoned that to become a writer.
Boston-tilixam keep asking me, “What can we do?” and I explain that the Lower Columbia River Estuary—our tribal homeland—is threatened by a proposed oil terminal, methanol plant, and coal terminal that could bring major environmental disaster and undermine ongoing habitat restoration efforts. The Army Corps of Engineers is ignoring tribes’ concerns despite active tribal involvement in the consultation process. The coal terminal’s environmental impact statement says, “As it currently stands, the tribes exercise their treaty fishing rights in Zone 6, which is outside of the NEPA scope of analysis for this EIS.” The focus here is narrow and fails to respond to concerns about coal train dust. This would be the largest coal export terminal in North America.
I tell my Facebook friends that the public comment period is still open. I wonder whether there will be a point at which direct action like the water protection at Standing Rock would be needed, but it’s too early to know.
I am wedged inside a small window in the boston people’s attention, and I am screaming.
In James Welch’s novel Winter in the Blood, white men gather in a bar alongside the Native American narrator. “But you’re mistaken—there aren’t any goldeyes in this river. I’ve never even heard of goldeyes,” one of the white men tells the (unnamed) narrator. Another one says, “There are pike in the reservoir south of town. Just the other day I caught a nice bunch.” They continue to disagree. The narrator asks, “In the reservoir?”
I want to know whether he thinks there are fish in the river, or in the reservoir, or anywhere, but instead he studies the white men in suits and listens to them talk about the sunfish and the goldeyes and the “clarity of the water” until the subject changes.
In 1957, Celilo Falls, part of the Columbia River near where my family is from, was the oldest continuously inhabited community in North America, with archaeological records dating Celilo village sites to 11,000 years ago. This was once an important site for trade and fisheries, but the opening of the Dalles Dam created a reservoir that flooded Celilo Falls and Celilo Village to make Lake Celilo. Last year, the Army Corps of Engineers thought it might be neat to lower the water for a couple of weeks to reveal Celilo Falls again. Susan Guerin (Warm Springs) wrote of the idea, “My people can’t return to Celilo Falls to fish. It won’t mend the broken hearts of my family from whom the Celilo Falls were taken. The study will tear off wounds long scabbed-over, and for what; the benefit of spectators?”
I used to like to keep safety pins attached to my messenger bag because I used them to clean pepper out of my teeth when I was out of the house.
I used to drink water straight from the tap.
I used to have no idea what my blood quantum was because nobody had ever thought to tell me something like that.
I began to carry floss.
I began to drink from cups.
I began to tell people my blood quantum when they asked, even when I didn’t want to.
Somewhere, someone wearing a safety pin on her jacket is saying to someone else, I’m so sorry for what your ancestors went through. May I ask, are you full Native?
Boston man: white man.
Boston klootchman: white woman.
Many white fur traders, the first to whites to occupy the Lower Columbia River Plateau, were from the city of Boston.
Boston Illahee: The United States of America.
I am the descendant of Chief Tumalth of the Cascade people. The United States in which I live is the descendant of the Boston Illahee in which Tumalth was hanged under orders of Philip Sheridan—“The only good Indians I ever saw were dead”—and his daughters were taken by the military to Fort Vancouver.
Why I have used boston in this essay when I am talking about white people: for the white people who have already made up their minds about their own whiteness; for the white people who have forgotten that their whiteness is new here, that whiteness is not a phenotype but a way of relating; for the white people who don’t believe me when I say that the most thorough answer to the question, “What can we do?” is, “Remove your settler state from this land and restore all governance to its forever stewards.”
At the end of Dances with Wolves, Wind in His Hair shouts down to Lt. Dunbar from a cliff. The English subtitles read, “Do you see that you are my friend? Can you see that you will always be my friend?”
Because I don’t want boston-tilixam to think I am a nasty woman—there is already a word for this when applied to Native women, a word we don’t use, which is squaw—I want to explain that I love many boston-tilixam. Some are relatives; some I love so much that they are family to me; this has nothing to do with anything and I’m embarrassed that I even feel the need to say it. There are some boston-tilixam I don’t like, but it’s not because of their whiteness. Sometimes, it is about the things their whiteness motivates them to say and do, but none of that is really my business. The boston-tilixam are responsible for their own whiteness.
When the boston-tilixam came here, we traded at the river.
When they wanted our land, representatives of Boston Ilahee killed and relocated us.
I am descended from many boston-tilixam and I hold them inside my Indigenous body. I look like them. I have never said that I “walk in two worlds.” I walk in the world in which Native nations welcomed visitors who responded by creating a government on our forever land whose mistreatment benefits them.
I don’t know of a chinkuk wawa word that translates exactly to whiteness, maybe because we experience it not as an abstract noun but as an action verb. None of us can choose the legacy we are born within, but all of us choose our alliances. We make and reinforce our commitments with every action.
The problem: that Indigeneity is viewed by the boston-tilixam as a burden while whiteness is not.
The result: some boston-tilixam pour energy into defending the wearing of safety pins.
The weather forecast for Standing Rock: blizzards.
“You’re an old-timer,” the narrator of Winter in the Blood says to a man he meets in a café. “Have you ever known this river to have fish in it?” The old man only says “Heh, heh,” before he drops dead, face-down into his oatmeal.
My students, at times, used to struggle with the fish motif. Maybe that happened because I couldn’t guide them through seeing the river as symbol. How can we speak in metaphor when we need the river to be seen as literal?
For a while, I thought that, because my work had me at energetic, physical, and emotional capacity, I was doing enough. I was writing, teaching, and informally educating. I changed my mind last week. I found more energy; it had been tucked into night hours I used to use for sleeping. I want to rest, to comfort myself, to meditate, to relax, to practice self-care, but I have a sick belly and a sunken face now. I would like to take a break from the work, but my nausea is telling me that I don’t really have a choice. I can’t let myself stop with a small steps—a Facebook post, a retweet—when Native people are being tear gassed, shot with rubber bullets, and threatened with live ammunition for doing the thing the ancestors are still, from within my body, from the other side of genocide, doing: committing to the river.
I want to hold the scissors. I want to tie tight, constricting knots with the string. I want to inhabit my body so fully that I know how to use it to protect the people and the land I love. Because I, too, am asking, How can I help? What can I do? And my ancestors tell me clearly, Find us in your body and we will show you.
When the Cascade leaders were hanged, some of the people went onto reservations and some remained in the homelands by the river. These people, like my family, were called renegades. To be a renegade is to have betrayed an alliance. Who is betrayed by the act of staying alive in the place where one has lived for ten thousand years?
Tumalth signed that treaty with his X that meant he and his fellows would acknowledge their dependence on the government of the United States, and promise to be friendly with all the citizens thereof, and pledge themselves to commit no depredations on the property of such citizens.
If my survival is a betrayal, make no mistake: I’ll betray.
Tyee is chief. Tumtum is heart. Klushkakwa is not a word I can translate for you but you might hear me say it instead of goodbye, which is not what it means. Instead of goodbye, my mom says toodle-oo because saying goodbye isn’t done, just like stirring batter counter-clockwise, just like walking on the parts of the cemetery where there are graves that could cave in. If this doesn’t make sense, don’t think about it. Don’t try to find explanations consistent with what might be called logic. Know that, if you are not from a post-apocalyptic people, you may not be familiar with these strategies we use to survive.
If you are a boston and, when you hear me mention that my tribe’s casino will open in April, your first impulse is to say it’s a shame that we’re doing that, try this instead: trust that we are doing what we believe will help us survive your nation. Instead, say it’s a shame that we are still forced to react to the settler state built upon intentional efforts to kill us all.
During the summer of 1829, four-fifths of the Cascade people were killed by a white disease. The year before Tumalth signed the treaty, there were only eighty Cascade people left.
Apocalypse comes from an ancient Greek word that’s supposed to mean through the concealed.
Apocalypse has very little to do with the end of the world and everything to do with vision that sees the hidden, that dismantles the screen.
We have known for a long time that they intend to kill us. I have spent almost every moment of my life in an America that will not rest until I am either dead or turned boston klootchman. I make my way in an America that wants to assign me whiteness because that will mean they’ve exterminated the siwash they see in me.
It doesn’t work that way and it never has.
Boston-tilixam ask me, What can I do? And I talk about the river.