Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Chemawa Investigations Deserve Attention and Support

Military occupation or school?
February 3rd, 1903
April 23rd, 1921

Unlike the Prison, Fairview, Asylum, and other State institutions associated with Salem as the state capital, Chemawa Indian School participated in a different grid of power and funding, and has seemed much harder to understand and place in any kind of Salem history. It was here, but in some important ways not of here.

Additionally, if there is always a certain amount of euphemism, even just outright BS, in materials about the State institutions here, there was even more in comments about Chemawa.

A year-end feature in the paper from 1902 says

The students from this school almost uniformly become self-supporting and useful, respected citizens in all walks of life.

But citizenship didn't come until the 1920s and the notion that without special training the students were not useful is biased and risible. There's a whole lot of bad faith posturing and falsehood in the stories Salemites told themselves about Chemawa.

December 24th, 1902

Since Howard University has been in the news this last week, it is interesting also there is something of a link. The Oregon Encyclopedia says

Chemawa began in 1880 as the United States Indian Industrial and Training School on the campus of Pacific University at Forest Grove. The first superintendent was Lt. Melville C. Wilkinson, previously the aide-de-camp to Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, who had led military operations against tribes in the Pacific Northwest. Wilkinson believed, as did R.H Pratt, founder of Carlisle Indian School, that Indians could be better conquered with education than bullets. He espoused the “English only” requirement and instituted manual labor training for both boys and girls.

The origins with the military underscore that it was part of the suite of efforts for domination, elimination, and assimilation, always couched as Americanization.

Oct. 11th, 1922

Closer to home, Chemawa's current land has an important Salem connection, to the Oregon Land Company and a little less directly to our most famous Salemite

From the Oregon Encyclopedia again:

[Forest Grove, the original school site,] did not support expansion of the school. As a result, Henry J. Minthorn, the school’s second superintendent, acquired 177.32 acres north of Salem. By the time the school and its students moved in 1885, more than 300 children representing over forty tribes in Alaska, Washington, Idaho, and California had been enrolled at the school at Forest Grove.

The new school was near a railroad station and post office named Chemawa, after one of the bands of the Kalapuya tribe that had lived in the area. Believing that the land would “belong to the Indians,” students provided both money and labor to purchase the first parcel of land, but the deeds conveyed ownership to the United States.

It's weirdness layered on top of weirdness.

There is a lot of unhappy, unfortunate, and unjust history here.

New attention to death and burials there suggest we will be thinking more about Chemawa, reckoning with its place in our history, and giving some measure of justice to those lived and died in it.

Front page last Thursday

I don't have anything to add, but this is a story we should give more attention to, and I look forward to students and families obtaining more justice and also to more visible public history with a better sense of Chemawa's place in Salem history.

Front page Monday

No comments: