For 20 years, the Confluence Project has been highlighting the experiences of Indigenous tribes along the Columbia River. Now it’s created a new journal called “Voices of the River.” Editor Lily Hart says in some ways it’s the culmination of the organization itself, reflecting both history and contemporary life with poetry, articles and original art. We talk with Hart and with Emily Washines, a Yakama tribal member who wrote about protecting threatened tribal fishing rights.
Note: The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: From the Gert Boyle Studio at OPB, this is Think Out Loud. I’m Dave Miller. For the last 20 years, the Confluence Project has been highlighting the experiences of Indigenous tribes along the Columbia River. Their work has included public art museum exhibits and a digital library. Now the team behind the project has created a new journal called “Voices of the River.” Lily Hart was the editor of the first issue. She is a digital content manager at Confluence. Emily Washines is a writer, filmmaker, adjunct instructor at Yakima Community College and a member of the Yakama tribe. She wrote in this first issue about the tribe’s long fight to protect its treaty guaranteed fishing rights. They both join me now, it’s good to have both of you on Think Out Loud.
Lily Hart / Emily Washines: Thanks for having us.
Miller: Lily Hart, can you remind us what this larger Project Confluence is?
Hart: Confluence is a community supported nonprofit. We connect people to the history, living cultures and ecology of the Columbia River system through Indigenous voices. We work through six art landscape installations, through educational programming, public programming and we do this in collaboration with Northwest tribes, local communities and the celebrated artist Maya Lin.
Miller: Why add a new journal to the list of projects that Confluence has taken on?
Hart: Yeah, sort of a natural next step for us. I think the next logical step. A bit of background about Confluence to show how we got here. We began in the early 2000′s in the years before the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial. And it came out of this broad conversation throughout the northwest about how to tell this story from the perspectives of the Native people that Lewis and Clark met.
At the time, Antone Minthorn chaired the Confederated Tribes on the Umatilla reservation. And it was very important to him that the story not be Lewis and Clark discovering this place. Instead, the story is that they visited the Columbia River and met people and what’s more important, the descendants of the people they met are still here and remain a significant part of the story. And so he’s our founding board Chair.
And meanwhile at the same time, another woman named Jane Jacobsen had a similar idea and she was really thinking about art landscape installations that would do this. And independent of each other, they both thought about asking Maya Lin to become involved and they were then connected by a person who knew both of them. So they combined their efforts and then, in a group of tribal elders, asked Maya to do it and she agreed.
So we now have five art installations along the Columbia River and they all tell this story from a more inclusive and environmental place. Out of the original art landscape installations, we intended to build them and sort of leave them with the parks that they were in. But then it really became clear that programming needed to go along with them. So we have educational programming where we bring native artists and educators into schools to do projects with children. We have public programming which includes Confluence story gatherings which are panel discussions with native elders and leaders. We have professional development for teachers.
Then we created an online resource library where we have clips from interviews with native elders and leaders. We have articles, we have podcasts and so, from the digital library, one of our advisors suggested we really should have something in print and it should be a journal where some of the articles were peer reviewed so people could cite them. And so we decided to go with that. And it turns out people really love having something in print, not just online, something physical, they can pick up. It’s accessible that way. You can just hand it to somebody. It’s a beautiful experience as well to hold it in your hands. So it just seems sort of the logical next step.
Miller: Emily Washines, why did you want to take part in this first issue of this new journal?
Washines: I’ve been wanting to tell this story about this tribal fishing rights courtroom battle for a while. I think when I was learning about Native history in middle school, we didn’t hear about these kinds of stories in the school setting. We only heard about these stories as Yakama tribal members from our families. So really when they decided to revisit this case in 2020, it was a chance to maybe compile all of it and put it together and weave different points.
Miller: Well let’s go back in time then too, because I think you’re right that a lot of listeners, myself included, were not aware of this part of the Yakama tribal history and U. S. history. But to understand this, we really need to understand first what was promised by the head of the Washington Territory back in 1855. So what did Governor Stevens sign and what did he guarantee to the Yakama nation?
Washines: In 1855 there was a lot more development starting. However, there wasn’t a full railroad so you couldn’t have people coming from the East coast yet. So the territorial Governor Stevens was charged with signing treaties with tribes including the Yakama nation. One of the largest treaty gatherings in the U. S. actually happened in Walla Walla with multiple tribes, including Yakama’s, who wanted to reserve the rights to fish, hunt, and gather in all usual and accustomed places.
Miller: What happened shortly after the treaty was signed?
Washines: Shortly after the treaty was signed there was gold found up north, in the Colville territory, and this started a Yakama war for three years as a result of miners raping and killing women and children.
Miller: And then fast forwarding a couple of decades, there were eventually two fishing rights cases that went to the Washington State Supreme Court in 1915 and 1921. What was at stake in these cases?
Washines: Well, what you have at stake is the ability for future generations and current generations to be able to feed their families. In that 1920′s era, that was of course during a pandemic, we were trying to make sure that we had food that connected us to our, what we believe makes us strongest. We believe that fish is something that, when we take that in, it makes us stronger. And the thought that we wouldn’t have access to fish, that we’re being told by a state agency or the state that you’re not allowed to fish here, you’re not allowed together for your family. And the worry from the people at the time was that future generations won’t fish where their ancestors did.
Miller: And in fact, as you note in your article, that’s exactly what the court said. They, despite the very clear language in the treaty, said ‘you do not have a right to fish here.’ In both of those cases, as you note, tribal members who had been found to be unlawfully fishing in these places, that was upheld. So what you delve into is sort of the side way that the Yakama nation tried to bring this fight against the state or federal governments, which was to do it legislatively. What did that effort look like?
Washines: Well, it’s a really amazing vision that our elders have, what our elders talk about now. Like imagine the vision to have and work a system in which you don’t speak the language, you can’t read the English language, you need interpreters. But you’re figuring out that in order to be heard, you go into these offices and you talk to these people and you explain your rights that justices might view you as a quote unquote “dangerous child.” But what is really at heart here is the fact that we just want to be able to continue to fish for our families. And this is what our tribal members went and did. They figured out how to lobby even though they didn’t speak the English language and we had interpreters and spoke to legislators.
Miller: You include in this article a really fascinating photograph from, I guess, one of those days at the capitol in Olympia. Can you describe what we see in that photo and also tell us what’s important about it?
Washines: In the photo there’s several rows of Yakama tribal members in regalia. Some of the tribal members are in suits and ties. And then you have in the front center, Chief Meninick standing next to Katherine Bates And those are both the children of the Treaty signers of 1855.
Miller: And if I’m not mistaken, not just the children of the treaty signers, but Chief Meninick - you are a direct descendant of him. What are your own family connections to this story?
Washines: One of my earliest memories is sitting at a ceremonial table and watching the food be set down before us, salmon being the first of that. And when I was very young. I mean, my chin was practically close to the table. And I would be waiting for this food to be down, my grandmother and different family members would say ‘You need to listen, you kids need to listen. This is why we signed the treaty and these are our rights and one day you might have to speak for these resources in front of you. And you have to always remember that that’s our promise to these resources because they can no longer speak for themselves.’ And so it was instilled in me, at a very young age, you have a responsibility. Our treaty rights get misinterpreted all the time. And again, I would look at other sitcom shows, “The Brady Bunch” and “Sister Sister” and I was like, well they’re not telling them about laws that they need to know, they’re just gonna talk about school.
Miller: Emily, I want to hear more about your story and your family’s story in just a bit.
Lily Hart, I want to go back to you as the editor of this journal. I wonder if you can give us a sense for the overall variety, diversity of pieces that you and others ended up including in this first issue?
Hart: One of the things we really wanted, from the beginning of coming up with this journal, is we wanted real diversity of genres, not just wanted research articles that were peer reviewed, people could cite. We also wanted creative nonfiction or fiction and poetry. We ended up with quite a good mix. We have some research articles like Emily’s, as well as one by Rachel Cushman and Chance White Eyes. We have some creative nonfiction by Sean Smith and Carly Wilson, some poetry by Ed Edmo and we also have two first person narratives from elders, one from our founding board chair Antone and one from Linda Meanus. It’s an excerpt from her book that’s coming out this June, “My Name is LaMoosh.” That’s co published with us and OSU Press.
So it was a real mixture and the first person narrative is really important to us as well. And you know, for our call for submissions, we made it very clear that we’re open to all kinds of approaches to writing. And then we also want to make it a very visual journal and have a lot of artwork and photos. So the cover is designed by Tom Greyeyes and he also did some artworks that accompany some of the articles. We also had some really full scale photo spreads as well. So we want to be really beautiful and diverse in genre publication. Our next call for submissions will be the same thing, all types of genres.
Miller: Earlier, you mentioned that one of your plans for this was that it would be peer reviewed, so that the pieces in this could eventually be cited by others and with more authority. Can you describe the process that you all came up with to do that?
Hart: We had one committee that ranked the submissions anonymously. And then some of those same members, we called on to peer review the articles once they were written as well. And then they offered editorial feedback and also reviewed it as peers to make sure to have that stamp of approval. And then their editorial feedback really informed mine. We also did peer reviews, which is a slightly more traditional peer review system, the type that a lot of journals use in academia, with the authors themselves. So what we had was two Zoom meetings where the authors, if they wanted to and all of them did, could read each other’s pieces and offer feedback. That was, I think, a really beautiful and thoughtful experience.
I just ran the Zoom meeting and sat back and watched them engage with each other very thoughtfully, very creatively. And it, I think, really hopefully formed some sort of community as well. Some of them already knew each other actually through other work but now other people met each other and they got to really engage with each other’s pieces. And one of the reasons I wanted to do that is we wanted to do a slightly less Western peer review system where it was really like making connections as well.
Miller: Emily Washines, you just mentioned that your family instilled in you the importance of this history and the fact that these treaties were not being followed, from a very early age. Your head barely got up to the table. My understanding is you have kids of your own who maybe are older than that, at this point. I think 7, 11 and 13. What do you teach them about this particular history?
Washines: We talk to them quite a bit about the fishing rights and our reserved rights and the treaty. Again, we want to continue those teachings of our elders about this and not only myself, but also my uncles and my aunts and their grandparents all talk to them. And I think the western term is like ‘supplemental education.’ So every time I’d come home from middle school, when I was around their age and I’d have this paperwork about the Oregon Trail. I knew that at some point, I would learn that there would be more to the story. I’d be sat down and ‘okay, this is what we need to add on.’
I really see a shift now, where you have teachers that are really seeking this type of information, as Lily talked about wanting to have that information in hand, and our youth being so active in that and a participant about that. I’ve wanted my children to be a part of that. And yesterday my daughter went and handed out this journal to all of her history teachers that teach in her grade.
Miller: Lawmakers in Oregon in recent years have passed laws to say that this history, broadly the interactions between european colonial settlers and Indigenous people who have been on this land and still are since time immemorial, that the teaching of that history has to change, has to get better, and has to be a truer and a fuller story. Are you saying that you’ve actually seen evidence that that is working?
Washines: Oh definitely. I mean, when I was in the same middle school that my children go to now, we learned about the Oregon Trail. We clicked on the different keynotes about that, we tried not to get all the different sicknesses that pioneers got, and what they taught about Native history was very tiny. Maybe they mentioned the tribal names.
Miller: Lily Hart, it seemed like you tipped your hand a little bit in talking about the future process for this journal going forward. Does that mean that there will be a second issue of this magazine?
Hart: Yes. I want to have a volume every year in the fall and maybe someday more than once a year. And a call for submissions will actually go out this Tuesday. It’ll go out in our newsletter, but will also be on the main page of our website. So if you go to ‘ConfluenceProject.org’ you can find the guidelines there starting next week. And then we’ll be open for submissions until March 15th or so. The next step is to start reading the submissions and go from there and it’ll be out next October or November.
Miller: Lily Hart and Emily Washines, thanks very much.
Hart: Thank you.
Washines: Thank you.
Miller: Lily Hart is the editor of “Voices of the River.” It’s the inaugural issue of The Journal of Confluence. She’s the digital manager at Confluence. Emily Washines wrote one of the pieces for this new journal. She wrote about the reaffirmation of fishing treaty rights. She’s a writer and filmmaker and adjunct instructor at Yakima Community College.
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