There are 21 Native American reservations in Washington state. As Joshua and Jaya discover in my novel Nearly Canaan, living adjacent to one, they are home to a unique culture.
Here are the ten largest by area.
- Colville, 1,300,000 acres or 2,031 square miles. A little larger than Delaware. It’s in the arid northeast corner of the state.
- Yakama, 837,753 acres or 1,309 square miles. Still larger than Rhode Island. It stretches from the Cascade crest into the arid Yakima Valley.
- Quinault, 208,150 acres or 325 square miles. About the size of Omaha or Greensboro. It’s along the Pacific Ocean on the Olympic peninsula.
- Spokane, 153,600 acres or 240 square miles. Compare its area to Milwaukee. It’s just east of Colville.
- Makah, 23,040 acres or 36 square miles. Still larger than Manhattan. Sits at the northwest tip of the Olympic peninsula.
- Snohomish or Tulalip, 8.930 acres or 14 square miles. Sits along Puget Sound north of Seattle.
- Port Madison, 1,375 acres or 2.145 square miles.
- Quileaute, 837 acres or 1.3 square miles.
- Hoh, 640 acres or one square mile.
- Lummi, 598 acres.
Have you ever attended a powwow?
The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel,
For the tyrant shall be no more, and the scoffer shall cease to be; and all those alert to do evil shall be cut off – those who cause a person to lose a lawsuit, who set a trap for the arbiter in the gate, and without grounds deny justice to the one in the right. …
And those who err in spirit will come to understanding, and those who grumble will accept instruction.
Isaiah 29:19-21, 29 (NRSV)
After 7½ years of retirement, I returned to the workplace part-time for two months this year.
The job was supposed to begin in May and run through the summer but got pushed back to August and then abruptly cut off at the end of September.
I was a federal agent.
The private identifying details we recorded are sworn to secrecy – or the equivalent, for those of us who follow Scripture and refuse to take oaths. But I’m still trying to put the experience into perspective.
For nearly 40 years, I’ve worked through the available Census files in my genealogical research, as you’ll see in the posts on my Orphan George blog. It’s become something of a specialty for me, along with the Quaker minutes. I mean, it’s how I learned that Grandpa married the girl next door. There’s also one set of ancestors who were recorded twice in 1860 but with enough differences to make me suspect there were two Jacob Ehrstines closely related – one detail in the 1870 Census cleared that up. And I have one ancestor who shaved another year or two off her age every decade, though I have no idea whether it was intentional or out of ignorance, considering that Quakers didn’t celebrate birthdays.
So I set forth in part out of gratitude for those earlier enumerators. The first ones, incidentally, were federal marshals. This was that important.
What surprised me as I hit the streets and knocked on doors on behalf of the Census Bureau was how physically hard it becomes – bending over an iPhone placed on a clipboard to input data quickly had my back aching, especially. For a dozen years, I managed to work a double shift every Saturday as a newspaper editor, yet here I was pushing my limits when it got close to five hours a day. (Wimp!) Six really maxed it. An article in the Washington Post enlightened me that I wasn’t alone here, so I couldn’t blame it all on age.
I am surprised by how many Americans don’t know what a census is or that it’s required every ten years or that they don’t want to be recorded.
Well, I now also have a clearer understanding of why one household might disappear ten years later but reappear again in a subsequent Census. You know, be there in 1800 and 1820 but not 1810.
I am also surprised how much of my brain space got wrapped in a job again. You know, replaying cases and wondering how I might have done them differently. This was supposed to be something I could let go of at quitting time. Not so, though.
Inputting data in an app on an iPhone still strikes me as tedious. You might have guessed I pretty much hate texting, except as an alternative to an actual phone call. (Emails seem to be my preferred form of communicating these days.) How do kids do it, texting with their thumbs? Or are their exchanges all typos?
Oh, yes, another confession. I’ve typed for nearly six decades now. Self-taught, earned my livelihood with it. Written whole books, even. But ask me to re-create a keyboard from memory, and I have no clue where the individual letters of the alphabet are. The memory is all in my fingers, not my head. Seriously.
So I can’t imagine keyboarding with my thumbs. As I was saying about the kids? Besides, thumbs are awfully fat for those tiny screens. My dry fingers had enough trouble connecting, even before getting to any issue of accuracy.
In my rounds, I had a few near falls (including one wooden step that wasn’t nailed down anymore), a couple of dogs who could have turned nasty, some close calls in traffic, but emerged unscathed.
Some of the most enjoyable interviews turned out to be those where I could put my very limited Spanish to work. Other enumerators had backed off, so I guessed it was up to me, and somehow, we got the required data, often with a lot of laughter. Yes, I made some funnies.
The best part of the job, though, was meeting people who, for the most part, were warm, friendly, helpful. I have a much clearer understanding of the neighborhoods around me.
Would I do it again?
No, I’ll be too feeble – or feebleminded – in another decade.
But maybe you’d want to give it a crack.
I’ve loved maps since childhood, so our new interest in Downeast Maine has whetted an appetite to investigate more of the region’s geography, which includes a lot of water. Not just the ragged coastline and bays, but also large lakes and many bogs, marshes, and swamps plus rivers and waterfalls.
One thing that’s rather boggled my mind is discovering of what’s cut off from U.S. maps on that edge of the continent.
For instance, I had no clue of Grand Manan Island, which is 21 miles long with bluffs rising 200 to 400 feet above the Atlantic just 15 miles east of Maine. It even has three lighthouses. Getting there’s a whole other matter.
Still, I doubt that many Americans think of anything lying in the ocean east of the United States until you get to the British Isles or European mainland. So is there anything else we’re missing?
Well, there’s tiny Machias Seal Island further south, claimed by both the U.S. and Canada, which has a long lighthouse presence there.
What’s really surprised me is how far the province of Nova Scotia extends south.
From the easternmost point in the U.S., Nova Scotia is more than 82 miles to the southeast.
From Bar Harbor, Maine, it’s 113 miles to the east.
And further south, it runs down past Portland, Maine, where sits more than 200 miles to the east.
Put another way, nearly anyone sailing from Maine has to navigate around this extension of Canada.
If you follow the news, it also puts some of our fishing controversies in perspective.
From Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod, for instance, the distance to the tip of Nova Scotia is roughly 230 miles, versus 111 to Portland, Maine, meaning that the southernmost point of Canada juts that much further into what I had considered U.S. fishing grounds.
With the bigger map, one including both the New England, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia shorelines, you can see how a funnel is formed, one where ocean currents push into Fundy Bay to create the world’s highest tides.
For me, this is a reminder of how often our comprehension of a problem is limited by conventional thinking when we look at the situation.
Just how else do you get outside the box, anyway?
My novel Nearly Canaan starts off in a railroad crossing called Prairie Depot, and my story The Secret Side of Jaya returns there.
Prairie can be found as far east as Ohio, but it’s more extensive out on the Great Plains.
Here are some tidbits about the landscape.
- It’s bigger than I thought. The region runs from the Rio Grande river bordering Mexico all the way to the Arctic Ocean in Canada, and along the Rocky Mountains to the west. Its width is about 500 miles and it covers about a seventh of the continental U.S.
- Rainfall ranges between 13 and 20 inches a year, too little to sustain trees.
- Its natural vegetation is a variety of grasslands. And it’s flat or gently rolling.
- It had immense herds of bison as well as pronghorn. Prairie dogs, coyotes, prairie chicken, and rattlesnakes remain prominent.
- Native American tribes included Blackfoot, Crow, Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Comanche. The nomadic tribes followed the bison migration through the year.
- The introduction of the horse from Europe dramatically changed the Native culture.
- The rural Plains have lost a third of their population since 1920. Ghost towns, which have lost so much population they’re considered extinct, are the most common category of towns.
- The climate includes cold, harsh winters and very hot, humid summers.
- Without natural trees, hills, or mountains, there’s no protection against wind and erosion.
- The region includes Tornado Alley, based on the frequency and intensity of the twisters generated in its open spaces.
What surprises you here?
After the last presidential election, I made the hard decision to refrain from posting on White House politics for the duration. Admittedly, it’s been a trial when it comes to biting my tongue.
For one thing, my degree’s in political science, with a strong dose of the Federalist Papers and the foundation of American political theory. For another, I spent most of my career in the newsroom and watched with dread as these developments gathered momentum.
What I sensed with Trump was that I could add nothing from the sidelines. The storm had to play itself out, and vital criticism would ultimately have to come from the so-called conservative side of the spectrum.
What I didn’t anticipate was how appalling the daily affronts would be, each one washing over the previous one before the impact could sink in. No blogger watching the news from afar could react in time to remain current. Well, maybe by taking a longer term view, like once a week, but it would have been a full-time job.
As you can see, I had enough else to post on, trying to maintain a life-is-normal focus, even amid the current Covid culture.
Still, drafting this confession is painful. I long to see decency and intelligence return to leadership and society in general. At this stage, it won’t happen overnight. But we can hope the tide will turn.
Not too long ago, the counterculture of the late ’60s and early ’70s looked like ancient history, especially from our grandkids’ perspective.
Not so now.
Here we are again, with a paranoid tyrant in the White House, a nation divided, police gone rogue, civil rights denied, and frustration erupting in protests. Only this time, the situation looks worse, much worse, than it did then, even before we add climate change and the environment to the mix.
We had more community connections, for one thing. And there were more voices of reason, for another. In what we saw as the Revolution of Peace & Love, the gloom and doom before us was often counterbalanced by experiences of joy and unity, often via its outpouring of vivid music in public festivals and rallies. I don’t see that now. Too many people are simply isolated, and the Covid restrictions aren’t helping.
The closest rallying cry for the American dream I’m sensing is BLM. Think about that and how many middle-class, suburban lawns where its signs are sprouting on lawns and in windows.
In retrospect, as I’ve long argued, there was no standard-issue hippie and no creed to subscribe to. Some were outright apolitical, while for others, peace and social justice activism were paramount.
Once again, activism is high on the agenda, across all generations.
My novel Daffodil Uprising: the making of a hippie describes the transformation as it happened, more or less, fifty years ago on a college campus in Indiana and likely elsewhere. Not all of it was hippiedelic, not by a long shot. Things were generally grim.
A neighbor reading the book said some of the scenes regarding the school’s administration and its disregard for the students sound like those his daughter is complaining about at a prestigious university in Greater Boston. Some things never change, or won’t if we fail to nurture a culture of vigilance. Frankly, we got lazy in the intervening years, or at least distracted.
All I can say is that I expect the next month to be one of the most important in our nation’s history. Wise elders, seasoned over time, are needed in the fray. How many of us are willing and ready to stand up?