Today was my last day as a volunteer with the Clarke Historical Museum. I’ve been scanning photos at the Clarke and uploading them to the PastPerfect catalog over the last few weeks. The photos have included loggers, settlers, farmers, ‘steam donkeys’, trains, and ships. Well, you get the idea; it’s a representation of the industrial boom up here. Before I started processing the a/v and oral history collection at the Park, I worked primarily with documents related to the development of the Park and the many battles with the timber industry and local residents.
There is controversy surrounding the colonial settlement of this area. The area was settled by colonists who took part in the gold rush, mining other minerals, farming and eventually a whole lot of logging, followed by the development of State and Federal Parks. If you are not familiar with the area, there are also a number of Native American tribes in the area; some are federally recognized, others are not. Early in California history, many were displaced forcibly, physically and mortally by homesteaders and by the US government. Others lived side by side with those who were more accepting (for lack of a better description of that relationship).
Last weekend I had the great pleasure of attending a demonstration of a Tolowa renewal dance near the Smith River. The women, men and children that performed were from several of the rancherias and tribes. The regalia and the traditional body paint were indescribably beautiful and we were told the story of the dance before each segment. Audience members were invited to participate in the closing of the performance as it was recognized as a world renewal for all. It was an incredible afternoon of learning more about the Northern California communities.
I’ve also been reading Grave Matters by Tony Platt and other historical narratives over the last few months on my own time intermingled with processing archives at the Park and the artifacts at the Museum. Many of the oral histories and some of the other audio-visual materials I have processed have included the stories of local Native American families as well. It has been wonderful to follow both stories, that of the Native Americans and that of the homesteaders and loggers, as parallels.
Sadly, these stories are told as separate experiences instead of as a holistic human experience. And often, the story is biased toward ‘conquering the West’ and ‘discovering land’ ignoring the great numbers of diverse groups already in the area. Even Kroeber, although known for his advocacy, was not unbiased. This is not an issue that is unique to this area or even to our country. Nor am I criticizing the institutions here. Many of the collections and artifacts were collected long before the current staff, the scope of collections developed before they arrived, and change is slow to come to many institutions. But, change is happening. Both places have developed collaborative relationships with the local tribes and work together to preserve tribal collections and to develop inclusive exhibits.
Still, it is sometimes painful to read or listen to the stories of the local history. The experiences of the homesteaders that didn’t survive, the trees that perished under the ruthless saws of timber industry giants, and especially the stories of those whose families, languages and traditions were lost sometimes to ignorance and sometimes to just plain-old ‘mean’. I was fortunate to have attended the Tolowa demonstration. The world renewal is intended as a renewal for all. The Yurok tribe will also perform renewal known as the Jump Dance this week, after a long absence of this part of their culture. This too is a renewal prayer for humankind.
Change is slow to come. But, it is coming. As more people become knowledgeable about the histories of the many faces of our country. As information professionals, librarians, museum staff and archivists, become more knowledgeable about representing the many diverse cultures in their collections. More so as the information industry moves towards representing the many faces of our country by including Latinos, Native American, African Americans and the many other diverse groups as professionals. I am glad to be part of that change.