Community , Columns

What is on your Fall Reading List?

My great-nieces and nephews are getting ready to go return to school on September 4th, three in elementary for half-days and one in Junior High with full days. They were savoring the last days of summer, camping on the beach along the Columbia River by their grandparent’s house, while the adults waited to see whether school would start on time.

Teachers and school districts across Washington State have been working to distribute $1 billion that the Legislature was required appropriated for teacher salaries by a recent lawsuit. The Wahkiakum School District reached a contract agreement last night, so school will open, while teachers in Spokane and Longview, the mill town 35 miles upriver from us strike.  

I finished a Master of Fine Arts degree in May 2017, so I’m free of the academic calendar. My degree involved a lot of reading and research, while I pursued projects I developed. I’ve had a productive, busy year since graduation. I had a month-long fellowship at the Ragdale Foundation in Chicago this spring and attended the VONA workshop with Kiese Laymon in Berkeley that gave me a strong group of writer colleagues. I’ve begun to edit and mentor other writers.

Now that southwest Washington is out from under the smoky haze of wildfires from Canada and across the West, I’m feeling the poignancy of the end of summer. The wind is rustling through cottonwoods and alders. Swallows are lining the telephone wires. We’re watching to see when the ospreys that nested on the Puget Island Bridge will fly south, and for the first time since I graduated, I’m wondering what classes are being offered nearby.

Pursuing a degree organizes your time into quarters or semesters and gives you structure. Completing a term brings the impression that you’re making progress. I admire the many Osages who recently graduated, and those who are still seeking degrees, many juggling jobs and families and still acing their studies. I appreciate the Nation’s investment in education, the clear commitment to excellence and learning that is a Wah Zha Zhi value.

So, it’s natural that I begin to look for classes. The writer and professor Ted Van Alst is coming to Portland State University to chair a new Native Studies department. But learning happens out of school, too. I have watercolor brushes and paint, flowers for a still life and a desire to learn. I just have to get over the anxiety that comes with believing I need to do it perfectly the first time.

The Osage Book Club is reading John Joseph Mathews’ “The Osages: Children of the Middle Waters.” I read most of Mathews’ books during my MFA study except for his biography of E. W. Marland. I want to read more of Angie Debo starting with “And Still the Waters Run: the betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes.” She’s my hero, a self-directed scholar who was penalized for calling out corruption and graft.

I’m using the Osage language app, and I post vocabulary lists where I see them every day. You could say it’s my version of immersion study. I’m looking forward to getting the Osage orthography on my phone.

This week I watched “Giant,” the classic film released in 1956 based on Edna Ferber’s novel about a mega-sized ranch in Texas where oil was discovered. I wondered whether it would be similar to dynamics in Osage County. The film was shot in Marfa, Texas and deals with racism toward Mexican-Americans, but no Native people, past or present, are mentioned.  

The widespread erasure of indigenous people makes local events particularly important. On Sept.1, I’ll travel to Olympia to join the Squaxin Island Tribe as they honor and celebrate Steh-Chass, which is the indigenous name for lower Deschutes Watershed and Budd Inlet. Medicine Creek canoe families will be there to advocate for the restoration of the estuary. I’ll visit friends and learn their history and celebrate their vision of the future.

On Oct. 20, the 10th annual Osage Cultural Encampment will be held on the Blue Stem Ranch. I had a good time on the first Cultural Walk, and I’m looking forward to this one. While I’m home I’ll take language classes and stop by the Wah Zha Zhi Cultural Center.

What’s on your list for fall?