No-Bad-DaysBy Don Nelson

It is unusual for the Methow Valley News to offer two important history lessons in the same issue, but this week our readers have a rare opportunity to glean some insight about the valley’s past — not all of it particularly uplifting.

Ann McCreary’s story will introduce you to a new book by local author and historian E. Richard Hart: “Lost Homeland: The Methow Tribe and the Columbia Reservation.” It is perhaps the most definitive account of the Methow natives who inhabited our valley for millennia before being forced out and folded into the Colville Confederated Tribes more than a century ago.

Hart immersed himself in years of extensive research to illuminate the story of the Methow Tribe, and explain how historical forces and circumstances caused it to become nearly nonexistent in the Methow Valley. In the context of early U.S. relations with Native Americans, it is a sadly familiar story. Locally, we only have a few remnants of the original culture which defined the Methow Valley. As Ann’s story notes, “Hart’s book describes how the Methow people were left out of the process that determined their future.”

It’s impossible to know how the valley might have developed and how it would be enriched today had the Methows not been basically ejected from their ancestral territory. But “Lost Homeland” will help us understand our history in a way that will generate even more appreciation for this special place. Tribal descendants who carry on Methow traditions are living testament to the cultural roots we should all appreciate.

I suspect the book will be a best seller here. That would benefit both the Shafer Museum (which published it) and the Colville Confederated Tribes (which supported its publication). It is available at the museum, Trail’s End Bookstore and the Mazama Store, and possibly other outlets we’re not yet aware of.

The other revelatory story is Karen West’s distressingly topical account, beginning on page B1, of how the Ku Klux Klan flourished in Okanogan County, including the Methow Valley, during the 1920s. Karen did painstaking research to uncover just how bold and aggressive the Klan was in attempting to influence local politics, at a time when the group was making similar efforts all over the country.

The Klan only slightly disguised its message of hate, prejudice, suppression and implied violence behind lofty language that stressed what the KKK defined as patriotism and American values. Those targeted for membership, as Karen’s story notes, were the most influential decision-making members of the community, all in an attempt to legitimize the Klan’s cause.

Karen came across a particularly hair-raising image: a sizeable group of Klansmen (and they were all men) brashly posing, in their white pointed hoods, for a photograph at a Twisp venue, which has since burned down.

That image resonates in disturbing ways in the wake of recent violent events that featured white supremacists, self-proclaimed Nazis and KKK members who didn’t even bother with their hoods.

The Klansmen’s Creed (as published in 1924; see page B1) is a deceptively benign document. You could pull out any one item and perhaps find agreement with it. Taken together with the Klan’s clearly stated objectives and public actions, however, it reads as a cynical ruse.

Karen’s story reminds us that the Klan wasn’t then and isn’t now just about racism. The KKK doesn’t like Catholics, Jews, immigrants or pretty much anyone who doesn’t fit their definition of white Christian male-dominated America. It is a dangerously exclusionary view that doesn’t reflect what this country has become or who makes it great.

While the topics are different, both stories — of the Methows’ lost homeland and the KKK’s presence — demonstrate the powerful, lasting affects of prejudice based on the assumption of racial superiority. If the lessons of the past have any value at all, now is certainly the time to apply them.

A century or more from now, what will historians be writing about the Methow Valley? I think it will be a story we can be proud of as a community.

 

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