By Joanna Bastian
I recently read two books side-by-side: “Lost Homeland: the Methow Tribe and the Columbia Reservation,” by E. Richard Hart, and “When the Sun Reaches the Mountain” by Christine Cassano. Reading these two books gave me insight into how and why the First People were forced out of their homeland, and how those actions impacted later generations.
Richard is a prolific author and former director of the Institute of the North American West. He is a noted historian and expert witness for tribal matters throughout North America. He lives in Winthrop. Christine is a retired professional hair stylist and the 1991 Champion of the International Americas Cup. She was born and raised on the Colville Reservations, and went on to own and operate Christine’s Institute of Hair Design in Spokane, where her students also went on to win national awards. Christine lives on the Colville Reservation in a home she built in Inchelium.
“Lost Homeland” gives a detailed outline of the many different people who spoke for the Methows about land use and borders without their knowledge or consent. The land was bargained out from under them, a little each year, while the majority of people were away from home each season gathering food in the upper valley, preparing for winter. The book is written from the perspective of an expert witness preparing a detailed summary and includes official correspondence of documented events, maps and photos.
“When the Sun Reaches the Mountain” is a very personal narrative of the life of a young Native American girl in Washington state during the 1940s and 1950s. Christine shares loving details of her hard-working family who lived on the Colville Reservation. The memories of her mother’s touch and her father’s instruction make their impoverished life feel rich in experience.
She describes everything in great detail, down to the smell of home-cooked food, the feel of the blankets, and the sounds of daily life. The story unfolds as most memories do, in bits and pieces. She begins with her first night as an adult in her newly built home, reflecting on the wide arc of her life’s path. The first memory is of a summer before school, working with her family. As most smart young women, she was looking forward to school, but then a tuberculosis diagnosis takes her far away to a specialized hospital where she spends years. From a sterile hospital bed, she draws upon thoughts of her family to get her through each day.
From Richard’s book, I learned that the Columbia Reservation — which includes the Methows’ traditional territory — was never officially disbanded. This detail has fallen out of public knowledge. The Confederated Tribes, which includes the Methow people, have, “an excellent record in natural resource management,” and have been a powerful ally in recent events surrounding decisions about natural resources in the Methow Valley. We have the Methow Valley Interpretive Center in Twisp, and the Methow Monument in Pateros, but there is more work we can do as a community to help preserve and honor the history of the original people, the Methows.
From Christine’s book, I gained a perspective of how the human spirit perseveres from someone who lived through tumultuous changes during the 1940s and ’50s in the Pacific Northwest. Native Americans straddled multiple rivers of change at a time when public health epidemics and changes in the economy affected all of America. Health care, livelihoods and education were far from home if you lived on a reservation. Christine details hard challenges, but does so with an inspiring frankness. Her story is an uplifting narrative of strength and perseverance when nothing in life seems certain.