Indigenous peoples’ stories as they should be told

When I began my study of the indigenous peoples of California in the 1990s, Malcolm Margolin The Ohlone Way: Indian Life in the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Area (1978) was one of the few books that linked the long past of the natives of California to the present. He shied away from the pride of describing the imaginary life of Indigenous people to non-Indigenous people, a business that has often gone wrong. Instead of seeing Indigenous people as subjects of study, Margolin engaged with them, became friends, listened to and respected the stories they told her.

Today, after a long and unique career, Heyday Books, the publishing house founded by Margolin, has published Deep Hanging Out: Wanderings and Wonder in Native California (2021), a collection of 29 excerpts, interviews, conversations and essays written between 1974 and 2019 that illustrate the richness of his long friendships with Indigenous peoples across the state – Ohlone, Miwok, Pomo, Maidu, Yokuts, Yuki, Hupa, Karuk, Yurok, Kumeyaay, Cahuilla, and Quechan, among many others. The praises put forward for this book include many tribal presidents, activists, educators, authors, a former governor, and an American Poet Laureate. I am honored to add my praise to the choir for this wonderful book. Oddly enough, in the original, stand-alone pieces, Margolin was able to distract from himself from the indigenous peoples and what he had learned from them. But gathered here, the attention lingers a bit on him, making him a more important figure in a story seen through his eyes and informed by his passions.

Who is Malcolm Margolin and how did he become a fixture in the native California community? Born and raised in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, he received a degree in English Literature from Harvard and headed west in a Volkswagen bus in the late 1960s. He landed in Berkeley and stayed. He worked for the East Bay Regional Park District and, based on these experiences, published two books (The Earth Handbook: How To Work In The Wilderness Without Taming It in 1972; and The East Bay Out: A Personal Guide to East Bay State Parks in 1974) and founded Heyday Books.

He turned his attention to the Native Americans, who, he writes, “were apparently everywhere, yet I began to wonder about the Native Americans of northern California.” He immersed himself in the thriving but under-visible Indigenous community of the Bay Area and listened intently. The result was The Ohlone Way, based on his extensive readings of primary and secondary sources and archival documents, and rendered in deceptively simple and elegant prose. Friendships he made back then came News from native California, which he co-founded with anthropologists Vera Mae Fredrickson and David Peri (Coast Miwok) in 1987. Since then, the magazine has become a major cultural institution and the original publisher of many of the pieces retrieved or reprinted here.

Too often, non-Indigenous people who study Indigenous people for what they can teach non-Indigenous society have contributed to the weary tropes of noble, ancient, wise, but endangered Indians. I see it in my students, in the dream catchers in their dorms and their belief in a naturally passive sense of Indigenous ecology. Margolin’s Berkeley of the late 1960s and early 1970s was inundated with this trend. Many counter-culture activists have seized on indigenous culture as an extractive model for an alternative way of life. They turned aboriginals into something is useful to them. Margolin skillfully avoids this pattern. His wonder drives him, but the informal conversations and moments of laughter or casual friendship with Indigenous people across the state that dot his essays make him a participant as much as a collector of stories. His careful observations focus on what Indigenous people said and did, and he offers those observations without moving those who shared them.

A number of articles in this book may be of particular interest to readers of Sierra. The essay “The Wealth and the Spirit” is a reflection on the obligations that traditional Indigenous insignias place on the people who make and care for them, and the non-fungible form of spiritual and material wealth that results. It begins, as so many of these essays do, with a conversation between friends, this one with a number of badge makers Tolowa, Yuki, Karuk, Hupa and Wailaki that took place at the Hearst Museum at the University of California. The difficulty and time it takes to craft badges – it can take 20 years, for example, to collect the seashells used on a dress, or the 168 ridges of large peaks used to make a single feathered headdress – connects the spiritual, ecological and material interests. . Another piece, titled “Traditional Conservation of California Indians,” illustrates the ways in which Indigenous religious practices have hampered individual use and acquisition of natural resources, creating a community sense of shared ecological responsibility.

In Margolin’s hands, the connections are as practical and logical as they are religious and mystical. There is a short article on Ohlone’s tule houses from a presentation to fourth graders that ultimately becomes a conversation about the classroom and the importance of “cross-cultural recognition of the value of other people’s choices”. His essay on the Southern Sierra Miwuk Nation’s efforts to rebuild the rotunda of Wahhoga Village in Yosemite highlights the tension between the idea of ​​national parks as sanctuaries and indigenous demands to use the lands they hold. were stolen as part of their own assertion of sovereignty. Margolin points to the Park Service’s efforts to restore an Indigenous presence in the park, such as the hiring of Indigenous people as cultural performers and protesters, as “laudable.” [but] a contradiction: if Indian culture can be demonstrated in the Valley, it cannot be lived there.

For readers unfamiliar with Margolin’s other works, Hang out deep will be an excellent introduction to a vibrant, dynamic and growing field of scholarship and activism. For those who know the author better, the book is a practical collection of his long career. Two images from the book impressed me. Margolin ends an essay with a description of the Wintu’s use of “north” or “south” (rather than right or left) in reference to her arms to illustrate the concept of “a self that continually adapts and adapts to a world in which the individual was not the center of all creation. In another essay, he recounts a conversation with Serrano / Cahuilla bird song singer Ernest Siva, in which Siva explained that “what gave the song its meaning was not just the words, but who had taught him, when it could be sung, who could sing it, all the other times he had sung it, who he had taught it or would teach it. This prompts Margolin to remember a high school teacher he had a crush on, who read Heidi to his class. Margolin attributes her love for the Swiss Alps to this emotional connection. As he puts it, “Indigenous pedagogy is not only about what is taught, but also who teaches it and under what circumstances.

At first glance, the anecdote seems like a cheap comparison, until you realize that it’s entirely appropriate – simple and deep like a childhood crush and a story, or a song. and a funeral, or a conversation with a stranger in the shade of an oak tree. tree. The way these essays came to be is inseparable from the content itself, and as far as Margolin appears in them, it is never the center of attention.


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