Alvin Josephy: A gentle, graceful advocate for sovereignty

  • Alvin Josephy

    Elane Dickenson, Wallowa County Chieftain
 

In a time of significant change for the Nez Perce people of north-central Idaho, a great friend and advocate has left us. The death of historian Alvin M. Josephy at age 90 on Oct. 16 touches our hearts and calls us to reflect on the importance of his life.

I was a child when my grandfather, David Miles Sr., and Josephy became close friends. That was many years ago, but since then, many Nez Perce have counted him as a friend.

Josephy was a Marine Corps combat correspondent during World War II. After the war, he became a Time magazine editor. He loved the West and was fascinated by Indian history, penning books that told our story with passion and skill. His writing, as well as his gentle, graceful example, had an impact on many levels of society.

Josephy was a complete man: His research and knowledge of Indian people led him to act. His 1965 book, The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest, made his reputation as an expert on Indian history; from then on, he used his influence to positively affect the future of Indian people.

In 1969, he advised Interior Secretary Stewart Udall and wrote a report for President Richard Nixon explaining Indians’ ongoing fears of "termination," a policy developed under Eisenhower during the 1950s. More than 100 tribes lost federal recognition and tribal land holdings when they were involuntarily "assimilated" into white culture.

The policy, in theory, had ended by the 1960s, but many tribes feared its revival. Josephy explained the history of this destructive policy, and his report contributed to the Nixon administration’s new approach, called "self-determination," which fostered political autonomy and cultural survival.

Josephy helped others to understand that tribes were sovereign nations before Europeans arrived on the continent and that fundamentally they remain so today. The government did not "give" tribes their rights and powers; they hold them inherently and retain them in their treaties. Reservation lands were also not given to tribes; they were retained by the tribes and represent important parts, if often sad remnants, of former homelands.

Great men and women are inspiring because of their example, and sometimes they provoke us to do our part. A brave man’s actions remind us how seldom courage is asked for in our lives. Alvin Josephy inspired me to learn where we came from, and where we ought to go to honor our ancestors, our children, and ourselves.

Rebecca A. Miles is a contributor to Writers on the Range. She is chair of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee and lives in Lapwai, Idaho.

High Country News Classifieds
  • PHILANTHROPY COORDINATOR
    Wyoming Wildlife Federation - collaborates with the Executive Director and staff to ensure the effective implementation of all philanthropic activities. https://wyomingwildlife.org/hiring-philanthropy-coordinator/.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    HawkWatch International is hiring an Executive Director to lead the organization. The next leader of this growing organization must have: 1. Enthusiasm for conservation, birds...
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Home Resource is a non-profit community sustainability center. We work with, in, and for the community to reduce waste and build a more vibrant and...
  • COUNTRY ESTATE NEAR KINGS CANYON AND SEQUOIA PARKS
    Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • BRN DEVELOPMENT & COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    Borderlands Restoration Network 501c3 is hiring a full-time Development Director. Description and job details can be found at https://www.borderlandsrestoration.org/job-opportunities.html
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST NEW MEXICO
    Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921
  • ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING MANAGER
    The City of Fort Collins is seeking an Environmental Planning Manager in the Natural Areas Department. The Department has an annual budget of approximately $13...
  • WEB DESIGN AND CONTENT MANAGER
    We are seeking an experienced designer to be the team lead for web development and digital media. Part creator and part planner, this person should...
  • CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
    at RCAC. See the full description at https://bit.ly/2WJ3HvY Apply at [email protected]
  • GRASSROOTS ORGANIZER
    The Utah Rivers Council is looking for an energetic individual with strong communication and organizing skills. The Grassroots Organizer works to ensure our campaigns are...
  • JOHN DEERE SNOW BLOWER 24"
    Newly refurbished and tuned. Older model, great condition. Gasoline engine. Chains on tires. Heavy duty for mountain snow. Call cellphone and leave message or email.
  • CARPENTER RANCH MANAGER
    Hiring a part-time ranch manager to live on The Nature Conservancy's Carpenter Ranch property in Hayden, CO. Responsibilities include: facility maintenance of historic ranch house,...
  • STRAW BALE, ADOBE, TIMBER FRAME, HEALTHY HOME, NEAR LA VETA PASS, CO
    unique custom home in Sangre de Cristo Mountains of CO near La Veta Pass, 3 bed, 2 1/2 bath, private gated park, two hours from...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, KANIKSU LAND TRUST
    Kaniksu Land Trust, a community-supported non-profit land trust serving north Idaho and northwest Montana, is in search of a new executive director. The ideal candidate...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Flathead Lakers are seeking a dynamic, self-motivated and proven leader to be our next Executive Director (ED).
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Blackfoot Challenge, a renowned collaborative conservation org in MT, seeks our next ED.
  • COPPER CANYON MEXICO CAMPING & BACKPACKING
    10-day tour from Los Mochis airport, 2/nyts El Fuerte, train, 2/nyts canyon rim hotel, 5/nyts camping. 520-324-0209, www.coppercanyontrails.org.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, ALASKA
    Earthjustice is hiring for a Staff Attorney
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    to lead an organization that funds projects in National Parks. Major gift fundraising and public lands experience critical. PD and app details @ peopleinparks.org.