Prayer Scarf & Beads, close view, Old Chief Joseph (tiwi-teqis) Cemetery
—On the road in the Northwest.
Names as the first Poetry of Place . . .
In a remarkably—and in my view insensitive and inappropriate,
act of naming—the distant, rounded, massive mountain in the
background of the Old Chief Joseph gravesite is known today
as Mt. Howard. Howard, the calvary officer, was I have been told
the arch nemisis of tiwí-teqis, and later responsible for driving
the young Chief Joseph and his people from their land of winding
waters. In a ruthless battle of pursuit that a more enlightened
contemporary ethics and concept of fairness and rule of law
would consider an act of wholesale genocide, the Nez Perce
were conveniently eliminated from the Wallowas. I have read
that the first European American name for the mountain under
discussion was Signal Peak. In my opinion—and I have of course
no real right to speak on such matters but feel moved to do so
nonetheless—this is a vastly superior name. It might in a small
way signal a new spirit in European American and Native
American relations. And it might be a way of beginning a new
Signal Peak tradition of building natural or artificial fires, like
the Swiss do atop the highest peaks on August the 1st throughout
the Alps to mark the birth of their confederation, to celebrate
and give visible form to that new spirit.
Place names are more than just words on a map. They are in
the deepest sense, I feel, the first and primary poetry of place.
One should teach them to the young with pride, and if that
cannot be the case, the young should know the story of why,
or better yet, they should be changed.
| see also the recent related miniature The Presence of the Past |
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