Known by the United States as "Chief Joseph" of the Wal-lam-wat-kain (Wallowa) band of Nez Perce became known for his principled resistance to the removal of his people by United States soldiers under General Oliver O. Howard to a reservation in Idaho.
Hinmuutu-yalatlat became the chief of his band when his father died. The elder man knew of the white man's thirst for land and warned his son that he was not give in:
The younger man said, "I clasped my father's hand and promised to do as he asked. A man who would not defend his father's grave is worse than a wild animal."
A Stubborn Hinmuutu Removed as Chief
In "THE INVALIDITY OF THE NEZ PERCE TREATY OF 1863 AND THE TAKING OF THE WALLOWA VALLEY," by John K. Flanagan, printed in American Indian Law Review, Vol. 24, No. 1 (1999/2000), pp. 75-98, Flanagan states:
Lawyer had been made the "principal chief of the Nez Perce tribe in 1855. It is unclear whether the Nez Perce had actually elected Lawyer or whether he was chosen and then appointed by U.S. government officials. Nevertheless, Washington Territory Governor Issac I. Stevens and other Americans had "recognized" him as the principal representative of the tribe for the 1855 Walla Walla Council, which had created the very first Nez Perce reservation.
Reflecting on the recent past...
Cherokee Removal Before the Nez Perce
The tide of greed had not yet breached the Mississippi River before the 1830s and the Nez Perce prophetically enjoyed the same trading relationship with the United States that the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and others had enjoyed before the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Still, as sociologist Stephen Cornell has noted, any reciprocity which may have existed was "weighted eventually against the Indians."
With the doctrine of "Manifest Destiny"firmly in hand, the United States continued to conquer territory on the steadily-expanding western border... until it reached the Pacific Ocean. The Nez Perce eventually fell victim to this greed with all other Indian nations.
Peaceful Resistance of Hinmuutu
Executive Order of 1873 was signed by President Grant upon the recommendations of two government agents. John B. Monteith, the U.S. Indian Agent at Lapwai, and T. B. Odeneal, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon, had met with Joseph and his younger brother, Ollokot, to discuss the legal aspects of the Treaty of 1863 and to convince Joseph and his band to move onto an already established reservation.
In 1873, Hinmuutu again negotiated with the militariliy-superior United States to keep his promise to his father and remain on their land. But, President Grant, ignorant of Indian culture, grew quickly tired of the cultural objections in the negotiations. Flanagan tells the inevitable results:
In 1875, President Grant rescinded his order and restored the land to the public domain. Any possible fraud in making the Treaty of 1863 did not much matter in the end. The nontreaty Nez Perce would inevitably lose. A decision would eventually be made to give Joseph's band an ultimatum to leave the Wallowa country of Oregon for the reservation in Idaho. By 1877, Joseph's band and other nontreaty Nez Perce would be forced to choose between war and the reservation. In the process of choosing the reservation, a war would begin and Joseph's band would lose the Wallowa country forever.
The United States once again reneged on an Indian treaty and sent General Howard to remove them. History repeats itself. Hinmuutu did what was best for his people and peaceably moved.
In 1941, Hinmuutu's band of the Nez Perce brought suit against the United States in the U.S. Court of Claims, seeking rights to regain their homeland. The federal courts upheld the former "bad treaty" and denied the claim. However, Flanagan suggests:
... the Court of Claims should have found the 1863 Nez Perce Treaty invalid in so far as it pertained to Joseph's band, and therefore should have recognized that the band had rights in the Wallowa or at least should have awarded the band appropriate compensation.
In the suit brought by Joseph's band in 1941, the U.S. Court of Claims found that the Treaty of 1863 was valid and held the dissenting minority of Nez Perce bound by the action of the majority of the tribe. The dissenting minority included Joseph's band. The Court basically concluded that Principal Chief Lawyer and others represented the Nez Perce tribe "as an entity," thus making the 1863 treaty binding on the entire tribe. The Court failed to recognize Joseph's band as having rights in the Wallowa country separate from the tribe as a whole. The decision effectively denied Joseph's band any compensation for their land that was taken by the U.S. government and placed
in the public domain.
Bonneville Power Administration, the list goes on... the United States attained the status of "superpower." It's easy to win the game when you're holding all the cards.
The preceding article is provided as thoughtful reflection on the past imperialistic actions of the United States. These acts are easy to ignore. Most of our ancestors were completely ignorant of these events. But, would they have objected? Still... they're history now. But as George Orwell once said:
"Whoever controls the past, controls the future... but, whoever controls the present, controls the past"
The image of Hinmuttu in a 1901 advertisement.
Hopefully, we can learn to be more responsible, to make good decisions like Hinmuutu-yalatlat.