News / USA

Tale of Pioneering Native American Woman Inspires Writing of Tribal Histories

Author LLyn De Danaan at home in Mason County, Washington. (Mary Randlett.)
Author LLyn De Danaan at home in Mason County, Washington. (Mary Randlett.)
Tom Banse
The discovery of long-forgotten gravestones in a thicket of bramble and alder set one author on the trail of a singular Native American woman and oyster farmer who lived in 19th century Washington state.  

The book that resulted is inspiring others to reveal the stories of people who've been out of the nation's collective history.

Cultural crossroads

The waterfront cottage LLyn De Danaan calls home in Oyster Bay, Washington State, overlooks a cultural crossroads that is rich in history. She's a cultural anthropologist whose eyes and ears are attuned to the signs and stories of place.

From the earliest times, Oyster Bay drew waves of settlers looking to reap shellfish.

De Danaan, who moved to the area in the early 1970s, heard so many tales about pioneer Katie Gale ‒ independent businesswoman who owned property and tidelands in her own name in the late 1800s ‒ that she started a file on her.  

"That was all a little bit unusual from conventional wisdom, and things I had heard about both people in the oyster business and Native American women," De Danaan said.

She was fascinated by Gale's ability to straddle different worlds, standing up for herself and her mixed-race children.

"I suppose there just were too many things about that that intrigued me that I couldn't let go of it," De Danaan said. "I literally could not let go of it for years."

Katie Gale's story

A turning point came when De Danaan and several friends from the historical society discovered an overgrown homestead graveyard not far from her house. One of the headstones belonged to Katie Gale.
"Katie Gale: A Coast Salish Woman's Life on Oyster Bay" by LLyn De Danaan."Katie Gale: A Coast Salish Woman's Life on Oyster Bay" by LLyn De Danaan.
x
"Katie Gale: A Coast Salish Woman's Life on Oyster Bay" by LLyn De Danaan.
"Katie Gale: A Coast Salish Woman's Life on Oyster Bay" by LLyn De Danaan.


"I was so amazed, excited, [and] enthralled that I began beating on Stan's shoulders as he was kneeling in front of me holding this stone," she said. "I literally said, 'I know who this is,' as if she were an acquaintance of mine. But it almost felt that way. I would say that was a moment of calling. I have to tell this woman's story. I have to know her."

But the long-dead Gale left no letters or journals. De Danaan found no photographs or living descendants. The best source material was a divorce case file.  

It took almost a decade to accumulate corroborating details, context and enough educated guesses to write a biography. Katie Gale: A Coast Salish Woman's Life on Oyster Bay was published last fall.

But the tale doesn't stop there.

Reclaiming lost histories

"There are so many stories not told," De Danaan said. "There are so many histories and people left out of our histories. That is what my work has to be now. I feel that it is my obligation to do that."

The biographer is a guest speaker in a writing class at the Evergreen State College Longhouse in Olympia. She encourages students to bring forth stories before they are lost, perhaps starting with family history. It's a message De Danaan returns to again and again in regular public talks and one-on-one mentoring.
 
Author LLyn De Danaan (right) discusses her biography of Katie Gale with students at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. (T. Banse/VOA)Author LLyn De Danaan (right) discusses her biography of Katie Gale with students at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. (T. Banse/VOA)
x
Author LLyn De Danaan (right) discusses her biography of Katie Gale with students at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. (T. Banse/VOA)
Author LLyn De Danaan (right) discusses her biography of Katie Gale with students at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. (T. Banse/VOA)

"You are able to find out a lot," she told the young people, "more than you think."

All of the students this day are Native American. It takes awhile, but eventually sensitivities come out.

"I was really hesitant about taking the class," said Melissa, a student who attended.

Her grandmothers warned against exposing too much of their Spokane tribal heritage to outsiders for fear they might twist or exploit it.  

Makah tribal member Vince Cook heard that from his elders, too. "That is a tough one, because when I was younger we were told not to record, not to videotape."

Cook says attitudes are changing now as people see tradition and culture slipping away. He feels spurred to write about his great grandmother and all the things she taught him.

"I think it is important to continue on, not only for myself, but for my family and for others to know about the Makah culture and to keep it alive," he said.

Other Native Americans also recognize the urgency of gathering history before it's lost.

Amateur folklorist Si Matta focuses on gathering the stories of his ancestors from the Cascade (Watala) Indian tribe that once lived and fished in the Columbia River Gorge. 

He's using modern means to collect the old stories, by soliciting and sharing material and photographs via a website and Facebook page.

You May Like

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Video Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid