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

Video On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge 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.
Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelteri
X
Scott Bobb
July 30, 2014 8:16 PM
Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video A Summer Camp for All the World

VIDEO: During workshops and social gatherings, the Global Youth Village summer camp encourages young people to cooperate and embrace their differences, while learning to communicate with people from other countries. VOA's Deborah Block has more.
Video

Video From Cantankerous Warlock to Incorruptible Priest, 'Harry Potter' Actor Embraces Diverse Roles

He’s perhaps best known as Mad Eye Moody, the whimsical wizard in the Harry Potter franchise. But character actor Brendan Gleeson's resume includes dozens of films, and he embraces all the characters he inhabits with equal passion. In an interview with VOA’s Penelope Poulou, Gleeson discussed his new drama "Calvary" and his secret to success.

AppleAndroid