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.
x
"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

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More