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

Myanmar Fighting Poses Dilemma for China

To gain some insight into conflict, VOA’s Steve Herman spoke with Min Zaw Oo, director of ceasefire negotiation and implementation at Myanmar Peace Center More

Australia Concerned Over Islamic State 'Brides'

Canberra believes there are between 30 and 40 Australian women who have taken part in terror attacks or are supporting the Islamic State terror network More

Recreational Marijuana Use Now Legal in Washington, DC

Law allows adults 21 and over to privately possess and smoke 0.05 kilogram of pot, and to grow small amounts of the plant 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

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