Earlier this week, the winners of the 2022 Oregon Book Awards were announced. While the awards honor books by Oregon writers rather than books specifically about Oregon, a fair number of the award finalists are usually set in the state or explore some aspect of it.
Soon, I’ll be posting a review of one of this year’s finalist, rough house by Tina Ontiveros (this site’s first book review), but today I’m thinking of a wonderful and unique award winner I picked up at the ceremony a few years ago.
While he quotes from some academic sources–such as Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown’s classic look at the Columbia Chinook,The Chinook Indians: Traders of Lower Columbia(University of Oklahoma Press, 1976)–Aquilar’s main sources of information are other descendants of the Columbia tribes. And his intention isn’t to add to the historical record so much as give his people a sense of their own traditions, customs, and, yes, history.
“In a recent visit to Wolford Canyon, where I was brought up,” he writes, “there was only silence. The memories remain, but the echoes of the canyon are calm. No children play in the springwater pools. No sweathouse fires heat the rocks. No deer hides are soaking. No buckskin tanning. No gardens. No wheat or hay growing. The fields are now teeming with juniper trees where the golden heads of wheat once swayed to the whispers of the wind.”
To replace that silence, Aguilar excavates the memories of people he knows and others whose reminiscences have been recorded. Out of these and his own experiences, he weaves a kind of handbook for Chinook descendants like himself, especially the younger generations of the 21st century, who have no contact with anyone who lived by the old ways.
In the midst of chapters that explore the Chinooks’ traditional foods (both plants and animals), religions and beliefs, myths and legends, and warfare, Aguilar includes set pieces on practices such as the sweathouse, meat drying, the use of traditional nets, and something known as “butt slapping,” a way for native fishermen on platforms over the Columbia River to indicate which fish they’ve caught they want to keep for themselves.
The chapter on salmon fishing on the Columbia is worth the book’s cost alone. Not only does Aguilar evoke the heyday of Celilo Falls, he also talks about salmon runs, salmon festivals, fishing techniques, and customs that regulated how and where the salmon were fished for.
In other sections, he writes about the other species the Chinook relied on–Pacific lamprey, crayfish, sturgeon, smelt–and gives an exhaustive list of the plants they ate or used in other ways, as well as how they prepared them.
Beginning with his own experiences in forced boarding schools and government programs ,like one in the 1950s that attempted to get younger Indians to move off the reservation into cities, Aguilar takes us through the hardships his people have had to endure while also celebrating the endurance of a vibrant culture in danger of being completely lost.
One of the most important aspects of Aguilar’s project is his naming of individual tribal members, past and present–names that have been left out of the history books. He traces the lineage of individual names, tells us how names have been given, and looks at the meanings of those names. He is careful to name important local figures who are unknown to the general public and tell their stories too.
“The River People are the Northwest Klickitat and the Eastern-speaking Chinookan Kiksht,” Aguilar writes. “They are the Wascos, the Cascades, the Wishxams, the Clackamas, the Multnomahs, the Hood Rivers, the Skamanias, the Skilloots, and others who lived in villages on both sides of the Wilmaɬ, the Columbia River.”
By naming and writing for the descendants of these people–his people–Aquilar is trying to make sure they and their ways are not forgotten.
When the River Ran Wild!
Indian Traditions on the Mid-Columbia and the Warm Springs Reservation
by George W. Aguilar, Sr.
Published by Oregon Historical Press, in association with the University of Washington Press
I spent some time away last week catching up on reading I’d missed, including Naomi Klein’s provocative exploration of the link between globalization and climate change, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (Simon & Schuster, 2014). You can read about the arguments and evidence Klein presents in this important book here. What I want to focus on is what she says about those who are fighting for clean air and water in the Pacific Northwest.
“Indeed, the oil and coal industries are no doubt cursing the day that they ever encountered the Pacific Northwest–Oregon, Washington State, and British Columbia. There the sector has had to confront a powerful combination of resurgent Indigenous Nations, farmers, and fishers whose livelihoods depend on clean water and soil, and a great many relative newcomers who have chosen to live in that part of the world because of its natural beauty. It is also, significantly, a region where the local environmental movement never fully succumbed to the temptations of the corporate partnership model, and where there is a long and radical history of land-based direct action to stop clear-cut logging and dirty mining.” (p. 319)
As Klein says about a coalition that worked to stop the building of a pipeline across British Columbia, Northwesterners are well aware of how fortunate we are to still have access to pristine natural environments. We’re also aware that we have lost too many of those environments already–and that those who put personal enrichment above preservation of the planet are always seeking to profit from (and pollute) those that are left.
The Pacific Northwest has a large number of quality publishers—some larger, some smaller, some known across the country, some known only to a few thankful readers. One thing almost all of them have in common is publishing Northwest writers who write about their home region in memoirs, essays, histories, fiction or poetry.
Below are thirteen you should know about, along with quotes from their websites about what they offer and a representative sampling of their books about the Northwest.
Just click on any title for a full description of the book.
“The University of Washington Press is the oldest and largest publisher of scholarly and general interest books in the Pacific Northwest. We publish compelling and transformative work with regional, national, and global impact.”
“For sixty years, Oregon State University Press has been publishing exceptional books about the Pacific Northwest—its people and landscapes, its flora and fauna, its history and cultural heritage.”
Mink River by Brian Doyle (“It’s the tale of a town, written in a distinct and lyrical voice, and readers will close the book more than a little sad to leave the village of Neawanaka, on the wet coast of Oregon, beneath the hills that used to boast the biggest trees in the history of the world.”–a much-beloved debut novel by one of the NW’s most distinctive voices.)
The Brightwood Stillness by Mark Pomeroy (“With its vivid look at friendship and the challenges of cross-cultural communication, its poignant take on the legacy of Vietnam, and its Pacific Northwest setting, The Brightwood Stillness will remind readers of the best elements of A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain and Snow Falling on Cedars…”)
Massacred for Gold: The Chinese in Hell’s Canyon by R. Gregory Nokes (A former AP & Oregonian reporter digs for the truth behind the 1887 massacre of 30 Chinese gold miners on the Oregon side of Hell’s Canyon. Along the way, he “examines the once-substantial presence of Chinese laborers in the interior Pacific Northwest…“)
“Our passion is telling unique, focused stories of the Northwest—lesser-known yet fascinating accounts of people, places, and events that matter in the region’s history or culture and are part of the broad picture of Western expansion.”
Teaching Native Pride: Upward Bound and the Legacy of Isabel Bond by Tony Tekaroniake Evans (“Native and non-Native voices tell the story of the federally sponsored Upward Bound program at the University of Idaho, intertwining personal anecdotes and memories with accounts of the program’s inception and goals, as well as regional Native American history and Isabel Bond’s Idaho family history.”)
Writing the Northwest: A Reporter Looks Back by Hill Williams (“Award-winning, amiable journalist Hill Williams…transforms his stories into inviting, candid narratives about Hanford, Celilo Falls, whale-hunters, salmon researchers, growing up on the dry side of Washington, and more.”)
Queen of Spades by Michael Shou-Yung Shum (“With a breathtaking climax that rivals the best Hong Kong gambling movies, Michael Shou-Yung Shum’s debut novel delivers the thrilling highs and lows that come when we cede control of our futures to the roll of the dice and the turn of a card.”)
A Simplified Map of the Real World by Steven Allred (Named a #1 book of 2013 in the Powell’s Staff Top 5s and a 2014 Multnomah County Library PageTurners Book Club Pick. “Fifteen linked stories chart a true course through the lives of families, farmers, loggers, former classmates, and the occasional stripper.”)
This Particular Happinessby Jackie Shannon Hollis (“When Jackie Shannon Hollis marries Bill, a man who does not want children, she joyfully commits to a childless life. But soon after the wedding, she returns to the family ranch in rural Oregon and holds her newborn niece. Jackie falls deep into baby love and longing and begins to question her decision.“)
“Based in Seattle for over 30 years, Sasquatch Books, together with our children’s imprint, Little Bigfoot, publishes books by the most gifted writers, artists, chefs, naturalists, and thought leaders in the Pacific Northwest and on the West Coast…“
Chief Seattle and the Town that Took His Name by David M. Buerge (“This is the first thorough historical account of Chief Seattle and his times–the story of a half-century of tremendous flux, turmoil, and violence, during which a native American war leader became an advocate for peace and strove to create a successful hybrid racial community.”)
“Ooligan Press is a student-run trade press rooted in the Pacific Northwest dedicated to cultivating the next generation of publishing professionals. We prioritize literary equity and inclusion. Ooligan strives to publish culturally relevant titles from our local, marginalized voices in order to make literature accessible and redefine who has a place within its pages.”
Faultland by Suzy Vitello (As the Sparrow family’s shaky foundations collide, an earthquake levels their city [Portland] in this debut novel.)
Oregon Stories, edited by Ooligan Press (“This collection of 150 personal narratives from everyday Oregonians explores the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of the people who live in this unique state.”)
“Copper Canyon Press publishes new collections of poetry by both revered and emerging American poets, translations of classical and contemporary work from many of the world’s cultures, re-issues of out-of-print poetry classics, anthologies, and prose books about poetry.”
After the Point of No Return by David Wagoner (“In After the Point of No Return, Wagoner finds wonder in the world of the senses as he reveals the melodies of an ancient rainforest, remembers boyhood rituals, and captures the swift movement of a fox at the edge of vision.”)
The Novice Insomniac by Emily Warn (“Whether invoking the persona of Esther to examine Jewish culture, musing upon the threatened landscape of her native Northwest, or witnessing the frustration of the insomniac’s darkened domain, [Warn’s] poems offer solace to what is most vulnerable in this world.”)
“Our independent press publishes high-quality literary projects and distributes titles from like-minded publishers.
Gielgud by Dan DeWeese (“In scenes of humor, anxiety, tenderness, and desire, Gielgud chronicles men and women who, in a world of streaming video and nonstop commentary, quietly struggle through personal crises almost entirely unobserved.”)
A Simple Machine, Like the Lever by Evan P. Schneider (“Nick’s struggle to position his aesthetic within the world is the story of a perfectionist who is far from perfect, who is considerate but clumsy, and may be invisible. Like Nick, A Simple Machine, Like the Lever is short, toned, observant, generous, purposeful, and brimming with bicycle wisdom.“)
“CALYX exists to nurture women’s creativity by publishing fine literature and art by women.”
Harvest by Barbara Baldwin (“Embracing both the personal and the universal—from her love of nature viewed from her home in Oregon’s Willamette Valley to the realities of love, life, and loss—this intensely powerful collection stands as a tribute to a wife and environmentalist, mother and activist, and, above all, a writer.”)
Indian Singing by Gail Tremblay (“Indian Singing is not a quiet book; the musical poetry of Gail Tremblay demands to be read, sung, out loud. Her poetry is a visionary quest, a work of hope presenting enduring lessons to accommodate change in our troubled times.“)
“Black Heron Press is a literary press located in Seattle, Washington.”
North Fork by Wayne M. Johnston (“The three main characters tell their stories separately as first-person written responses to an English class assignment to keep a personal journal. Each struggles to face life with integrity while entangled in a web of difficult situations. To triumph, each must confront the challenge of forgiveness.”)
The Remains of River Names by Matt Briggs (“The novel is told in twelve linked stories, each of which is a chapter told in turn by the members of a counter-culture family in the process of destroying itself.”)
“Hawthorne Books is an independent literary press based in Portland, Oregon, with a national scope and deep regional roots.”
The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch (2012 Finalist, Pen Center Creative Nonfiction Award. “This is not your mother’s memoir.”)
Little Green by Loretta Stinson (“Like Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Loretta Stinson portrays the psychology of a woman who has experienced violence at the hands of someone she loves and the complexity of leaving with sensitivity and insight.”)
Wolves in the Land of Salmonby David Moskowitz (“Observing [wolves] at close range, David Moskowitz explores how they live, hunt, and communicate, tracing their biology and ecology through firsthand encounters in the wildlands of the Northwest.“)
“With more than 700 titles in print, Mountaineers Books [specializes in] outdoor recreation, sustainable lifestyle, and conservation titles, published respectively under our Mountaineers Books, Skipstone, and Braided River imprints.”
Crags, Eddies and RipRap: The Sound Country Memoir of Wolf Bauer by Lynn Hyde and Wolf Bauer (“Bauer was a whirlwind of outdoor pursuits that inspired some of America’s greatest climbers. And as an engineer, he developed methods for preserving coastlines that have been adversely impacted by human development…He was one of those unsung Amercan heroes who moved ahead each day to make a difference and, in his hurry, ended up creating a legacy of accomplishment that many of us now lean on today.”)