We wrestle with Native American history the same as we do slavery. How do we acknowledge a painful past while not obscuring the positives and cultural contributions? But please put some dates on your calendar. Some thoughtful educational events are slated regarding Native Americans in Platte County and the nation. All events are free and will be at the Meeting House at Park University, 8700 N.W. River Park Drive in Parkville. They are part of the Platte County 175th observances. Events include: “Lost Nation: The Ioway 2.” Kelly and Tammy Rundle will present their documentary film about a Native American tribe that once occupied territory between the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. The event, including a discussion following the film, will be 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 15. Historian Greg Olson, author of “The Ioway in Missouri,” will speak on the Platte Purchase and the relocation of the Ioways to a reservation near White Cloud, Kan. Platte County was part of the Platte Purchase in 1836, which moved some Native American tribes from northwest Missouri. Members of today’s Ioway culture will also make presentations 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 16. “We Still Live Here- As Nutayunean,” is a documentary film about the Wampanoag people and how they brought back their language, 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 22. Members of the American Indian Health Research and Education Alliance will dance and discuss contemporary Native American issues 12 noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 23. The alliance helps improve the well being of native peoples throughout the United States. Also featured will be Singing Bird White Eye from the Saginaw Chippewa tribe. Platte County hosted some tribes removed here via treaty in the decades after the Lewis and Clark Expedition paddled back downstream in 1806. But the arrival of the fur trade had long before brought changes in wildlife and native habitats. Fort Leavenworth claimed a huge chunk of the county as logging, hunting and farming “reservation” on the east side of the river. Settlement of counties east of Platte before the Platte Purchase likely brought even more hunter and trapper incursions. I suspect Native Americans moved to supposed wilderness found slimmer pickings than what was promised. Historian W.M. Paxton referred in his “Annals of Platte County” to the Pottawatomie Prairie but he does not give a location. As a student of ecology, I’ve always wondered where that prairie was. I suspect it was high ground north of Platte City and south of New Market. Regardless, the early settlers affixed a Native American name to county land but following generations ignored the significance and location. There is so much in our history we cannot fix. But in the present we can better understand, and that helps. I was channel surfing on television recently and an early 1960s episode of the western “Bonanza” came on. This episode had some native culture as part of the plot. It was inaccurate in an awful way. After seeing that Hollywood hoke, I can take heart that we have come a long way. Some voices have long tried to communicate better understanding. I’ve spent scholarly time with author John G. Neihardt, his book “Black Elk Speaks” originally published in the 1930s, and the interesting history of both families. There is also plenty of lore and controversy. But I admire both men’s lives and their search for meaning. The University of Nebraska Press is reissuing “Black Elk Speaks,” by the way. Their work has prompted me to keep an eye and historical and current Native American affairs. Frankly, past and present are complicated. The members of the Platte County 175th celebration committee who have organized the upcoming events deserve compliments. They are bringing meaningful understanding worthy of celebration.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.