Indigenous People’s Day
by Paty Jager
October 11, 2022
Indigenous People Day was yesterday, October 10th. The government has set aside the second Monday of October every year to be Indigenous People’s Day. This day in the past has been known as Columbus Day in memorial to the man who discovered the Americas.
Because he treated the Indigenous people so poorly and it was the start of the annihilation and discrimination against the First People, the day is now dedicated to the people who were on this continent many centuries before the rest of us.
It was 1992 when the changing of the day came into effect.
I believe just like a birthday that comes around once a year it is nice to have a day to honor certain cultures and races, but really, we should be embracing and honoring all people every day. If it were a perfect world.
Growing up in an area that was and is becoming once again, rich in Indigenous history, I found it odd that we didn’t learn very much about the people who first summered and wintered in the Wallowa Valley and who left their mark even after they were forcefully removed and chased over a thousand miles only to surrender and be taken to Oklahoma, many to never be allowed to return to their homeland.
The more I learned about not only the Nez Perce or Nimiipuu, as they call themselves, the more angered I became at how they and other tribes had been treated. Because of this need to show others that they are people, they have feelings, they have beliefs, and they are resilient, I have Indigenous characters in my books.
The first time I wrote about the Nimiipuu, was when several editors at a romance writers conference said they were looking for paranormal historical romance. My mind flashed to where I grew up, the way the Nimiipuu loved the Wallowa Country, and how I could use a spirit element to show how they came to be so connected to the land. I had my historical paranormal romance. Only editors and agents couldn’t figure out how to label it. This confused me. They had asked for a historical paranormal romance and now they say they don’t know where to shelve it. Typical large press mumbo-jumbo.
Lucky for me a small press was interested and understood the tone and cadence I used in writing the trilogy. Spirit of the Mountain, Spirit of the Lake, and Spirit of the Sky are what I call the “books of my heart.” I put a lot of effort into making the books as realistic to the way the Nimiipuu lived in the 1700s for the first book and the 1800s for the other two books. I communicated with two Nez Perce members who helped me make sure that while I used information I’d researched, I had things factual and didn’t write a scene that would upset the traditional beliefs. I love these books and hope those who read them learn of the sacrifices many Indigenous people made so that we, the whites, could live on their land.
In my efforts to continue to inform people of the Indigenous people and their struggles, I have three mystery series with Indigenous main characters. My Shandra Higheagle Mystery series is set in a fictional ski resort in Idaho. My main character, Shandra, is half Indigenous and half Caucasian. After her father’s death, Shandra’s White mother and stepfather kept her from her father’s family. Growing up she knew little about her heritage other than to hide it. Upon her paternal grandmother’s death, Shandra begins to learn more and more about that side of her family and herself. By having the character discovering her heritage along with me and the reader, it was an easy way to show the life she missed and to see how it affected her.
An author friend, Carmen Peone, who lives on the Colville Reservation in Washington has been a huge help with this series. Shandra’s paternal family is from this reservation. Carmen took me on a ride-along to experience what the reservation looked like and to meet a few people. When I had questions about something on the reservation, she would find the answers if she didn’t already know them.
My second foray into writing an Indigenous character is Gabriel Hawke. He is the main character in my Gabriel Hawke Novels. While he is an Oregon State Trooper with the Fish and Wildlife division in Wallowa County, he grew up on both the Lapwai and Umatilla Reservations. Lapwai is in Idaho and is predominately the Nez Perce tribe and the Umatilla Reservation is outside of Pendleton, Oregon. The Umatilla is made up of Cayuse, Walla Walla, and Umatilla tribal members. Hawke’s father was Nez Perce and they lived in Lapwai until his mother moved them back to her reservation. She is a Cayuse tribal member. Hawke left the reservation out of high school for the Marines and came home eight years later and joined the State Police. Because he was away from his culture and working to be a part of the world outside the reservation, he has the feeling of belonging but is also trying to make sense of what he wants to learn more about. Having him living and spending most of his time off the reservation, he is one of the generations of Indigenous people who have blended into society but is still being pulled by his heritage and desire to know more about his culture. Again, this gives me room to show this pull and I don’t have to know more than he is a person who is compelled to know the truth about everything.
And now, I have a main character who grew up on the Umatilla Reservation but isn’t Indigenous. However, she went to school with the Umatilla people and is now, after 15 years in the army back at the reservation working at the Spotted Pony Casino as head of security. This is a fictional casino I placed on the Umatilla Reservation. I have been corresponding with several people who live on the reservation to help give my books more authenticity. I have made many trips there to take in the ambiance, get acquainted with the layout and streets, and to take in what my character sees. This Spotted Pony Casino Mystery series, is only beginning to highlight the life of a Umatilla resident.
In both the Gabriel Hawke and the Spotted Pony Casino series I spotlight the MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women), MMIP (Missing and Murdered Indigenous People) movement and hope to bring more discussion about the issue.
I hope in my endeavors to enlighten non-Indigenous People that one day everyone will be welcome and honored on all days.
Award-winning author Paty Jager and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. On her road to publication she wrote freelance articles for two local newspapers and enjoyed her job with the County Extension service as a 4-H Program Assistant. Raising hay and cattle, riding horses, and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it. All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Her penchant for research takes her on side trips that eventually turn into yet another story. Learn more about her at her website.