Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Klamath Basin Communities – Whose Voices Will Remain To Tell our Tales?

After the sad event of historian Howard Zinn’s passing earlier this year, I came across a speech he gave in 1970 to a gathering of professional archivists. In “Secrecy, Archives and the Public Interest”, Zinn acknowledged the seldom-recognized power archivists have to determine what kind of history is available to future researchers. Archivists make decisions about what and whose voices are represented in the publically-available historic record, as they decide what primary source collections have enough research value to warrant being kept by their institutions. As Zinn correctly observed, archival practice is biased towards famous, powerful and often wealthy people. The personal papers of a little-known individuals or organizations are generally considered not to have adequate research value to warrant the ongoing work and resources needed for their preservation and provision for their access. As a champion of the history of ordinary people and social movements, Zinn challenged archivists to adopt new practices such that archival preservation would no longer serve to protect the status quo and that a more diverse and representative history be available to researchers of tomorrow.

What does all this have to do with the history of the Klamath River region? In my opinion, everything. The biases inherent in archival collection practice work directly against the preservation and future public access to information about the people, communities and movements within a region like the Klamath Basin. Zinn did not mention it, but public history repositories are also biased towards urban places, communities and events. The Klamath River region is rural to downright remote. The California-Oregon state border runs right through the middle of the basin, emphasizing the political divide already between the upper and lower basin communities. The area’s economy fluctuates and poverty is widespread. While the people of the Klamath Basin are in no way ordinary, they are also not prone to large-scale fame, fortune, or power. Many of the communities within the region are so isolated from the nearest urban centers that information professionals may have little to no exposure to how unique and different life is within them.

While archivists and other information professionals can and should become aware of their biases and reframe their collection goals to capture a more diverse humanity and geography, it is the communities and ordinary people of the Klamath Basin who have the greatest ability to determine what parts of our present experience is made available for future researchers and citizens. And although the people of the Klamath Basin do not generally possess the traditional qualities sought after to be included in public archival collections, our communities, experiences, and histories are unique and important. I believe that the voices of people of the Klamath River region, and diverse they are, are worthy of being heard far into the future.

In his life, Howard Zinn worked to show us how rich the legacy of ordinary citizens can be and the importance of being able to access the “people’s history” to really understanding our collective past. I wonder what Zinn would think of a movement of under-documented communities proactively organizing to preserve their own histories? What if we, the people personally connected to the Klamath River region, were the ones to identify what was important information to be preserved for a future public?

I would love to know what you think. What do future generations need to know to understand the events, dynamics and communities of the Klamath River region as it is today? Leave a comment with your ideas and/or feedback, and I bet we will be able to learn from each other and take a step forward together!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Local Stories Told Through T-Shirts: A Celebration of Place and Community

Sometimes the most unexpected ideas are the ones that become the most successful. As I was folding my husband’s laundry one day in 2007 (a rare moment of domesticity), I noticed how many of his shirts had logos about our local area. He had gathered them over the years from events, music festivals, and local organizations. It occurred to me that local T-Shirts might make an interesting display in our downtown community building. With cooperation from the Mid-Klamath Watershed Council, we put the word out to the community that we were looking to borrow local T-Shirts for an exhibit. The community response was surprisingly enthusiastic, and we wound up with over 150 unique items from a very diverse group of local residents. We displayed the T-Shirts for a month, kicking the exhibit off with an opening reception on October 13, 2007. I was amazed by how well attended the opening event was, and how many people came in throughout the month to look at the shirts. For many, seeing the T-Shirts (organized by location and theme) brought up memories that were shared throughout the duration of the exhibit. There were tears, laughter, and great stories. The exhibit also facilitated an education between generations; younger people and those who had come to the area in recent years got a picture of how the community had changed and learned about important events from the past from long-time residents. For all, the shirts provided a broad perspective of modern local history, honoring different facets of the region and community. The following selections of photographs are just a few of the highlights and are organized by some of the themes that emerged as people brought in their shirts:

Karuk Country

Activism in the Mid-Klamath

Community Groups

Events and Celebrations

Businesses Then and Now

I've Been To....

Bringing Rural Communities Together

As someone passionate not only about the rural place where I live but also in rural places and communities in general, I feel that the local T-Shirt exhibit is an event that can be replicated in other places to benefit rural communities. Rural public libraries, place-based special collections, historical societies, local museums, and community groups are all entities that could sponsor such an event. It was very interesting to see how, in our case, t-shirts were a non-threatening way for an unlikely assortment of people come together to celebrate their common ties to a place. What would your community look like through the lens of local T-Shirts? What stories would emerge? What might you learn?

T-Shirt Credits

The shirts were photographed by my incredible mother Phoebe Storey, who volunteered hours of her time. Thanks Mom!

"Karuk Country" Collage:
  • Indian Day - from the collection of Sue and Phil Sanders. Artist: P. Fennel. 1990.
  • Karuk Indigenous Basketweavers - from the collection of Laverne Glaze.
  • Karuk Tribe of California Natural Resources - from the collection of Karuk Tribe.
  • Karuk Country, Orleans - unknown source.
  • Orleans Maiden Spirit-Person - from the collection of Deanna Marshall.
"Activism" Collage
  • Let the Salmon Run - from the collection of Nancy Bailey.
  • Save the Klamath (Back) - from the collection of Laverne Glaze. Artist: Shaunna McCovey.
  • NO GO: Stop the Gasquet Orleans Road - from the collection of Terry Supahan.
  • Never Again: Un-Dam the Klamath - from the collection of Will and Adrienne Harling. Artist: Clifford Lyle Marshall Jr.
  • Un-Dam the Klamath: Bring the Salmon Home - from the collection of Molli White.
  • Save the Klamath (Front) - from the collection of Laverne Glaze. Artist: Shaunna McCovey.
"Community Groups" Collage
  • Salmon River Mining Council - from the collection of Petey Brucker and Geba Greenberg.
  • River Bar Community Band - from the collection of Tina Marier.
  • Klamath Outdoor School - from the collection of Edna and Wally Watson.
  • Orleans-Somes Bar Chamber of Commerce - from the collection of Judy Lambert. Artist: Laverne Glaze.
  • Salmon River Fire and Rescue - from the collection of Sarah Hugdahl and Rex Richardson. Artist: Sarah Hugdahl.
"Events and Celebrations" Collage
  • Following the Smoke 2007 - from the collection of Laverne Glaze. Artist: Tony Sylvia. 2007
  • 45th Annual Old Timer's Parade & Picnic - from the collection of Judy Lambert. 1993.
  • Klamath River Music Festival 1994 - from the collection of Karen Pearson. 1994.
  • 3rd Annual Easter Beer Hunt 1987 - from the collection of Sue and Phil Sanders. 1987.
  • River Olympics - from the collection of Will and Adrienne Harling. Artist: Sarah Hugdahl.
  • 7th Annual Tea Party, Thomaine Mines, Sawyers Bar. From the collection of Cora Villeponteaux. Artist: Lorelei Holzem. 1997.
  • Jammin' For the Salmon - from the collection of Will and Adrienne Harling. Artist: Laurie Bell.
"Businesses" Collage
  • Sandy Bar Ranch - from the collection of Mark Dupont and Blythe Reis.
  • Salmon River Outpost - from the collection of Will and Adrienne Harling.
  • Orleans Hotel - from the collection of Jacque Blotz. 1970s.
  • Panamnik General Store - from the collection of Jana Conrad.
  • Orleans Market - from the collection of Sue and Phil Sanders.
  • Think Steelhead: Sandy Bar Ranch & Resort - from the collection of Deanna Marshall.
  • Pearson's Grocery - from the collection of Karen Pearson.
"I've Been To..." Collage
  • Weitchpec, California - from the collection of Karen Pearson.
  • Sawyers Bar Grizzlies - from the collection of Kathy McBroom.
  • I was Struck By a Klamath River Steelhead - from the collection of Edna and Wally Watson.
  • Somes Bar Beyond the End of the Road - from the collection of Frank Fischl and Diane Deschaine.
  • Forks of Salmon - from the collection of Barbara Harling.
  • Black Bear Ranch - from the collection of Bob Beaver.