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Columbia River Dissenters Series
Tape 1, Side 1
3 October 1999
GG = Gilbert Giles
HG = Helen Giles
CH = Clark Hansen
OHS Inv. #2721
Gilbert Giles was born in Bickleton, Washington in 1910. He grew up with and befriended the Wishram Indians that lived in the area. He has a unique perspective on Native American culture and life and has learned about Native American spirituality and customs. Because of this contact, Giles was able to see how the dams and pollution of the Columbia River affected the Native American's way of life. In the 1930s, Giles was a school teacher near the town of Okanogan, Washington. As the Grand Coulee Dam was constructed, Giles witnessed the removal of Native Americans' from their land and the continuous poverty and poor conditions that plagued them on the Colville Reservation. Gilbert Giles opposed the construction of the Dalles Dam and understood the harmful consequences it would pose for Native American culture identity and livelihood. Mr. Giles also laments the pollution of the Columbia River, which he attributes to pesticide and herbicide contamination. He recollected that he used to drink directly out of the Columbia River when he was a boy.
CH: This is an interview with Gilbert Giles in White Salmon Washington. The interviewer for the Oregon Historical Society is Clark Hansen. The date is October 3rd, 1999. This is tape 1, side 1. I thought we might begin by you giving me some background on your family and how you got here.
GG: Well, my mother and father both came from England. My father came in 1890 and my mother came in 1907. My mother and father settled in the big open area about 8 miles east of Bickleton, Washington on a wheat and cattle farm, that he built himself up from scratch. I was born in 1910. Then, as I recall, probably at the age of 3, the Native American women and their children would leave the area of Alderdale where they lived, mount their horses and ride 26 miles up Spring Canyon to our farm. They would camp two weeks or more and dig rock roses, a form of camas with long roots.
CH: What kind of a house did you grow up in?
GG: It was just a wooden house, a normal house. I grew up in it, but the lightening came in 1916 and burned it to the ground nigh immediately. We got to save with our lives luckily, but didnít save anything except the clothes on our back The Indian ladies would come and my mother was very very fond of them. She enjoyed baking bread and then giving them sandwiches of peanut butter and honey. My mother melded with their concepts and I enjoyed their children and at that age of say from three, four, five and six, seven years of age I really enjoyed being with them and learning their philosophy and background and it has stuck with me quite vividly. And I can remember them telling me about their Great Spirit which was very, very interesting; how they regarded the Great Spirit and thanked him for the great salmon and the fish that would come up and down the Columbia River, the huckleberries in the hills and the wild strawberries and other berries that were around. And how their mothers at that time would not allow them to pick wild flowers. Their children were very obedient. The reason given was that the bees made honey from the flowers and therefore they were to regard the Great Spiritís wishes. My mother listened to the Indian ladies. One of the things that was very amusing was, quote: ďWhen the white Canadian geese come down and land on your field, on your wheat field, do not scare them. Let them eat. Be quiet, because they nourish the soil and that is what the Great Spirit likes because that will help you on your farm.Ē Some of the farmers of course didnít approve of that and some of the farmers didnít care for the natives to come into their areas. They accused them of leaving their gates open but we never had any trouble. They closed the gates and they treated us well. The children taught me that their Great Spirit never allowed any of them at any time to overkill anything. They were very, very concerned. Then they told me about how the prairie chickens that lived there in the willows. And they were nice birds about two almost two feet long and greyish in color. They were slow flying and they said ďWe liked them because we can shoot them with the bows and arrows but we were to only to kill so many.Ē It was against the law of the Great Spirit to overkill anything of nature. And so it was very interesting then. Then about two or three years later the Isaac Walton league with their automatic shot guns came. They came when the farmers were harvesting and obliterated the prairie chickens. And my Indian boys and girls of my age practically wept to see such desolation. And some of my wifeís friends even joined them but there were very few because they didnít know the prairie chickensí life ended forever.
CH: What was your own religion?
GG: My own religion?
GG: My mother spent three years in a convent in France. And the story she told me was disgusting. It didnít inspire me to give up the Great Sprit that I enjoyed. So just give you a quick view of it, two or three years ago a minister stopped in for a chat. He finally asked me out right if I believed in God. And I told him that if I had to choose between his God and the Great Spirit I would take the Great Spirit. Then he asked me, ďwhy?Ē I said, ďwell for one reason the Great Spirit neither condemns nor forgives.Ē I gave King David as an example and I also stated that the Spirit of Life tells us when we do wrong in spite of what anyone says. When we visited Celilo Falls we were very impressed with their way of living. Especially having been a school teacher over those years I could see that the grandparents and their grandparents were in other words supervising and teaching their grandchildren while their childrenís mothers and fathers worked. And that to me gave me a new light upon the educational field of my native friends.
CH: When you went, when did you first go to Celilo Falls? How old were you when you first went there?
GG: I was about, I think around twelve years of age.
CH: So that would be in the perhaps the late twenties then?
GG: Yes, oh yes.
CH: Or the late teens, the late teens maybe?
GG: Yes I was very impressed with them. I got to know their Chief Tommy Thompson. I got to know Flora, his wife. She was a wonderful woman. Very, very intelligent and I was so sad when I heard of her death. We last saw her on New Yearís Eve at Chief Lelooskaís program and I got to take a picture of her and we talked. Then about two months later a terrible accident occurred to her when she was burned to death in her own home just near Celilo Falls. It was one of the greatest funerals that I can remember of my natives friends. They came from Canada and from the West Coast and nearly everywhere. It just seemed so exceptional.
CH: How old were they then? How old was she at the time that she died?
GG: I was 57 years of age. I canít recall her actual age. I presume that she was in her middle seventies. Chief Tommy Thompson of course lived longer. As I recall he lived to be 100 years of age.
CH: And he would have been born about when then?
GG: Oh, he would have been born about 1880, somewhere within that period. You know what I mean? Iíd have to do a little figuring on that. But, yes, probably, maybe 1870. Somewhere right in there.
CH: And how did they, how did they live? What was the village at Celilo like? Were these the Wishram Indians?
GG: These, well yes you could call them Wishram Indians. Although itís difficult to classify an Indian group because as a rule they settle in certain areas from relative descendants. Itís just like on this side of the John Day Dam when small pox wiped them out years ago. They were more or less all united in heritage. So actually the word clan really applies to all natives at times, similar to the Pacific Coast Native Americans.
CH: Did they live in cedar lodges?
GG: No, they lived in crude embankments. The Celilo Falls was probably one of the greatest, you might say, entertainment point in North America. And that the natives came from all over. They came far back almost to Chicago. They came from Canada. They came from the Pacific Coast. They came way down from New Mexico. It was a wonderful place to come because of the fact they had all the finest of drinking water. They had all the best of food, the berries, the meat from the fish and the climate was beautiful. And the weather was fine. So it was what you might say a gathering point for entertainment and vacations.
CH: Did you see large encampments of Indians there?
GG: Oh, yes.
CH: How many would you see at any given time? Would they come at a particular time of year when the salmon were coming up?
GG: Yes, they would come and the Yakima Indians would come on their horses. And they would load up with dried fish and go back. Some of them from Walla Walla and those areas, they would come. It was just a great period of communication and friendship.
CH: Were white people invited to visit?
GG: Some were. The natives were not against all of the white people. The white friends and their white friends were very good to them. But they were in the minority of course. I might say that I was the Principal of Lyle from 1945 to 1952. And it was that time my wife and I were the only white people who really objected to the building of the Dalles Dam. The Indian students that I had in the Lyle School of course objected to it. But then, many, many years later after the dam was built the ones who objected to it told me that it wouldnít be approved of today, that it was one of natureís greatest works of art, that it would have brought practically millions of tourists annually. They regret the terrible mistake they made. Yet some of the white folks still believe that you could lower that dam and that Celilo would come back, but they forget that the Army Corps of Engineers blew up the rocks that protruded above the Falls.
CH: Why did they blow the Falls up?
GG: Because they didnít want any harm to boat passage.
GG: Thatís right. The barges, yes they didnít want any interference there. So, actually they destroyed the native history. And now I might just say just two months ago I was asked by the clerks in the Columbia River Bank, here in White Salmon, what they thought about the mayorís idea of using half a million dollars to put a park at the bluffs so that people and tourists could go and look at the River. I said, ďWell, it is a very difficult thing for me,Ē because I said, ďI remember the Columbia River. I can remember the beautiful white waters and the waves coming up. And I can remember going to Alderdale where they had a pier that went out into the water when I was a little boy and how I could sit at the end of the pier and look down and look into the bottom of the Columbia River and see the fish swimming.Ē Indeed, I have no desire to sit and look at a series of lakes, polluted, contaminated, in every manner and form, from the poisons that we put on our fields, insecticides, pesticides, and nuclear wastes.Ē
CH: Why didnít the Indians at Celilo Falls protest or try to stop the dam from being built? Did they - was there any movement or any effort on their part to stop it from happening?
GG: They tried. They had meetings, but it was rather futile. The Army Corps of Engineers of course and the government; you know it was strictly a monetary vision, you know what I mean, that they could see. They could see where they thought it would bring jobs galore. They overlooked of course the pollution of the water and they overlooked a great art of nature. It was greed, monetary greed and near sightedness of course. I would say thatís the cause of many of our forms of destruction. What my natives always said to me, ďwhat goes around comes around.Ē And now I can see what they mean. We ďpale facesĒ as they said, we came and destroyed them and now we are opening our borders to all sorts of different cultures and we in turn in the future will suffer the same results. And as I said before, they always said and they have said to me, ďYou pale faces are forever trying to conquer nature, but we live with nature.Ē And therefore, probably, I have said enough other than that we should realize that we should practice and maintain a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Thank you.
CH: May I ask you some more questions?
GG: Oh, yes. Yes.
CH: The Ė at Celilo Dam when the various Indian groups came there, did they generally, from your own observation, trade the fish for, did they just come and take fish or did they trade for fish?
GG: Yes, they supplied fish for the fishing industries, Iíve forgotten the names of some of them; with my age Iím forgetful, but oh yes there were fish canneries and they supplied fish for the fish canneries and they of course were paid for their work.
CH: Between the various Indian groups though, say when the Yakimas came down or the Colvilles or the Umpqua or whatever, would they come and fish there themselves or would they get the fish from the Indians who lived there?
GG: No, they would fish themselves because it was a sport. It was a vacation, free for all, and long remembered; one of the worldís great wonders. At the Celilo Falls of course they had many platforms there, but that wasnít the only place that they could fish. Sometimes the river would become so strong and there were so many fish in the river in some of the bends the fish would wash completely onto the shore. It was a marvelous sight. It was unbelievable! To me itís very difficult because I donít see the wild flowers, the beautiful blue flowers, the yellow flowers that used to be. It seems that for some reason or another through our use of pesticides we have kind of killed off so much of nature that used to be. And of course most of the people then used horses, they rode horses when I was born. It was a different land, it was a free land. And I always remember when I was six years of age, my father bought twelve hundred acres of Spring Canyon for his cattle. And I said to him, ďDad, why are you fencing it?Ē ďWell,Ē he said, ďWe have to keep the range cattle out because we can only raise so much feed for our cattle. If we donít fence it then theyíll come in and eat our feed and then we wonít be able to make any money on our cattle and itís only right that we bring our cattle up and feed them properly.Ē It taught me that thatís the same way with immigration. That you canít over do. Youíve got to have restrictions. So, there are so many things that I learned on the farm, itís unbelievable.
CH: Did the Indians feel that it was strange that your father would want to put a fence around his property?
GG: No, no, they didnít feel that way. In fact they treated us very well and of course as Iíve said, my folks treated them very well. No, they could understand; they always closed our gates and opened our gates and came in and they felt free. I have many, many Indian friends and they speak to me and tell me many, many things that they would never tell most white people. I donít know why they liked me. One time I can remember the Yakima Tribal Council came to White Salmon and had their monthly meeting. One of my Indian friends had me come in and give them a talk about how I thought they had made a mistake on, that they should be far better off to keep their former religion, you know what I mean? And it was very enlightening. Of course Iím old now and not as well noticed.
HG: And itís been really interesting knowing the Native Americans.
GG: So, I donít think that there is much that I can say. I can just say the old world has passed and the new world has come.
CH: Being and educator, having been a principal, would you be able to reflect on the difficulties or obstacles that the Indians might have had in understanding how our culture worked and how to interact with white people?
GG: Under my jurisdiction they were interested. I never had any trouble with the natives, in fact they respected me highly and I respected them. The Japanese people respected me highly and I respected them. And as I told them many times, that we are human beings and we are on this earth to help one another. Students that I had many, many years ago are sixty almost seventy years of age - [laughs]. Once in a while they got a spanking in those days, but now they tell me that they had it coming and that they deserved it and it helped them and they appreciated it and thank me. [laughs]. - When my wife and I put our names in for a new school job the board members in those days would always ask me, ďWhat is your concept of democracy?Ē And my answer was, ďDemocracy without responsibility is tyranny. And education without responsibility is also destructive to the children that you are teaching.Ē Political correctness, a dream of Karl Marx, will eventually be our downfall.
CH: Before the dams were built along the river what was the river traffic like going up and down the river? Were there a lot of boats that even without the dams were they able to get up and down the river okay?
GG: There were places of course where they couldnít go. There were rapids they couldnít navigate. They had to go around them. Well, you were at Cascade Locks today. And thatís where they had to go around. There were spots in the Columbia clear from Canada down to the ocean where it was very wild and dangerous, but yet, they were highly skilled in their ancient ways. Canoes were numerous - so were rafts.
[End of tape 1, side 1]
Tape 1, Side 2
3 October, 1999
GG: Yes, the fish were very healthy; they had no diseases. Now I understand from my native friends that they have, the fish that are cancerous and itís not good. The fishing industry is really in a bad way. Itís sad. My Native American friends have warned me not to eat Columbia River fish.
CH: Why do you think the that there are so few fish and that their health is so poor?
GG: Itís without doubt, itís from pollution. Itís pesticides, insecticides, Hanford, we do know has leaks. Thereís no arguing about that. The Department of Energy knows; their members know without a doubt that there is contamination. I would say they are being a little bit too good to our government, our government is being a little bit too good to the lumber men in a way. They are not very far seeing. The forestry, the lumbering industries like Weyhauser and others should have been setting aside a certain amount of their profits to really keep the timber industry in its native form. In its natural form. We have, we canít deny it, we have been greedy and narrow minded. Under such poisonous conditions fish will eventually become extinct unless something drastic is done.
CH: What do you think should be done to correct the situation that we have now?
GG: Well, weíve been very, very slow in correcting it and I canít say that it has been corrected at all. I believe it is going to take an uprising to really bring about a drastic change. We are not making world friends; we are making world enemies. There is a great deal of uneasiness among our people and they really havenít come to a head yet, but itís stirring you can feel it almost in the air in certain places. A one world government isnít the answer. Over-population, starvation world-wide, might awaken mankind. Human greed is a powerful force to overcome.
CH: What do you mean by the government being too nice to the lumber companies?
GG: Well, I believe as they have done in Europe where the companies face strict government regulations for continued timber survival. There are few rigid restrictions place on our big companies. Big corporations, banks, etc., control our media and governments in general. We are losing sovereignty slowly by degrees.
HG: Do you need the light on, it seems like you would?
CH: Iím fine right now, maybe in a few minutes.
GG: Of course all Iím doing is repeating my logger friends, you know what I mean?
GG: They see it. Itís something that they know.
HG: We went through a lot of criticism at that time because we were so against the dam. They said, ďOh you donít want people to work do you?Ē Well, here people came from Portland and down below and didnít help the people around close, they were coming from so far away.
CH: Did the government, what did the government tell the people before they built the dams and they were about to build the dams, what did they tell the people that lived here what their effect would be?
GG: Well, you know they made so many promises. If thatís what you mean. They made the promises to the natives and they never fulfilled them. They never built them homes like they said they would and it is known, these are facts. And theyíve been very, very slow getting around doing anything. Itís mostly promise, promise, promise, without fulfilling their promises. And I can see why the natives rebel at times. I can see where they see no hope. I can see where they feel that theyíve been cast aside and when you go onto their reservations you can see that their areas are not what we the white people would want to live in. I could tell some sad stories up in Okanogan County. About the Indian students I had in school there, I was the principal of Malott, a short distance from the city of Okanogan.
CH: Where in the Okanogan?
GG: Where at?
CH: Where, yah?
GG: It was right close to Okanogan City. I mean, yes, close to, oh gosh...
GG: Omak. Yes, it was just a few miles south of Omak and the town of Okanogan.
CH: And during what period of time would this have been?
GG: When was I there?
GG: 1937 to 1941. The natives there, the children had very, very poor health. They lived across the Okanogan River, and many of their children came to school in physically bad conditions. In fact, one time, some of the girls caused us to wonder whether or not they were pregnant. So I had a doctor come from Okanogan down to check and he did and it was done freely and he said, ďNo they are under nourished.Ē So I brought the attention to the people in Malott and we got together and the farmers brought vegetables and apples and pears and potatoes and they filled the hallways of the school with them so that all children and the natives had the rights to take them home. And we felt so blessed that they and the girls straightened out [laughs]. It took the spirit of the community to overcome the problem.
CH: Was this, would this have been in the Colville Indian group?
GG: Yes, Colville.
CH: And right above or right along the Colvilleís reservation they built the Grand Coulee Dam and that blocked any fish from coming through that area. How was it that the government was able to get away with that, to be able to do that?
GG: Well, [laughs] I donít believe I can answer that other than it was the same, probably under the same management that occurred elsewhere [laughs again].
CH: Do you remember when it was built?
GG: The Grand Coulee Dam? In the late thirties as I offhandedly recall.
CH: The Grand Coulee.
GG: Oh you bet I do. I can remember our president, Roosevelt saying that ďyou folks are going to be so lucky.Ē Itís only going to cost you pennies for your electricity. And how, ďfortunate you are because no other place in the United States will be so fortunate.Ē
CH: You sound just like him. [laughs]
GG: Well give me [a dime?] if you like his speech, Iím almost word for word. [laughs]
CH: Well, did people believe that?
GG: Pardon me?
CH: Did the people believe that?
GG: They believed it, yes.
CH: Do you think that he believed that?
GG: Did I?
CH: No. Did you think that FDR believed that?
GG: I donít think so. I doubt it because Iím sure that he must have known that his words were political. Iíll just recite Izzy F. Stoneís remark of long ago. ďAll governments are run by liars and nothing they say can be believed.Ē [Laughs]
CH: Is this something that you learned very early on, or was this something that you eventually came to believe as you, as you know, later on in your life?
GG: I would say that I learned it very, at a very young age. At the age of six when I was in the first grade. Christmas came and our teacher asked us what we would like to have for Christmas? And I said, ďI would like to have a book on the Native Indians.Ē And sure enough I got a book called Indian Horrors and Massacres. And my mother had a very fine way of teaching reading. I was very fond in my fourth and fifth year of little stories that would come out in the farmers magazines on early conflicts between the Indians and the whites. So my mother would read them up to the very critical point and then sheíd say, ď itís your problem.Ē So I learned very rapidly, I learned to read before I went to school. It didnít cost my dad and mother anything to teach reading and the teachers those days could teach reading to all children very easily. Now its become a governmental exercise of mind control. It has become a kind of conglomeration of psychologists who want to follow Karl Marxís multi culturalism methods. Anyone who reads is aware that the psychologists make mistakes about 87% of the time.
CH: When the dams were being built on the river, especially early on during the depression, what was the reason that was given to people for building all these dams?
GG: Well, one reason of course was cheap electricity. That was the main reason; also to create jobs, and an easier form of transportation throughout the Columbia Basin.
CH: Who were they going to sell the electricity there to? There werenít very many people that lived in this area and they didnít have the grid, the inter tie grid they have now that goes all over this part of the country. Who were they going to sell it to?
GG: Well, they were hopeful to extend lines into the interior, both north and south. In other words, The Dalles, you know the city, and Hood River and even up to Bickleton. Secondly, to create new industry, and thousands of new jobs.
HG: And Canada too, wasnít it there?
GG: Yes, it was a slow process, but it - the people could see, Iím sure, what was in the making. The old farmers werenít dull then. There was clear thinking in those days. We werenít fooled about the telephones, we werenít fooled about any of those things. Of course I havenít given this too much thought and right now in order for me to speak about it, but I do remember the farmers; they were very closely knit. They helped one another. The farmers were composed of English, Germans, Danes mostly. They didnít speak their original languages, they were proud to learn the English language. They were proud to send their children to the American schools. They were proud to back their teachers, and when I was six years of age my mother told me I was going to get a rifle for Christmas. But three days before Christmas arrived the Millerites and they said the end of the world was coming on Christmas Eve. I pleaded with her to let me enjoy the rifle before the final end arrived. She declined. Our money-hungry developers had and have only one thing in money, money and more money. To hell with pollution of our land, water and air.
CH: Who were the Millerites?
GG: The Millerites was a religious group. At the age of eight I had a six shooter. All of my friends had six shooters and rifles. And I donít know to this day if there has ever been during the last ninety years if anyone has ever been shot in the area of my birth. My father and all the fathers taught us how to handle a rifle. And I can always remember my dad saying, ďAnd son, the bullet comes out here. And you donít get a second chance.Ē I can always remember my dad and the other dads and I can remember my dad distinctly saying to me at the age of six, ďSon, I want your attention. You werenít born with an over abundance of brain, but if you want to burn it and destroy it all you have to do is to start smoking and taking dopeĒ and he said ďFrom now on itís your problem.Ē Today I havenít even tasted coffee, and neither have my brothers.
HG: I drink coffee part of the time, but not very often.
CH: So, youíre a pretty healthy fellow then?
GG: Well, for my age I guess so, yes. So many of my friends have passed on long ago. I feel that Iíve been lucky. However, after studying biology, I am aware that the greatest power on this earth are the micro organisms and micro bacteria. And I am not so foolish to believe that they are wrong. Because I do know that they can kill any one of us at any time because they digest our food and when we make war on them weíre absolutely crucifying ourselves. I could go into that quite deeply, but Iím not prepared; well I guess Iím prepared, but [laughs] who wants to hear it?
CH: Well, but going back to some of the issues in the Columbia region here. When you were up at the - up in Okanogan, and you saw the dams going - I might put your microphone right up there on edge, it just fell over now. Yah, fine thank you. You saw the dams going in up there a lot of the Colvilles were moved from their villages that were down in the, down by the river. And all those grounds and burial sights and whatnot were all flooded.
GG: Many of them were, yes. Many of them were, thatís true.
CH: A lot of people felt that the government really never compensated the Colvilles acquedatley.
GG: That is true, that is true.
CH: How did you see their life change from when they lived as they used to to the point after the dams were put in? How did it change?
GG: I could see that they were crushed. They felt crushed. They felt that there was little hope. Now thatís how I felt that they felt. At that time they didnít speak to me as freely as the Columbia River friends that I had here, because they didnít know me that well, but I could see when I spoke to their mothers that they had a kind of a attitude of forlornness. That was sad. To be cast on a lifeless area of rock and sand was horrible indeed. There was no revenue from the dams to aid them.
CH: One of the Indians that I interviewed up that way was from the Lake Chelan area.
GG: Oh, yes.
CH: And even though he was a Colville, he never lived on the reservation, he didnít want to live on the reservation because he didnít feel that he could live freely there. Did you see a difference between the people that were living on and off the reservation?
GG: Well, in Malott and Okanogan, right in there, I didnít come in contact with any Native Americans who lived off the reservation. They were really more or less in and down by Kennewick. There were no open jobs then for them It was sad...
HG: They were sending their kids off to different places to get help. CH: In their education?
CH: There was a lot of criticism...
GG: Well thatís going on now. However, the natives have won some support of late.
GG: Thatís going on now. Yes. Even one of our friends who is part Indian; is helping the natives in schooling. And helping them to get jobs in the surrounding markets. However, they are low-paying jobs, free of medical assistance.
CH: There was a criticism that the white schools that were educating Indians at the time wouldnít let them speak their own language, or dress the way they wanted to and things like that.
GG: How true! How true! Of course there is some rebelling right now in north eastern Washington. They are trying to get the governmentís attention. And from what I can learn they are partly succeeding. As to whether or not they will succeed I donít know.
CH: In what way, do you know?
GG: Well, to be compensated for some of the things they havenít received. And it seems to me that they might get it, although there it is again. It isnít in black and white yet, but there are some good books coming out now, written by Natives themselves. And I feel that maybe they will be noticed. I hope so. Because itís only right that they be treated equally with the rest of us. All human beings should be on an equal basis. There shouldnít be any distinction and those who are doing wrong should be punished and those who are doing right should be praised. Now I remember going to the natives that lived in Pyramid Lake, the Paiutes. I can remember stopping there once and talking to one of the tribal council members. We didnít have much time, we were just going through in our camper. I had a nice long talk with him. I said, ďI wonder, how did you treat your people? Especially those who were absolutely, totally obnoxious, unbearably cruel. ďWell,Ē he said, ďbefore the white men came, we all went together and stoned them to death.Ē It hit me a little bit hard at the time and I gave it a lot of thought. And then I got to thinking. Now that is a wonderful way in a way. In other words there wasnít a part of the people left out. They all joined in sentencing. It was far better than our court system where some of the criminals can be bought off because of their standing. The natives there had a principle that we donít have. And when they saw one of their members so outrageously out of tune, they could really feel that they were doing that person a privilidge. And it was a more humane way then allowing him to be later hanged after fifteen years or kept alive and being fed in a secluded dungeon. I can kind of see something that I like about the spirit. And when I think of and study the Klinkit Indians and how they were punished as savages, for burning their dead. How the Canadian government had the gall to go in there and ravish them and call them heathens. And here we are with our cemeteries so full that now burning is not at all anti-religious.
CH: Thatís right, yah.
GG: Well, I could go on, and on and on, but I guess Iíd better stop. [laughs]
CH: Well, do you feel pessimistic? When you look at all the...
GG: No, Iím not a total pessimist at all because we are going to have to learn in our schools that all races are human beings if we really want to get along. Weíre going to have to learn in school that our schools should be sacred, not in a religious sense, but in a sacred feeling or sense that when they go into the school building itís to enlarge their brains and give them a new world, or many, many worlds that theyíre going to see if theyíll bear down and become excited to open their brains. That when weíre born, our brains are closed, but the schooling is to open those brains. Thatís why when in about the middle of my teaching I said, ď to the dickensĒ with all these new programs, new reading programs, new math programs, etc. I changed my method of teaching entirely and I took up the Socratic method. And all I did was ask the children questions. I never had to worry about disciplining them. Iím sorry I didnít start that way because it was a method that created a desire in the minds of the children to seek the truth on their own, rather then from dictation.
[End of tape 1, side 2]
Tape 2, Side 1
3 October, 1999
CH: There we go, O.K. This is an interview with Gilbert and Helen Giles at their home in White Salmon, Washington. The interviewer for the Oregon Historical Society is Clark Hansen. The date is October 3rd, 1999 and this is tape two, side one. So, yah, I had been asking you about the - your views about the future and you were telling me how you didnít feel pessimistic that you thought that through education and understanding that people would be able to be able to work things out.
GG: Yes, I believe that eventually it will have to come from the bottom up. I donít see our being saved from the top down. Itís going to have to come that when things get so bad that the people are going to say, ďHere, weíve had it!Ē You know what I mean? And we want to preserve nature. And we want to preserve the human race that we were guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Yes, I am hopeful, but I dread in a way to think the suffering that we may go through if we donít become alerted and alerted soon, because now weíre really in a period of danger. When we look back in history, and itís easy to do, we thought all was well before World War I, when there was no war. Then we fought a war to end all wars and it didnít occur. Then we fought a terrible, horrible Second World War and it didnít end wars. So thereís going to come a time when all cultures are going to have the rights to preserve their cultures because we know from history that empires fall and when you have a one world government, then who is going to be the human God? And just like Alexander the Great, the empire is going to fall as many, many have during throughout our past.
CH: And speaking of the laws you know the government signed these treaties with the Indians in this area. The Stevens treaties of 1855 with a lot of the Indians that lived in this area. And in 1968, Judge Belloni in Portland, the federal judge, decided that the Indians were not being treated fairly by those treaties and in 1974 then Judge Boldt came out with a decision that the Indians should have 50 percent of the fish in the river. Did you see any changes in the river or in the way things were on the river after that?
GG: My native friends tell me that there were no changes. That it was blotted out. They never got the buildings that they were promised and you know what I mean? It was just kind of a hit and miss deal. And when you visit Johnny Jackson, youíll understand that these promises have never been fulfilled. And whether or not the federal government will come to their assistance I donít know. I see some hope here and there. However itís long coming. But we are going to have to without a doubt as Iím concerned. Weíre going to have to clean our own house before we meddle in the cleaning of foreign nations of their problems. Because we have a good thirty million people in our own country who do not know where their next meal is coming from. And I could go on and on and it isnít anything thatís not known.
CH: Do you, did you, were you involved at all with the issues that Johnny Jackson was involved with? Lyle Point and some of those?
GG: I was, yes, I was in a way indirectly. I encouraged them and they referred to me as one of their elders [laughs] which I laughed and thought myself, ďwell Iím an elder alright.Ē
GG: Johnny is quite a person. Heís quite an optimist, Iím going to say that. I admire him, I knew his dad. In fact, his daughter Nettie and Johnny kind of wanted me to write a book on their dad, but one of the other brothers wasnít too found of it at the time and I backed out. So I know quite a little bit about their history and interests.
CH: Why was the - why was his brother hesitant about the book?
GG: Well, perhaps he was a little hesitant as it might interfere with some of the connections with the governments or connections with some of the problems that they were trying to fight or trying to cure. Iím not too sure. Iím not too sure on that. But I felt it was wise to rescind.
CH: What were the outstanding features of Johnny Jacksonís father?
GG: What were the what?
CH: Outstanding features.
GG: Well, I would say he had a good background, thereís no doubt about the early days. Of course he passed away quite a few years ago. He had a very good background on the conditions of the area, of the coming of the whites. He had a good version. He had a little white blood in him and that was one of the things that made it kind of sorrowful because he couldnít get full benefit from the Indian welfare system.
CH: The Bureau of Indian Affairs?
GG: Yes, Indian Affairs, yes.
CH: And what percentage did he need to be able to qualify?
GG: Iím not sure, I didnít go into it. His daughter explained it along, but it was many court cases and I believe finally he won a partial agreement as I recall, but I am not too sure now because that was some years ago. And I of course gave up on it. I turned what little I had written over to Johnny and I donít know what heís done with it at all, you know what I mean? The problem contained whether or not he was full-blooded or partial Native American.
CH: Yah, the issue at Lyle Point was what? What was he fighting for there?
GG: Well the Lyle Point as I understand it was some outfit from, I canít think of their names now - Dupont, wasnít it? From eastern United States thought that they could buy the point and build it up for a kind of tourist attraction, hotels, etc...
HG: Yah, wasnít it making money at...
GG: Well, they would have - dwellings...
HG: They were going to have dwellings around.
GG: That would be, you know what I mean?
GG: Condominiums, oh yes and oh, but very expensive ones. Very, you know, on the point and it would be - they had money in their minds of course. But they didnít realize that the wind on the Lyle Point is very extreme, especially in the winter time. And I donít believe that anyone would really want to live on the point. That was one thing that they, I think found out and I havenít seen any buildings built there, so far anyway. But then of course maybe it will come about. They wanted to have an unusual, you might say, spot for tourist attractions. And I donít know whether itís going to totally fold or not. I understand they put in some piping, plumbing and whatnot in there, but I havenít followed it too closely.
CH: And the, part of the issue wasnít, wasnít part of the issue that the land was an ďin lieuĒ sight given to the Indians for having the government having taken other land away?
GG: Well it was a question. It was a question there. Some of the natives like Ladd Kathlarnet thought that they were going a little strong on it. Trying to make out it was a great point. Although some of them did, of course. They had their landings there, you know, right beside it and it did go back into history. I donít know myself. I did a little scouting in the area, but I couldnít find too many relics. I did find some pieces of artifacts, but not anything of any value. It wasnít really, and I imagine Iíll get criticism for this, it wasnít anything like some points I know of that havenít been touched. And of course I swore on my death bed that Iíll never reveal it and I wonít. Thatís something I shall never do. My word is good. Those points so far havenít been touched and I think thatís only right that the natives keep them as they are.
CH: Thereís a lot of talk about the costs that would be incurred if we tried to rehabilitate the Columbia River and restore the salmon and maybe remove or lower dams and make improvements to help the habitat. Who do you think should pay those costs?
GG: To me, there again is it going to come from the grass roots. Weíve given pretty near 40 to 50 billion dollars to Russia. Weíve given Mexico almost that amount. Weíve given it to other countries, foreign countries. And we know and they know, all know, that its going into the hands of thieves. Outright thievery. And we taxpayers in this country have been paying for it, we know that. There isnít any, you know what I mean, you can read that in all the papers. Theyíve come out with that. And we all know that it was happening. We seem to be throwing money away; however, I donít know. It still is going to be a movement from the bottom. The people are going to have to demand their rights. Of course Iím an old George Washingtonian. Now that tells you right there what I am. I donít believe in free trade, but I thoroughly believe in fair trade. And if you trade with a country it should be treated fairly and in turn the agreement should be fair to us. But I do not believe in free trade any more than I believe in free exploitation, or the, you might say the freeing for all culprits to enter in and avoid the law. That doesnít deserve them such rights.
CH: What do you mean by being a Washingtonian? What does that mean to you?
GG: Well, I believe that we should have strict immigration laws. We in the United States were built more or less by Caucasians. Our genes go back hundreds and hundreds of years. The Asians have their cultures that go back, they say, thousands of years. They have their rights and we have our rights and I believe as human beings we should treat one another as human beings, not as one below and one above. I donít believe in giving special privileges to any race. I believe all races should be treated equally as human beings.
CH: And as far as controls on the immigration?
GG: George Washington believed that. And George Washington believed that we should have a strong United States, a proud United States. And help countries that needed help, and that were willing to be helped. You see, our money hasnít helped these countries, these billions of dollars. It only made the rich in Mexico, the leaders richer and the poor people no richer. Thatís the same way in Russia. We know, it isnít a case that the people donít know.
CH: So much of the agriculture in this part of the country and particularly over by Yakima and that area is dependent on many of the Mexicans that come up and pick the fruit, and the canneries and whatnot... GG: But Iím not blaming the Mexicans, I Ďm not one to blame. Because looking back years ago our farmers along the border were anxious to get cheap labor and they made out excuses that our boys and young men didnít want to work, but of course not when they could get Mexican labor for 1/3 the price, or 1/10 the prices. So actually thereís no one to really blame, I mean we are just as much to blame as anyone else. We disagreed, of course; some people call it ignorance. Thereís a name for it, thatís one of my great questions. Why is it that we human beings over the past six thousand years have been making the same mistake over and over and over again? And thatís my final question to all of my friends, professors and whatnot. And of course I get a run around; Iíve never gotten a true answer yet.
CH: Do you have a true answer?
GG: Oh yes, I think I do. I could give you one professorís. He said, ďWell when the Lord made the human being He inadvertently gave it an over supply of greed, sex and stupidity.Ē (Laughs)
CH: Well that would go a long way to explain the problem. (Laughs)
GG: Another one said it was because of ignorance. She was fairly close, because we donít study history, we are too involved in making a living, we are too involved in sports. We should have free access to the airwaves, at least two or three channels should be free. We are really closed in. We are not educating our children correctly. We are feeding them, rather than having them think for themselves and find the answers, because itís surprising how fast children can find answers when they are at liberty to think. Itís almost mind boggling.
CH: Does this go back to your feeling about Socrates?
GG: Yes, in my own experiences, and I donít know if I want it recorded - I could go a little bit about it. I remember one of the boys in the civics class, an eighth grader, asked me. He asked me one day just as the class was ending. He said, ďMr. Giles, do you believe in God?Ē I said, ďthe class is over. Tomorrow there will be an answer.Ē I still get cards, letters from them at Christmas. Last thirty years mind you. Weíve been retired thirty years. Few get letters from them. I always got to school early and all I ever did was write questions on the board. They copied them down, it was for them to think about and discuss. Sometimes I would pull the map down after I had the questions so they couldnít see them before class time, before the next class had come. When I wrote the names of sixteen gods on the blackboard. I put a dollar sign in the middle of it and at class time I rolled the map up. And I said, ďNow, I was asked a questions.Ē And I said, ďAnd you know you are to write down what is on the board, you know what to do and you are to answer it. Iím not saying anything from now on.Ē Well itís very difficult for me to realize what happened. They were children from different religions there. But I donít have to tell you what happened in those forty-five minutes.
CH: Well please do tell me what happened?
GG: Oh, youíd like to know?
CH: I would like to know. [laughs]
GG: Oh, recorded, I bet you would. Yes. [laughs] Well, they - it was an open discussion of course. And some of them said, ďWell?Ē It was just startling. I never said a word. Some said, ďWell you know there are parts of the Bible that contradict.Ē And then it got on, ďWell you know there are parts that we donít quite get it that an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.Ē And you know. Then one of them spoke up and said, ďWell you know your dadís god is that dollar sign.Ē Now of course I shouldnít be put on, really on it, because I donít want my friends to hear that. I would like to have that erased. The startling part was that these young thinkers came to such an awakening conclusion; a result from being to think without restrictions. I was utterly amazed.
CH: O.K., alright.
GG: But, yet that was it. But, they were thinkers.
CH: Yah, they thought for themselves.
GG: Yah, yes. They were thinkers and I understand. And I was very disappointed when one of the boys came from a California school. And he said to me - he was kind of lonely and he said, ďI donít know what, I just donít understand it,Ē he says. ďI just donít understand it.Ē I said, ďWhat donít you understand?Ē ďWell,Ē he said, ďin the school I came from in California all we did was to try to make it miserable for the teacher so we could,Ē you know what I mean? ďGet rid of her.Ē And he said, ďBut I canít get a single one of them here to go along with me.Ē ďWell,Ē I said, ďDo your suppose itís because they are coming here to learn?Ē And he shoved his shoulders and walked away.
GG: I didnít say one word. Because I could have said to them here ďyes,Ē but I could have come out and said ďyes,Ē ďbut now what about the Great Spirit?Ē You know what I mean? Or I could have come out about another one. What about Mohammed? What about the good things in hearing that. But, that was their problem. That was their thinking. Get them to thinking. And that doesnít mean that they wonít be religious or have their own religion. And that some will be agnostics. But you understand, donít you?
CH: Of course.
GG: I donít want to get some of them in trouble.
CH: Oh no.
GG: By speaking out like that...
CH: Not at all.
GG: Because I really have no rights to be saying this.
CH: Oh, well their your own, your own understanding of whatís happened and thatís very legitimate.
GG: Thatís it. And thatís why we need to get the brain, the childrenís brains moving. And getting them enlightened.
CH: Do you think that in doing this then that if enough children can be raised and educated that way that then some of these problems that we have with the Columbia River...
GG: Well if eighth graders can solve it, well you bet. You bet there would be some solving. Yes, if they would go back to even the Socratic method. Because you know what happened to him?
CH: Well he took poison.
GG: He was poisoned to death. And he went along with it, well thatís the way you feel. But he said, ďThe sins will be on your shoulders.Ē
CH: Well I appreciate the time that youíve taken to tell me some of these things about the river and about living here and the Native Americans and I hope that perhaps when we have a chance to review these things if there are more questions we have for you or more things that you would like to say that you would be available for recording your thoughts some more?
GG: Well, I guess, yah. I would, only that one thing I think Iíll have you, you know, you understand there?
CH: I understand.
GG: It was a - of course I know, I never, I guess they didnít fire me because of anything. Evidently someone probably went home and spoke to their parents about it, I donít know.
CH: Right, yah.
GG: But they couldnít say I was irreligious or religious.
CH: Yah, yah.
GG: And I guess as I told you, there are many, many religions, there are many, many religions and I am not against religion, I believe in freedom of religion. And I believe the government should stay out of it, but I feel the government should stay out of our educational system to a big extent. Theyíre not educators. They havenít gone to college to - you know what I mean? They should be educated. All they are, they forget that theyíre to be spokesmen for the people. Thatís why they should listen to the people. And I want, of course right now thereís a group trying to amend some of our things that you know what I mean, that have been going on and weíre very much against riders on bills. Very disappointing to vote for a bill thatís good and then you find out its been some amendment put in there by some secret person. You know who? We the people should have a right to have a say about that. We should be enlightened [inaudible] because it should be a government of the people by the people and for the people. Thatís why Iím an old Washingtonian. And after all thatís only right. Thatís the right way. And the British were not good to our people when they came over here. They treated them wrong and they know they did. And they caused us to be the way we became and one thing I do believe we do have a good government if we would enforce it, enforce our laws and be strict, you know what I mean?
GG: But then, of course, there it is again. Money is the power.
CH: Yah. Well, I thank you for your time and I hope we can get together again because this has been very enlightening for me to...
GG: Is that right? Well I wouldnít believe it would be very enlightening...
HG: Sorry weíre not more hospitable.
GG: Well, I guess weíre not...
CH: Youíve been very hospitable.
HG: I havenít cooked or anything else.
CH: I know. I feel badly that Iíve kept you from...
HG: Oh no, that was fine...
GG: Well, yah it didnít hurt at all because we...
HG: Because we have a quiet...
GG: Kind of a quiet life and - yah well Iíve enjoyed it, but I hope - of course I know this is what I told you is just from my own experiences, you know what I mean?
CH: Yes. Well thatís what weíre trying to do here is to record peoplesí personal experiences and their direct observations of things that have happened.
GG: That, thatís right. Iím glad I talked the way I did, but it took me - some, some of my early years I didnít. I tried to go along with the system, but I couldnít follow it every year. It was too much, it was too, well it was it was a racket! It was a racket. And our educational systems should have never permitted it.
HG: And Congress should not...
GG: You know what I mean? Having a new teaching course, having a new reading course. You know very well that thereís only - like my mother used, well it didnít cost her anything or my dad anything...
[End of tape 2, side 1]
[End of interview]