The Pendleton Incident in Boise’s New Eagle Rock Park

The mayor of the City of Boise was clearly not prepared to receive a Pendleton.

This type of blanket, used across contemporary Native North America to honor the receiver, is typically folded and draped around the receiver’s shoulders. Mayor Bieter would have had little reason to know this protocol, given the pervasive erasure of Native people in Southwestern Idaho, both in presence and in memory. Since forced removal in 1869, the descendants of the Shoshone and Paiute bands who used to call the Boise valley home have been scattered and are today members of five different federally recognized tribes in three different states. Meanwhile, Boise’s settlers have engaged in over a century of erasing this troubled history, achieving a state of amnesia rarely seen this far west. The image of the mayor struggling with the Pendleton sticks in my mind as illustrative of the tension between forgetting and remembering—both the legacy of erasure and the reason why tribal leaders, increasingly concerned with reasserting their claims to Boise, felt it appropriate to honor Boise’s mayor with such a rich gift.

Erasure as practice

Viewed through one facet, this scene speaks to the massive degree of the erasure present in Boise. The beauty of the Pendleton was certainly appreciated by the mayor, and he recognized it as a gift, stretching it out among many hands to catch the shade-dappled morning light of early June. He was not flustered by the gift itself, since he had just finished giving a speech at a gathering honoring the tribes. But he could not contain his surprise as Lori Edmo, a Shoshone-Bannock elder and an event organizer, began draping the Pendleton around his shoulders. He clutched awkwardly at one edge of the cloth while the other half of the blanket pooled on the ground, laughing congenially at his own missteps.

Indigenous people across the globe are engaged in projects that reassert claims to land, rights, and belonging.

The mayor’s lack of familiarity with cultural protocol is entirely understandable. Settler Boiseans have little awareness of contemporary Native American cultures, thanks both to physical removal and to over a century of erasure as standard representational practice. The completeness of this erasure is notable given Boise’s location, and stands in stark contrast to comparable areas to its east (Wyoming and Montana), where the cowboy/Indian dichotomy keeps Native imagery—not unproblematically—close at hand. It also stands in contrast to comparable cities to Boise’s west (costal Oregon and Washington), where Native representational jurisdiction (Tahmahkera 2018) is strongly voiced in the urban aesthetic identity. As such, Boise presents an interesting case study in erasure as a practice.

Anthropologists of sound have recently pushed us to better understanding the salience of silence and other aural ways of knowing (Ochoa 2014). Building upon this sophisticated framework, I extend these discussions into the realm of cultural and heritage management, analyzing silence in the aesthetic registers of the verbal, material, and customary arts. My work (supported by a grant from the Wenner-Gren Foundation) carefully documents the discursive ways in which Native People are erased from Boise’s cultural infrastructure and curriculum. I argue that these are iterations of an expressive culture of erasure based in specific forms of silencing.

I am particularly interested in documenting representational patterns that reinforce persistent inequalities. Boise’s settler population has exploded over the past few decades, and the vast majority of the over 700,000 residents in the Boise metro area are unaware that they are thriving on land that remains unceded territory. This lack of awareness is perpetuated through heritage management practices that continue to leave out the specific Native history of the Boise Valley, which continues to have implications for contemporary controversies about treaty rights, water rights, and appropriate stakeholders.

Interdependent partnerships

Viewed from another valence, the Pendleton incident is significant because of what it signals about the relationship between Mayor Bieter and area tribes. Pendletons are expensive gifts, bestowed as marks of high esteem in Native North America. Given the widespread erasure of Native people from Boise’s story, what could Mayor Beiter possibly have done to make him worthy of the Pendleton in the first place? The Pendleton, I argue, acts as a physical commemoration of the innovative partnership that has developed over the past few years between area tribes and the City of Boise.

Beginning in 1990, a Native and settler Boisean coalition came together for the first time in recent memory to defend a city park and the surrounding foothills from subdivision development in the area. Joining the East End Neighborhood Association, a delegation from the Shoshone-Bannock tribes called attention to the park and adjacent warm springs as a traditional gathering ground of Native people in the area. Since 2010, the park has served as the central location of an annual re-gathering called the “Return of the Boise Valley People.” This gathering has strengthened relationships between the scattered descendants, thus providing an appropriately “relational” basis for contemporary Native activism in Boise.

Settler Boiseans have little awareness of contemporary Native American cultures, thanks both to physical removal and to over a century of erasure as standard representational practice.

This rising Native activism has been met over the past decade by city initiatives interested in promoting multiculturalism in the valley. Increasing diversity in Boise (largely due to refugee resettlement) has spurred the City of Boise to develop a strategic “cultural plan” and create the position of cultural planner with the charge of promoting multicultural understanding. That this position was filled by Karen Bubb—the former public arts manager for the city and artist in her own right—played no small part in the aesthetic strength of the collaborations.

And yet, while Native People across North America are engaging in projects to reclaim space in urban areas, I am drawn to the way in which the Boise partnership seems grounded in Indigenous best practices of “relationality.” As Indigenous intellectuals have argued, contemporary Indigenous lives and settler lives are deeply entangled (Dennison 2012). Assertions of sovereignty are still possible, though, if we try to understand sovereignty itself differently, not as an assertion of total autonomy, but as a project of sustained interrelationships and in collaborative meetings of partners who are bound to one another reciprocally (Cattelino 2008, Cobb 2005). The City of Boise partnership with the Return of the Boise Valley People seems to build on this philosophy, favoring the long, slow, and often tedious work of rebuilding relationships over the quick solutions often proffered in multicultural planning. The Pendleton, I argue, is an indication the existence of the kind of reciprocal partnership deemed worthy of fostering.

Eagle Rock Park

And yet, without doubt, gifting Mayor Bieter with a Pendleton is certainly a deliberate act of re-claiming Native presence within Boise’s landscape. It is no coincidence that the Pendleton incident occurred at the renaming of this park, land that has sustained the Boise Valley People for hundreds of years. At this gathering, Mayor Bieter officially recognized the past and present significance of the area, rechristening the park “Eagle Rock Park” and the neighboring foothills the “Chief Eagle-Eye Reserve.” Park signs are in English and in Shoshoni, and honor tribal place-name traditions, since “Eagle Rock” is the Shoshone name for the rock formation above the park. Chief Eagle-Eye is also honored as the leader of a peaceful band of 70 Weiser Shoshone who refused to relocate and instead lived quietly in the mountains for two decades until his death in 1896. He is an interesting leader to honor, chosen by a generation of Native people who also refuse to accept continued silencing.

***

Indigenous people across the globe are engaged in projects that reassert claims to land, rights, and belonging. And although these challenges to settler-colonial logics are often controversial, the renaming of Eagle Rock Park was not. Instead of protests, city planning meetings for approval of the renaming prominently featured apologies from city council members to the Boise Valley People descendants. By putting the principles of interdependency and relationality first, the City of Boise and Boise Valley People have created a unique partnership, one worthy of both close study and of replication. One worthy, even, of a Pendleton.

Kimberly Jenkins Marshall is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma. Her research focuses on expressive culture and religion in contemporary Native North America. Her book Upward, Not Sunwise: Resonant Rupture in Navajo Neo-Pentecostalism was published in 2016.

SANA’s section news column contributing editors are Ana Croegaert ([email protected]) and Elisa Lanari [email protected].

Cite as: Jenkins Marshall, Kimberly. 2020. “The Pendleton Incident in Boise’s New Eagle Rock Park.” Anthropology News website, September 11, 2020. DOI: 10.14506/AN.1492

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