The High Price of Free Land: Reckoning with the Impact of Homesteading

"How do we move forward? How do we hold the past in all its complexity and move forward?" - Rebecca Clarren

“I think we’re all here to be a good ancestor. How do we not create mess for our children and grandchildren to inherit?” – Judge Abby Abenanti (Yurok Tribal member)

Emy Digrappa interviews the interesting and sometimes surprising journey of Rebecca Clarren, a journalist investigating the hidden history of her Jewish ancestors’ land in South Dakota and its impact on the Lakota people. Uncover the unexpected connection between homesteading, cultural reparation, and the untold narrative of Native American sovereignty. Join us in exploring the complexities of history, empathy, and the quest for meaningful reconciliation.

My special guest is Rebecca Clarren

Rebecca Clarren has been delving into the stories of the American West for over 25 years, earning numerous journalism awards along the way. Her latest work, “The Cost of Free: Jews, Lakota, and an American Inheritance,” delves into the entwined history of her Jewish ancestors’ land in South Dakota and the displacement of the Lakota people by the United States government. Her captivating storytelling and dedication to shedding light on the impact of historical events on real lives make her a captivating guest with a wealth of knowledge on cultural reparation, native sovereignty, and the far-reaching consequences of the Homestead Act on Native lands. Her deep connection to the American West and her ability to bring to life the impact of federal laws on real families make her an engaging and insightful guest for anyone eager to understand indigenous history and culture.

In this episode, you will be able to:

  •  Explore the Impact of Homestead Act on Native Lands to gain a deeper understanding of historical injustices and their lasting effects on Native American communities.

  •  Discover Jewish Immigration History to uncover the rich tapestry of cultural diversity in the United States and the contributions of Jewish immigrants to the nation.

  •  Delve into Writing Investigative Journalism to learn how to uncover hidden truths and bring important stories to light through the power of investigative reporting.

  •  Understand the Role of Federal Laws in American West to grasp the complexities of legal frameworks and their impact on the development of the American West.

  •  Embrace Cultural Reparation and Native Sovereignty to honor the resilience of Native American cultures.

The resources mentioned in this episode are:

  •  The book The Cost of Free Land: Jews, Lakota, and an American Inheritance by Rebecca Clarren is available on Amazon, in independent bookstores, and in many library systems. It is also available in audio and ebook formats.

  •  For further information about the book and upcoming events, visit Rebecca Clarren’s website at rebeccaclarren.com. She can also be found on Instagram and Facebook.

  •  Teachers interested in using the book as an educational resource can download a free PDF resource guide from Rebecca Clarren’s website. This guide includes links to resources for teaching about native nations, treaties, and the history of land takings.

  •  Wyoming Humanities produces the What’s Your Why podcast

  •  For those interested in learning more about the Wind River Reservation and native cultures, Wyoming Humanities provides educational resources available on their website called Native Narratives.

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00:00:00

Welcome, everyone. This is Emy Digrappa, executive producer and your host of what’s your why, learning and listening about people’s inspiring journeys and the human experience. This podcast is brought to you by Wyoming Humanities. The human experience is at the core of what we do, and you can learn more about us at thinkwy.org. That’s T-H-I-N-K-WY for wyoming.org.         

00:00:29           

And listen to this podcast on all your favorite channels.         

00:00:37            

My special guest today is Rebecca Clarren. She has been writing about the American west for 25 years. Wow. Rebecca has earned many journalism awards. And her latest book, which I’m truly excited to learn about, investigates the entangled history of her Jewish ancestors land in South Dakota and the Lakota who were forced off that land by the United States government.         

00:01:04           

And her book is titled the Cost of free Jews, Lakota and an Wyoming Humanities. Welcome, Rebecca. Thank you so much for having me. I’m delighted to be here. Oh, my gosh.         

00:01:18             

Well, just the title of that book is a mouthful. And we’ll get to that later because first I want to really know your journey and how you got into journalism and writing.         

00:01:35            

Very, from the very beginning. Yeah. You know, I studied anthropology and art in college. I didn’t think that I would be a writer or I didn’t know that I could be one. I think maybe I had always been a lover of reading, as pretty much any writer is.         

00:01:55             

And I was working in Denali National Park after I graduated. I was a maid, and there was just this one day I was literally cleaning disgusting things out of a bathtub. And I thought, this is not really the job I want to have. What am I going to do? And I don’t know how at the age of 21 I had such great insight, but I thought, I love traveling.         

00:02:21             

I love learning. I’m so curious. Maybe I should be a journalist. And I’d never even worked for my college newspaper, but I decided I would become a writer and be a journalist. And I can tell you the long version of that story or the short one, but the shorter version is that I got a job sort of freelancing for the local newspaper in Durango, Colorado.         

00:02:48             

And I also had all these other jobs like I was waitress and working in a hair salon and waiting to. Yeah, waiting tables and snowboarding at the, working at the snowboard shop. And I got an internship at high country News just up the road. And that really was an amazing, amazing gift of time because I loved reporting so much. And then after my internship ended, I was offered a job and I ended up being an editor there.         

00:03:21            

And it was the most wonderful training for the beat that I really haven’t ever stopped having, which is the American west. And after I left the paper, I moved to Portland, Oregon, where I still live. But I continued, have really continued, to mostly write about the american west. For, as you said, I can’t believe it’s been 25 years, but it has. It makes me feel very old.         

00:03:45             

And I would say that really, the through line of all the, you know, the American west, it’s such a fascinating place, as, you know, and it’s to write about the west is to write about labor and the environment and so many different kinds of communities and the tension, so many different kinds of tensions that are here. But I think for me, my work has always been about how do you take seemingly boring policies and laws, so much of them often federal law, impacting the American west and our lands much, but show how that plays out in the lives of real families, real people, and making those boring laws come alive for readers. Well, sometimes, as you know, being a writer for the American west, those laws might seem boring, but to the people that they’re affecting, they are not boring. No, they’re never boring. They have incredible impact.         

00:04:50            

And they’re full of so many different threads of important stories that are so often overlooked by editors who are so often set on the east coast. So I feel very thrilled and honored that I have been out here all this time writing about stories that I always think are so fascinating, endlessly fascinating. I always love hearing people’s journeys about how they get into writing, because do they start out Loving to READ? And then that creates a writer, or when you decide, I’m confident in my writing. I like my writing.         

00:05:30             

Like, how do you. Where did you make that jump? I was in the fourth grade. My teacher misses Ramer, read a story I had written every week. We would have spelling lists.         

00:05:44             

I haven’t thought about this in so long. We would have spelling lists, and we would have to write a story based on the spelling words. And she read my story out loud to the class. And I remember, at least in my memory, I heard a little gasp, and I heard someone say, who wrote that? And I was really hooked at that point on wanting to be a writer.         

00:06:06             

I could Write the same sorts of investigative stories for the general accounting office. I could write government reports. It’s not lost on me that there’s something about a byline that I like. That’s really, I think, very intriguing because I think everybody has a different way they find themselves as a writer. And I always appreciate how people take that road, and maybe they didn’t even grow up liking to read.         

00:06:38             

Maybe one day they decided they had a story to tell. Right. I really have always loved reading. I used to. My friend Sarah and I would make little books and try and sell them to our neighbors in the neighborhood.         

00:06:54            

And yet I didn’t think I had what it took to be a writer. I had such a huge idea of what it meant to be a writer that I didn’t think I could be that, that confidence piece is so important. I still, I still really grapple with believing that I have something to say and that I can live up to the opportunity I’ve been given. During the pandemic, I started writing poetry, pretty bad poetry. And then I kept writing it because it was revealing things like poetry does.         

00:07:31           

I think it reveals something to yourself, about yourself. And while I was working on the cost of free land, I was also writing poetry about the things I was thinking that were going into it. And at one point, I said to a friend of mine, whos a poet, why am I doing this? Why am I spending all this time writing these poems? So many of them are bad.         

00:07:51            

And she said, youre cross training. When you train for a marathon, you dont just run. And thats what youre doing. Youre doing a marathon, which is this nonfiction book. But youre also writing poetry.         

00:08:01           

And im happy to say that I have gotten some things published, although mostly its a sea of rejections. But I have really learned to love, love writing poetry. And it’s so fun to have a newer to me form of writing, to be exploring and challenged by. So I also wrote a novel when my kids were little. I just could not figure out how to be on the road.         

00:08:25           

The way I had been an investigative journalist, mostly for magazines throughout my career, was that editors would say jump, and I would say, how high? At least this is my story. I tell myself that I was very available and flexible, and I was often traveling, and I just could not figure out how to do that with young children. So I decided to write a novel because that’s easy, right? I’m laughing because I think actually writing a novel was much harder than any other writing I’ve ever done.         

00:08:55           

But I’m very grateful that that novel did get published eventually. And that book is called kick down. And it’s about the same sort of themes, but it’s, but it’s really about feelings, of course, because it’s a novel, but it’s about a family grappling with how to hold onto their family’s ranch in the midst of an oil and gas boom in their western Colorado town. Did you grow up in South Dakota? No.         

00:09:20            

So my ancestors, my great great grandparents and my great grandparents and their siblings, they were all homesteaders on the South Dakota prairie from about. My family owned that land from about 1905 to 1970. My grandmother and her sister sold the last bit of this area that to this day, locals still call jew flats, even though no jew has lived there for a very long time. They sold the last bit of jew flats in 1970. So before I was born.         

00:09:48        

But I grew up in Seattle, actually, but have spent a lot of my. After I graduated from college, I was in Colorado for a number of years and then was back in the northwest. Okay. Okay. So going back to why Seattle?         

00:10:09            

My parents were both from Minnesota, and then my dad is a doctor, and he did his training in the University of Washington, so they stayed. Oh, okay. Yeah. So you grew up in the rain? I did.         

00:10:23          

I love the rain. Well, that’s good. I hope so. But that’s interesting that they were actually from Minnesota, and he ended up doing his training at University of Washington. And that’s where you ended up being raised.         

00:10:38        

And that might. Yeah, sorry, go ahead. Well, what was their journey from South Dakota to Minnesota? So this is one of the fascinating things that I didn’t know before working on this book that I learned.         

00:10:56        

I was taught that prohibition was passed in this country. The law that banned the sale of alcohol was passed as an effort to curb basically domestic violence. Right. All these stories of these men who were alcoholics and would drink up their paychecks and these poor women who didn’t have enough money to feed their families. Certainly there was a women’s temperance movement was part of the people wanting to pass prohibition.         

00:11:27       

But what I learned was far more powerful and successful at getting that passed was an anti immigration group. The reason prohibition truly gets passed is because Henry Ford and others like him were very upset about the influx in the twenties of Jews and the Catholics from Ireland and Italy. And there was this idea that if we. And interestingly, I did, I looked into the census records and found that foreign people who were foreign born or the children of the people who were foreign born were way over. They were the main people working in the liquor industry in America in the twenties.         

00:12:14         

And so this idea was, if we take away their jobs, we get rid of prohibition. If we pass prohibition and we get rid of these liquor jobs, saloons, the liquor industry, all those people will go back from. To where they came from, they’ll leave. But of course, my family, it wasn’t safe for them as Jews to return to Russia where they lived before. It’s why they came here in the first place, and they weren’t gonna go home.         

00:12:40          

So when prohibition passes, it gets passed as a state law in South Dakota before it’s a national law. And when that state law comes into play, my great grandfather, who owned a saloon, he was a homesteader, but he also owned a saloon in the Black Hills, as did his brother in laws, as did some uncles. They tried to get, like, a soda fountain shop going. It was a total flop, and they moved to Minnesota, where you could still have the liquor industry at the time. So they moved there.         

00:13:13         

The whole family ends up slowly. Some of the family is still ranching in South Dakota at that time. But my mom’s mother, who lived in South Dakota as a baby, she basically grows up in Minnesota. And when prohibition then comes to Minnesota, my family gets into bootlegging, and they do very well, or very not well, depending on who’s telling the story, so. And my dad’s family ends up in Minnesota just because they had been in New York and didn’t love it.         

00:13:48       

And, you know, there were other Jews living in St. Paul and Minneapolis, and they came where they knew people. So. Great. Yeah, but I have relatives really all over the country, but many in Minnesota, but many throughout the American west.         

00:14:04
             

Oh, that’s great. I love hearing that story. And isn’t it interesting how well, I guess, you know, I think about right now and today and just the division that’s going on and the language that’s used in that division, and me growing up in a big hispanic family, I feel like that’s always been. It’s never not been. And that’s why I was so interested in your book, actually.         

00:14:39        

I wish I had that article right here, right now. But I was reading an article, and then at the end of it, it had your name, and it said that you had written a book, and it said the name of the book, and I was like, oh, my gosh, I’m going to Google that book. And that’s how I found you. I was like, oh, my gosh, I have to talk to her. I love it.         

00:15:01   

I’m so glad. That’s wonderful. And so I’m going to go back just to say the name of your book again. The cost of free land, Jews, Lakota, and an Wyoming Humanities. And that is such a huge title.         

00:15:17         

And so I just kind of want to break it down because as I’ve been reading about it, just getting to know like, why? Why was this an important subject for you to write about? So I, throughout my career, have been really delighted and honored that I’ve been assigned many stories covering native nations, native communities for different national magazines. And I was hired by an investigative nonprofit to write a series of stories about how sort of the legacy of federal indian policy and how it’s playing out today. And that series ran in indian country today and the nation.         

00:16:06    

And it was at some point while working on this series that I, which was in around 2017, 2018, I had this kind of embarrassingly late, honestly realization of, oh, here I’ve been coming to this subject matter as if it’s a societal issue, something I care deeply about, but not considering that it has anything to do with me, not really. And it took me a very long time to realize, oh, but wait, I’m the descendant of homesteaders. My family were given 160 acres on South Dakota prairie that was theirs to keep if they could turn the wild prairie into farmland. And this was a federal law, the Homestead act, and that was made available to millions of people. By some calculations, there are as many as 92 million Americans living today who descend from homesteaders and that land, in so many cases, the homesteads that were available were land that had, very recently, before they’d been available, been part of treaties that had promised that exact land to belong to native nations in perpetuity.         

00:17:26

And so the result of the United States breaking those promises, breaking those treaties, treaties is what turned that land into homestead land. I can explain why they did that if you think that would be interesting to your listeners.         

00:17:42       

Okay. I would love to know that, because there’s so many things that are kind of crossovers when you think about that. So tell me how that happened. One of the reasons of why that happened and that I don’t think probably my ancestors realized when they get their free land, my family are immigrants. They’re speaking Yiddish.         

00:18:05          

You know, they’re struggling to survive, is that in 1851, the United States had signed a treaty with the Lakota nation and other Plains nations, promising the great swaths of the west and of the Dakotas in particular. Western Dakotas would be the Lakota nations for perpetuity. Right. But at the exact same time that this treaty is being signed, the state of California has just been made a state. California has this raft of natural resources, and the railroads want to create a railroad line connecting California with the rest of the country.         

00:18:44          

And the railroads know that the cost, just the long haul traffic of bringing oranges, for example, out to the east coast from California, that’s not going to cover the cost of building and maintaining a railroad line and that it will be short bits of traffic along the way. You know, small communities along a railroad line that need to bring out dry goods and ship their cattle, that’s going to cover the cost of maintaining and creating a rail line. Railroad companies at the time were the most powerful corporations in America. They had a lot of political sway. So they get the ear of Congress and Congress sets out to break these treaty promises it has just made because inconveniently hard to build a railroad line in the midst of native land in the midst of an economy, a native economy that is built on following wild buffalo populations.         

00:19:41    

And so two things happen. The United States by clear intention sets out to completely eradicate the buffalo. There was a member of the military, I think it was a general, who said to his men, kill every buffalo you can. Every buffalo dead. Is an indian gone?         

00:20:00    

Because they knew that the Lakota and other native nations were very entirely reliant on the buffalo for entire, you know, not only their economy, but so much culture and religion was, you know, entangled with the, with the buffalo. So all of these buffalo are murdered. By the 1890s, there are just a couple hundred buffalo left from the millions and millions and millions that had survived had been there before, just a couple decades earlier. And by 1908, when my family is planting their first crop on their homestead, by my calculations, the Lakota are living on just about 2% of the land that they had reserved would be theirs to live with forever. Just 60 years earlier, less than 60 years earlier.         

00:20:59     

So that is how that all happened. And so when my family is living on a series of homesteads they all move. There’s about 70 jews ish that have all left Sioux City, Iowa together to move up to this area. That is about. For those of any of your listeners who know of wall drug, this area is about 25 miles north of Wall and they all lived on, they all got homesteads and they were sort of non contiguous land.         

00:21:31 

But in the same general area, this land, almost all of it ends up becoming my family’s ranch by the fifties. My family has a almost 6000 acre cattle ranch and the northern boundary of the ranch is just 13 miles from the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe reservation. But their lives were very kept by intention, by federal policy. The lives of immigrant homesteaders and native people were very separated. The children didn’t go to school together.         

00:22:03     

When my family first comes to South Dakota, Lakota couldn’t leave their reservations without permission and a permit from the white kind of mayors that were federally appointed to run the reservations. They weren’t called mayors, but that was sort of their job, and they weren’t allowed to own guns and go hunting. So they were really kept separate. The separateness of their lives, as one historian said to me, was a sign of successful federal policy.         

00:22:38

Oh, my gosh. That breaks my heart just to hear that. Yeah, but it also breaks my heart that your family fled Russia in their own way. They’re escaping. They’re trying to figure out life and how to live and how to survive so I can.         

00:23:02  

Oh, sorry. Go ahead. Are working kind of in unison together. My family’s life in Russia was really, really hard. Jews were incredibly oppressed.         

00:23:12    

My great great grandfather had been beaten to within an inch of his life in this horrible pogrom, the effects of which really followed him to the United States physically and mentally. And I write about those in the book the kind of way, the ripple effects of something. I’m really interested in how, you know, history isn’t just something that we’re walking away from, how it is connected to this contemporary moment, like thread through a seam. And so a lot of places in the book, it’s not just a history. It’s trying to tell a history and the legacy of that history today.         

00:23:48

So the book actually toggles back and forth between the past and what’s happening right now in my family and beyond and also for Lakota families. So, yeah, so my family comes to America. The land for them was so amazingly important. My grandmother and her sister Rose called it the good earth because they couldn’t own land. Jews couldn’t own land in Russia, and so they felt more free, is what the family story is.         

00:24:22

They felt really free that they owned this land. It made them feel more american. And I also did a lot of research because to me, I had all of these stories from my family, and we don’t throw anything away in my family. I literally just found a night. I was in my parents house for Passover, and I found in my mom’s closet a nightgown of my great aunts that’s from, like, the sixties.         

00:24:48  

Like, we don’t throw anything away. We have so many letters, photographs. In my aunt Etta’s house where other people would keep food or clothing, she has boxes and boxes of family documents, 30 day diaries of my great grandmothers. I mean, it was amazing trove that I was sitting on to write this book, and yet I wanted to figure out what was fact versus story here about the land. And so to try and get a sense of the cost of that free land.         

00:25:21

I pulled every single deed on the land my family had in South Dakota, and then I pulled every mortgage that was taken out on those deeds. And you start to see this pattern when, you know, based on the family documents, what’s happening in their lives and then the dates associated with those mortgages, that they would take out a mortgage, and then they would, you know, for a relatively small amount of money, but they would use that money to start a new business that wasn’t reliant on weather. Or they would take out a mortgage and they would get more land. They would buy more land, or they would take out a mortgage and they would move. They would keep the land, but they would move.         

00:26:00

And economists I interviewed said this was so important that to look at these little bits of money over time is such the key to wealth building in America. Far more of an insight into the value of the land than how much it was worth when it was ultimately sold. And I added all these mortgages up and adjusted for inflation, and it was $1.1 million in today’s value that those mortgages come to. And this is just one family. And you think about the fact that 25% of American adults living today descend from homesteaders.         

00:26:38 

Very few of us are people of color. And thinking about how much that quote, unquote free land we all got has translated into real wealth for all of us who are descended. There’s a professor, Professor Shapiro out of Brandeis wrote this book about many things, actually. But one thing he describes is that if your family descends from homesteaders and you can afford to buy a house or send your kid to college without loans or maybe even have a second home, that is absolutely because, he says, it’s probably because your family got free land. Wow.         

00:27:19   

So when you started doing this research and learning about the land that they had homesteaded and how did was their land on the Lakota land that the US had stolen from the Lakotas? I use the word theft very carefully in the book because certainly we can use the word dispossession. We can use the word taking. The word theft gets thrown around a lot, and I don’t know that people always know what it means, because even, like, certain parts of lakota land were 100% stolen under the rules that the United States created, that would be a legal taking of native land. They broke their own rules.         

00:28:04

So when I say land that was stolen, that’s when the United States didn’t even play by its own rules, which you could clearly argue were just a legalized form of theft in so many. If you read my book, you see over and over and over again the way the United States just continues and to this day continues to justify with legal language the taking of native land. So you could call it all theft, but you asked a different question, the land. Because I’m sure many people that would listen to your podcast will know a lot of this history of land takings in the west. In 1889, there was.         

00:28:46 

In 1887, there was something called the Dawes act, which was passed, and that was a way to change the way land ownership was on native, for native nations and on reservations. And it was a way to take much native land out of native control. And two years later, the great Sioux agreement was that bigger lawyer just for the Lakota nation, and it was based on the shearing away of this huge chunk of that land. That’s the free land. That’s the land that becomes the homesteads at that point that gets opened up for homesteading.         

00:29:26       

There are more and more land takings and land theft that goes on after my family shows up. And part of the legacy of that is even on the reservations, even these reservations that, as I said earlier, only by the 1908, 2% of what had been promised by that 1851 treaty, half of all the land on the reservation on Cheyenne river reservation is owned by white people, or at least non indigenous people. And two thirds the Standing Rock reservation, which is just right on top of the Cheyenne River Sioux ride reservation. Two thirds of all the land on that reservation are owned by non indigenous people. So think about for tribal government, who is in charge of the reservation but not all the land, how hard it is to do economic development when your land is this patchwork throughout this larger entity and you start to understand why so many native nations really struggle to have financial success.         

00:30:33       

Well, that’s really such a difficult topic because now we’re in a time where people want to find a way to give back to the native people.         

00:30:59   

Is there a solution for that? I can’t imagine what the solution would be outside of money. Well, I think it’s twofold. So to answer that, I need to step back a minute. When I was working on the series of stories about native nations, I was very lucky that I got to meet.         

00:31:23        

I wrote a profile of this incredible elder and judge for the Yurok nation in northern California. Her name is Judge Abby Abenanti, and she has become a real mentor to me. The way she runs her courtroom has become a model for many state and county judges throughout the whole country. As someone once said, to me, you know, these courtrooms, based on her model, are about getting well instead of getting even. And judge Abby, this is what most people call her early on, she said to me, before this was even a book, but when I was sort of starting to think about it, she said, if you’re going to tell this history, you need to think about how you’re going to grapple with it, how you’re going to respond to it.         

00:32:12         

And you need to do that through a cultural lens. It will mean more to you, it will be more helpful to you if you study your own people. What does your culture say? What do the Jews say about how to respond to a harm, even when you didn’t directly commit but one you benefited from? And based on that guidance, I spent three years studying with my rabbi here in Portland, Rabbi Benjamin Barnett.         

00:32:36          

And we studied places in our ancient jewish texts, the Talmud and the Torah, for instructions on how to atone, how to repair, how to do repentance. And we also studied the sermons and teachings of rabbis, contemporary rabbis, who are looking to those old teachings for instruction that we can use today. And so I actually, throughout the book, weave much of the teachings that I. That were really the most useful to me in thinking and grappling about how do we respond? And I weave those through the book.         

00:33:13      

And I do feel like, based on my own tradition, and I spent years in lakota communities interviewing elders, and. And so it wasn’t just my own tradition. There was some direction given to me by Lakota elders about what would be an appropriate way to respond. And I do, in the book, talk about, it’s a very small part of the book, but I do talk about, actually, a way my family is trying to respond in a real way, to take responsibility for the way we benefited at great harm to others. We are living in a vacuum of cultural.         

00:33:55 

Sorry. We are living in a vacuum of federal leadership. I can’t think of one senator or congressperson who is at all talking about, how do we even just tell the truth, a more perfect truth about the way we have treated native people in this country. So many schools, very few states have laws that require that k through twelve students learn about native people in their states. There was some research done that showed the vast majority, over 90%, I think it is, of schools, don’t teach anything in America about native people after 1900.         

00:34:41    

So to me, sure, there’s a lot that can be done, actually. And one of the most important things we do is we could start to tell a much more complete version of the past to our children, because kids get it. I mean, I think there’s a real intention of why we don’t do this. Kids want, once they know their next question is, well, what can we do about it? It’s your question.         

00:35:06    

But just because we don’t have federal leadership doesn’t mean there isn’t some aren’t things being done and that there aren’t things that can be done. There’s a wonderful podcast called reconciliation rising that’s tracking efforts between settler descendants and native people. And they have found that there is actually, like throughout the country, a lot of communities who are coming together to start to think about what they might gift to native people in their communities as an acknowledgement of broken treaties. And it’s, of course, not just broken treaties. One thing we haven’t discussed is in order to diminish, to try and diminish native connection to the land so that it would be easier to take the land, the United States made native religion and culture illegal.         

00:36:03   

I mean, at no point do my jewish ancestors have to stop speaking Yiddish, raid their last challah, change their name. And yet that’s exactly, basically what’s being asked of their Lakota neighbors. At the exact same time, we are so slowly just even making those laws, we’re getting rid of those old laws so that native people now are entitled to sovereignty, the sovereignty that they’ve always had, but that was disregarded for so long to teach their children, however they want to teach their children and have their own religion. However they want to have religion. But there’s a lot that we can start to do, and I do in the back of my book, have a resources for further research page for people who want to, after reading my book about my own family, find themselves in their families in this american story.         

00:37:04    

Because really, no matter who you are, though, of course, my distance to this history, because I am the descendant of homesteaders is closer than someone whose families were brought here on slave ships or people who arrived in this country last week. We really all benefit from the taking of native land. It’s the basis of our highway systems, of our land grant universities, of so much of our hydroelectric grid was created and flooded native nations. The list goes on and on. So what a passion you have and knowledge and knowledge about the historical context.         

00:37:48

And I think, and growing up in a big hispanic family, and I would say that history books don’t tell the story from the west and that, you know, it didn’t start at Plymouth Rock, you know, celebrating thanksgiving. Exactly. Did not, was not a part of the southwest exactly. Exactly. It didn’t start there.         

00:38:25

It’s amazing. I never really learned about our history until I started studying and researching and then amazed at how far and how different it is than east coming west.         

00:38:48
             

It’s so true. Yeah. And the birth of the Mexican culture and the mestizo and the cowboy culture and just not told. I don’t know. I kind of want to rewrite all the history books.         

00:39:06           

I was just going to say, that sounds like a great book project. You should write that. You should. I would read that. I want to read that history.         

00:39:14

It was certainly, you know, I had an excellent education. I really did. I went to wonderful schools. I didn’t learn this history at all. I was betrayed in some ways by my education that I wasn’t taught.         

00:39:32    

So many people come up to me at readings, and they say, until this moment, it never occurred to me where my family’s land came from. And people often will say, I feel so guilty. I’m so embarrassed that I didn’t know this. And I get that. I have often.         

00:39:49     

I have at times felt that way, too. But I don’t think that guilt is very useful. I think guilt can make us feel ashamed and kind of get stuck. And I’m more curious to say to people, I’m more curious about, well, how do we move forward? How do we, you know, it’s not our fault that this happened, but how do we take responsibility for it to create a better future?         

00:40:12        

And, yeah, I just think how do we move forward? Is the question. How do we hold the past in all its complexity and move forward? Something Judge Abby said to me, we were doing an event together in San Francisco, and someone asked her the same question you asked, like, well, what can we do? And she said, it’s this relationship.         

00:40:36    

It’s having relationships with the native people in the community where you live and knowing what they need and how to support each other. She said, I know that sounds really vague, and she sort of gestured to me. She said, we have a relationship. We know what each other needs. And she said, I love this so much.         

00:40:56 

She said, I think we’re all here to be a good ancestor. How do we not create mess for our children and grandchildren to inherit? And I think when I think of it that way, it stops. It makes it so much clearer. Why would I want.         

00:41:15 

Why wouldn’t I do anything to save my kids from a mess that I could have done something to the lesson for them? Oh, right. And the fact that so many people, the natives were hurt, were hurt and discriminated against for so many years and. And still are. Right.         

00:41:40  

And.         

00:41:43 

But unless you really dive into it, it’s like a hidden. It’s hidden. It’s tucked away. You have to want to know. You have to go find.         

00:41:58            

You have to really want to know about it. And I know that a lot from working for Wyoming Humanities, because we do a lot of work with the Wind river indian reservation here in Wyoming. You have to want to learn their history.         

00:42:18     

And I think that that’s what we pass down to our kids, the desire to have empathy and to have knowledge. And I love that you said empathy, because I really feel like in my own experience, it has been amazing to see that learning history in a much fuller, more complex, messy way has increased my empathy, not just for indigenous people in America, but for jewish immigrants as well, that you can hold. It’s showed me that studying history, knowing it, it helps you to be able to hold multiple truths at once and break down binaries. And I just don’t know how we. How we move forward in a peaceful way without doing that.         

00:43:12      

Right. I agree. So tell us about where people can find your book. Say the name of your book, tell us where we can find it, and tell us how we can find out more about you. Where are your channels?         

00:43:29      

Where do people look for you? Okay, so the book is called the cost of free land, Jews, Lakota, and an Wyoming Humanities. It came out last October with Viking Penguin. You really should be able to find it anywhere you like to find books. It’s on Amazon.         

00:43:45   

I, of course, love an independent bookstore, and I know you have many in Wyoming, so I would hope you might find it there. I know it’s in a lot of library systems as well. And if it’s not at your library, ask them and they will order one. It’s still out in hardback, but there will be a paperback coming. It’s also, there’s an audio version, which I recorded, and there’s an ebook as well.         

00:44:08      

I have a website, Rebecca Clarren clarin.com, and I’m also on. I’m on Instagram and I’m on threads, and I’m not a lot on threads, but I’m a lot on Instagram and I’m a bit on Facebook, so please come and find me there. I’ve been touring a lot. I think I’ve done 40 events since the book came out, slowing down a bit, but I have more coming, so looking at my website for upcoming events is a good way to see if you can find me and visit me either on Zoom or in person. Okay.         

00:44:46

Well, it’s so great to meet you, Rebecca. Thank you so much for having me, and thanks for your very great questions. I really appreciated this conversation.         

00:45:03

Okay, so I paused the recording. Okay. When I stop it, then it has to go into a file and all that stuff. Anyway, so it was so great. I mean, so we’re doing.         

00:45:19

So we do three tribal talks, and the next one is. Next is May 2 at the center for the arts in jackson, and it’s called tribal governance and sovereignty. Great. And it’s talking about. So what is so unusual about the wind river reservation is that it’s two nations and one reservation.         

00:45:46

So. Well, that’s not so uncommon. I mean, that’s actually. Unfortunately. I mean, in Oregon, we have that in a lot of places, too.         

00:45:56

Oh, you do? You have more than one tribe with reservation? Okay. Yeah.         

00:46:03

And we do a whole. You know, we do three tribal talks. We did one a couple weeks ago, May 18. I mean, March 18 on, we showed a clip of Bambi in the new language, and we talked about language and. And why weren’t for the natives to revive their language and teach it to their children?         

00:46:31      

Because so many of the elders are dying. I know. Yeah. And so much is being lost. So we do that, and then the third one is going to be about youth on the reservation.         

00:46:45     

Great. Oh, that’s so exciting. So, we do a lot. But like I said, it’s not. It’s not just out there where you see it, you know, like, it’s not.         

00:47:00    

It’s not. And that’s. That’s actually intentional. I mean, I think there’s a systemic reason. Judge Abbey always says our superpower.         

00:47:08      

We picked the wrong superpower. We’re invisible, you know, and. And yet.         

00:47:14

Yeah. I don’t know. That’s great that you do that. I’m sure that helps to.         

00:47:24  

It is great. It can be very frustrating because you want more people to pay attention. Yeah. And so that. Well, our partners are one of the community colleges, Wyoming Humanities and Wyoming Humanities.         

00:47:46  

Oh, great. This year, we’re going to be turning these talks into educational modules, which will be available on Wyoming Humanities for teachers to be able to show in their classrooms. That’s amazing. That’s so great. Good for you.         

00:48:06    

That’s fantastic. Yeah. So it’s. It’s interesting. I mean, until you, like, really go out and search for some of this history that’s happened, you really don’t understand it, and you don’t have a heart for.         

00:48:22

Empathy for it, because I think a lot of it just stems from people, like, knowing and so in their mind, they’re like, why does that matter? I mean, what’s the big deal? I mean, you know, they just. Right. Don’t have a heart of, this really.         

00:48:41

Did happen or it hasn’t been connected for them. How do I find myself here? You know, once I, once you start to see it, you see it everywhere. But like. Yeah.         

00:48:52 

To start to see the way the cost benefit analysis of how the west was won and how it was intentional, who would win and who will lose, how that plays out still today. I know. So, I mean, that’s, I don’t know. You’re, I’m really working. I’m so busy.         

00:49:16   

I haven’t had a chance to really figure out my next book idea. But this conversation actually is making a lot of different things light up for me. So. I’m really glad. I mean, I remember when my mom, because her family immigrated from Mexico, first language was Spanish.         

00:49:41  

And I grew up in Colorado. I grew up in Fort Collins. Oh, yeah. And my daughter went to Fort Lewis. Oh, no way.         

00:49:48

Yeah. Which is the best kept secret in the world, I tell you that. Because she had such great counselors. So it’s this small school. I know all about it.         

00:49:59   

Yes. They’re actually trying to bring me, there’s a history professor who’s trying to bring me out for a lecture in the fall. Oh, good. Oh, good. I’m going to try and put you together with our program people to see if we can bring you out here.         

00:50:17     

I know. I would love that. But I think that your message would be so important for the people who work so closely with the tribes. And the central Wyoming college in Riverton works very closely with the tribes and it would be great to bring perfect that conversation to the forefront. I would love that.         

00:50:46        

I’m actually going to do a lecture. I’m going to Bismarck State College next week as a visiting scholar. And while I’m up there, I’m going to go down to standing rock and do a talk at Sitting Bull college, which is the tribal college there. And I feel like those kinds of partnerships make a lot of sense, you know, because then I can engage. Unfortunately, you know, the native nation is not always the same as the non native people.         

00:51:15       

They’re not necessarily in the same place. So they’re all close enough, though. Yeah. And I, the way I usually have done these talks, or my favorite ones at least, are when I give a lecture and I have slides from the book and I show those, but also then to have a conversation with a representative of a local native nation. So that we can ground here.         

00:51:39

I’m talking about South Dakota, but so many of the things that happen to the Lakota are the same things that happen to native communities all over. And so that there can be a conversation about not only the history that’s local, but what are local efforts that non native people can get involved in to support. So that. That’s the other thing I realized when I started working on doing tribal talks. And now I’m.         

00:52:07      

This is the third year where we sponsor the Teton powwow, which happens on May 18. Oh, it’s coming up. Cool. I’m writing a powwow guide. Wow.         

00:52:20     

Of course, we have a native scholar who’s editing it. Yeah, good. That’s smart. So it’s not, you know, coming from me, but. Or the way I’m in humanities, actually.         

00:52:30     

And, yeah, we never do that. We will never do that. But a lot what has happened has really been why, you know, just eye opening that you want to introduce people and have people have a learning experience about our wind river reservation. And you will not believe how many people who are non native one don’t think they’re welcome on the reservation. They don’t know how to approach it.         

00:53:09     

Exactly. They’re afraid. They’re afraid.         

00:53:15 

It’s 2024, you know, it’s amazing. I mean, it just, like, blows my mind. Like, they will ask those questions, and I’m like, oh, my gosh. And on the other side, the natives are like, of course they’re welcome. We want them to come, but there’s just, like, this gap in that just doesn’t cross over.         

00:53:43 

So it’s like. So that’s been kind of frustrating and eye opening to some of the things. But you have such great purpose also. I mean, it shows the real need for an organization like yours to bridge. To be a bridge, you know?         

00:53:57    

Right. Absolutely. Absolutely. And, you know, we take it very seriously and we do a lot of work. If you go to our website, you’ll see a lot of the stuff that we’ve done.         

00:54:10    

But. So I would think you would have set. I mean, my advice, and I love that you’re doing that. You’re developing teaching tools for teachers. Well, I mean, it’s not definitive, but it is this resource guide in the back.         

00:54:30      

And there is a free PDF on my website, too, that people can just download, but it’s like links. You’re right. Teachers could totally take that and do an amazing class, I think, with their students to say, okay, here’s how we figure out what are the native nations like here’s a link. This will teach us what were the native people that used to live here and still live here? And then here’s how we figure out what treaties were ever created.         

00:54:55  

Oh, my gosh. And then. Right. How many of you in this class families had homesteads? Well, look, we can.         

00:55:03 

This is a tool to figure that out. And then here’s all the things that were done to native people to, you know, to take their land away and, you know. Yes, I would love. That would be incredible. It’s been really, really exciting to hear that teachers are starting to teach from.         

00:55:20

My book, when we’ve worked with teachers, even Native American teachers, I mean. Oh, yeah. They want to teach things in their classroom that are related to their history and culture, but they don’t have enough resources. They don’t have the tools, for example. Definitely not very often.         

00:55:45

They really don’t. And so I think the teacher resource thing is so huge. Cool. Yeah. Well, I’m so glad to have met you.         

00:55:54   

And when do you think this will. It’s next week. Did you say you thought it would go out? Or maybe you didn’t say, I think next week. Yes.         

00:56:02

Oh, it is next week. Okay, great. I will be so glad to have that. Are you guys. Are you on Instagram?         

00:56:08

Can we be connected over there? So I’m on stories about why. And also Wyoming Humanities is on Instagram and Facebook, but I’m on. I just do a podcast, stories about why. I love that on Instagram.         

00:56:26  

Okay, I’ll look for you. So I just started to learn how to do social media. Oh, my God, it’s so much brain damage. I know. Awful.         

00:56:36    

I just like, especially. I didn’t grow up. Cell phone in my hand, right? No, me neither. Calling my kids, going, I don’t know how to do this.         

00:56:45    

I have some writer friends who are, like, 15 years younger than me, and they’re always asking me questions about how to do the job of writing, and I’m always asking them questions about, what do I do with this post? And do I do it? Is this the right. How many photos? The tone.         

00:57:03 

I’m like, they’re just like, oh, here’s how you do. It’s so easy for them. I’m like, this is very intimidating to me. I know, I know. I’m always afraid.         

00:57:12

Like, I’ll say something wrong and piss a bunch of people off. Oh, God. I know. I know. It’s inevitable.         

00:57:21

I am so glad for this conversation. Thank you so much. I would be so delighted if you make headway or if anyone wants to just have a Zoom call to think about having me out. Well, I’ll definitely see. My agent is working to get me picked up by a speakers bureau, in which case I’m guessing my rates will go up, but at this point, I don’t have one, so I’m okay.         

00:57:45