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California Fool's Gold -- A Channel Islands Primer

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 20, 2013 02:49pm | Post a Comment
WHO WOULD FLOAT ME TO MY ISLAND DREAM? -- THE CHANNEL ISLANDS

Foggy Day (Image credit: Lee Shurie for California Kayak Friends)

On planet Earth there are at least two archipelagos known as “The Channel Islands.” Frankly, I'd be somewhat surprised if there aren't more. One is located in an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates France and the UK known in English as “The English Channel” or simply “The Channel.” It's traversed (or is it subversed) by the Chunnel. Its eight Channel Islands are home to about 168,000.



The other Channel Islands are in an arm of the Pacific Ocean called the Santa Barbara Channel. Being located in California they are are often distinguished from their Atlantic counterparts by their being referred to as the Channel Islands of California. There are also eight islands in this archipelago although they’re only home to about 4,000 people. In some ways they have more in common with another archipelago, the Galapagos Islands of South America. Both developed in relative isolation which allowed for an independent evolutionary processes. In the Channel Islands' case, that process led to the development of at least 145 endemic species.

Last year my New Year’s resolution was to visit one or more of these islands. As with moth New Year's resolutions, I failed to meet it (just remembering it distinguishes it from most that I've made in the past). I changed my resolution with less than a month left of 2012 to the easier task of learning how to tie a bow tie in time for New Year’s Eve. This year, on my birthday, I visited Santa Catalina, which although often treated as somehow distinct from the Channel Islands, is in fact one of them. Here's hoping (but not resolving) that I visit more soon.


GETTING THERE AND BACK

Tomol Crossing Sunrise (Image credit: Robert Schwemmer for Channel Islands Chumash)

I’ve wanted to visit the Channel Islands ever since learning of their existence -- probably around the time that my mother read Island of the Blue Dolphins to me. Whereas most of Los Angeles County (two of the Channel Islands are part of it) and Southern California are easily accessible by a variety of means including pubic and private transit, the Channel Islands are a bit more tricky (unless you have readily have in your possession a boat, helicopter, hovercraft, dirigible or other craft). Most people visit the islands via commercial and private boats, airplanes, or helicopters.


THE NORTH AND SOUTH

The California Channel Islands are generally divided into two groups, the Northern Group (consisting of Anacapa, San Miguel, Santa Cruz, and Santa Rosa) and the Southern Group (consisting of San Clemente, San Nicolas, Santa Barbara, and Santa Catalina). They are also split among the jurisdictions of three bailiwicks – er, counties: Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Ventura. Their combined landmass is 896 square kilometers. Rather sadly, in most maps of those counties, these magnificent gems are either removed entirely or confined to disconnected corner boxes disconnected at reduced scale in a similar fashion to Alaska and Hawaii on maps of the USA.


PRE-HUMAN HISTORY

Channel Islands Pygmy Mammoth sculpture at the California History Museum (Credit: Rhino Design Studio)

During the last ice age, because of lower sea levels, the four northernmost islands were conjoined into a single island separated from the mainland by a mere 8 kilometers. Archaeologists have discovered the remains of flightless geese, giant mice, and pygmy mammoths. The Channel Island Fox is believed to have rafted to the northern islands as early as 16,000 years ago and unlike the previous examples, isn't extinct. The foxes were likely brought to the southern islands by Native Americans, who arrived perhaps a couple of thousand years later.


THE CHUMASH ERA

Arlington Springs Bones (Image credit: Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History)

In 1960, several bones from a 13,000 year-old skeleton were discovered and nicknamed the Arlington Springs Man (and sometimes the Arlington Springs Woman due to questions about their owner's sex). As early as 11,000 years ago a band of Chumash settled in the northern Channel Islands and possibly the southern as well. The Chumash also traditionally made their home coastal plain between Morro Bay and Malibu (the name of which is derived from the Chumash name Humaliwo meaning “the surf sounds loudly”). The island-dwelling Chumash were known to the mainland Chumash as the Michhumash or “the makers of shell bead money.”


THE TOMOL

Chumash tomol (Image source: Chumash Maritime Association)

Along with the Mapuche in Chile, the Chumash were one of the only Native Americans nations known to possess deep ocean-faring boats, which they called tomol. Tomol are plank canoes that were up to 30 feet in length and carried about ten people. A tomol-building Chumash organization known as The Brotherhood of the Tomol disbanded in 1834. A newer group of tomol-makers formed in 1976 and their craft, the ‘Elye’wun, which made its first trip to Santa Cruz Island in 2001.



Some have theorized that both the Chumash and Mapuche learned the craftt of building plank canoes from the Austronesian people who colonized most of the Pacific. In the Western Hemisphere, sewn plank canoes are known only in the Pacific Islands, Chile, and the Channel Islands. Pacific Islanders reached both Hawaii and Rapa Nui from, most likely, the Marquesas as early as 300 CE. Around the same time, similar technology appeared in the Americas.

The evidence is intriguing but hardly incontrovertible. That theory may well bear out but I am always suspicious of how seemingly whenever ancient Native Americans have shown high levels of technological sophistication, someone will invariably suggest that everyone from Africans, to Europeans, to Melanesians, to Pacific Islanders must've had a hand in it. Of course then there are the nutty (and even more insulting) theories perpetuated by the always ridiculous History Channel that people traveled across the galaxy to meddle in human history. On the other hand, our improving understanding of DNA in recent years has radically challenged perceptions about the Pre-Columbian Era, suggesting that it was far more interconnected than previously thought.


THE TONGVA ERA

Maritime Village (Image source: Keepers of Indigenous Ways)

The Tongva (also sometimes referred to as Kizh) people arrived from the Sonoran Desert to the Los Angeles Basin sometime in the vicinity of 7,000 BCE years ago. They almost certainly learned to make plank boats from the Chumash, which they called ti’at, and used them to settle the southern islands. Evidence suggests that the Tongva may’ve wrested control of the islands from the Chumash through violence, as there is evidence on San Clemente and San Nicolas Islands of several deadly, ancient battles.


SPANISH ERA

In 1542, the first Spaniard, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, passed by California and claimed the islands for Spain. In 1602 another Spanish explorer, Sebastián Vizcaíno, again “discovered” the islands. After that, from 1602 till 1769, there was no recorded contact between the Spanish and Native Channel Islanders. Despite their claim on them, Spanish did little to prevent other nations from exploiting the islands and in modern times Aleuts, Americans, Chinese, and Russians all freely pursued their interests on them, in the process greatly reducing the Native populations with both disease and killing. In the 19th Century, the Spanish forcibly relocate the remaining Chumash and Tongva people to the mainland Missions, which were essentially labor camps.



Though many of the captured Natives died, it would be wrong to assume that both people are extinct. Today there are several thousand people who identify as Chumash . The Santa Ynez Band is federally recognized Chumash tribe. There are other bands who have yet to gain federal recognition but who, in several cases, are attempting to. The first Chumash dictionary was published in 2008 and there is a documentary available titled 6 Generations: A Chumash Family History




There are also somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,700 Tongva alive today but no Tongva band has thus far been granted federal recognition. There is a subsection of Amoeba's Documentary section called Native America which is where one can find documentaries about indigenous people of the Americas from Chile's Diego Ramírez Islands in the south to Kaffeklubben Island, Greenland in the north.


EARLY AMERICAN ERA

Catalina Civil War Barracks (Image: White, William Sanford &Steven Kern Tice's Santa Catalina Island)

In 1848, the US defeated Mexico (who'd gained independence from Spain in 1821) and conquered all of California, including of course the Channel Islands. For a century, the islands were used primarily for ranching and hunting, resulting in the extinction of some species and widespread environmental devastation. Santa Catalina began to be developed as a tourist destination in the 1890s but during World War II, all of the Channel Islands were placed under the control of the US military. Military installations were built on several islands and San Miguel was used as a bombing range.


CHANNEL ISLANDS BECOME NATIONAL PARKS

Channel Islands National Park (Image source: QT Luong)

It was only in 1980 that Channel Islands National Park was designated in the northern islands. It wasn’t until 1986 that most came into the ownership of the National Park system and the long road to recovery of the islands began.


BIODIVERSITY

 
Channel Islands Slender Salamander and Island Fox (images: Alice Abela and Callie Bowdish)

Despite years of devastation, the Channel Islands remain one of the richest marine biospheres in the world and through conservation efforts, there is considerable environmental recovery underway. DDT use in the 1950s resulted in the local extinction of Bald Eagles by the 1960s but they’ve since been reintroduced. Still extant unique species include the shy Storm-petrel, Channel Islands Slender Salamander, Channel Islands Spotted Skunk, Island fence lizard, Island Fox, Island Night Lizard, Island Scrub Jay, San Clemente loggerhead shrike, San Clemente sage sparrow, and Santa Cruz sheep. Unquire flora include a subspecies of Torrey Pine, the Channel Island Oak, and the Island Tree mallow.

In popular culture, the Channel Islands as a group have surprisingly little presence (considering what a treasure they are). A band from Chico, The Mother Hips, have a song called "Channel Island Girl" which may or may not refer to the California Channel Islands. If there are other books, movies, games or songs about the islands, let me know. Works about or relevant to specific islands are mentioned below in the corresponding sections about the islands.

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SANTA CRUZ ISLAND

Potato Harbor at Santa Cruz Island

At 250 square kilometers, Santa Cruz Island is not only the largest of the islands in the chain but the largest island in all of California. It was formerly the largest privately owned island off the continental US. It contains two mountain ranges in which the highest peak is the 740 meter tall Devils Peak. There are permanently flowing springs and streams.

Map of Santa Cruz Island

Remains of ten Chumash villages have been located on the island, which is believed to have at one time supported a population of roughly 1,200. The largest known village, Swaxil, was located near the site of Scorpion Ranch. Cabrillo observed six villages and named the island San Lucas. The Chumash already had a name for the island, Limuw, which means something like “place in the sea.” Like Cabrillo, Vizcaíno apparently didn't ask the indigenous inhabitants and labeled it on his map the Isla de Gente Barbuda or, the Island of Bearded People. Legend tells of a Spanish priest's long lost staff that was presented to Gaspar de Portolà de Rovira during his 1769 expedition. It was supposedly that event which led to the island once again being renamed, this time Santa Cruz. The last of the Chumash were removed in 1822 by Mexico, the year after achieving independence. Mexico then turned it into a small penal colony for a short time. In 1839 it was granted to Captain Andrés Castillero.

Scorpion Ranch (Image source: Shannon Technologies)

In 1855, during Castillero’s stewardship, an English physician named James B. Shaw was allowed to build a ranch home and start a Merino sheep operation. In 1857 the island was sold to William Barron and by 1864, some 24,000 sheep grazed the island. By the 1880s, a Frenchman named Justinian Claire acquired the island. In 1937 his family sold most of the island to oilman Edwin Stanton but continued to maintain a sheep ranch on the island's east end. Stanton, for his part, shifted the old ranch’s focus to beef production.

Painted Cave (Image source: Santa Barbara Independent)

In 1980 the US Government designated all four northern islands a National Park. Nonetheless, descendants of Claire were allowed to continue ranching until 1984, at which time the ranch was leased to a hunting organization who hunted feral pigs and the remaining sheep. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the remaining privately-owned land was finally purchased from Claire’s descendants and the process of rehabilitation could begin.Today the responsibility of protecting and preserving of Santa Cruz Island is divided between The Nature Conservancy and the National Park Service.

(Image source: Wander Melon)

There are archaeological sites from several periods of the island's history including Chumash shell middens and barns, blacksmiths, a chapel, homes and saddle shops from the ranch era. The island also has three airstrips: Unknown Airstrip, Christy Airstrip, and Santa Cruz Island Airport.


SANTA ROSA ISLAND 


Santa Rosa Island (Image credit: Callie Bowdish)

Santa Rosa Island is, at 215 square kilometers, the second largest of the Channel Islands although it's home to just two residents. The highest point is the 484 meter tall Vail Peak on Soledad Mountain. The Chumash called it Wimat, which refers to the redwood logs that floated ashore from coastal forests to the north and which were used to construct the tomol. So far the remains of eight villages have been discovered. 



In 1843, during the Mexican period, ownership of the island was granted to brothers José Antonio and Carlos Antonio Carrillo. It remained in their family until 1862, when the island was purchased by T. Wallace More and who established a ranch. The More family sold the island to Walter L. Vail and J.W. Vickers in 1902, who continued ranching and operated a private hunting reserve. It was purchased in 1986 to be included within the Channel Islands National Park.

Water Canyon Beach (Image credit: National Park Service)

Santa Rosa's landscape is characterized by rolling hills, canyons, beaches and a coastal lagoon. It’s home to at least six plant varieties found nowhere else, including a subspecies of Torrey Pine, a remnant of a once large Pleistocene forest.

Image credit: Colleen at Dave's Travel Corner

As with Santa Cruz Island there remain relics of the previous inhabitants from different periods in the form of ruins of fishing camps, ranch buildings, and military installations. A year round charter flight service is available from Camarillo Airport for visitors to Santa Rosa Island. 


SANTA CATALINA ISLAND

Catalina Island sunset

Santa Catalina Island, usually simply referred to as Catalina, is 194 square kilometers in area. Its tallest point is 648 meter high Mount Orizaba. Its population comprises 99.8% that of the combined islands. Unlike the other four southern islands, no signs of pre-Tongva use have thus far been discovered. The band of Tongva who formerly made it home called the island Pimu'gna (“place of the Pimu”) and themselves Pimugnans or Pimuvit. Their largest villages were located near the present day sites of Avalon, Emerald Bay, and Shark Harbor.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Santa Catalina Island 

Upon visiting in 1542, Cabrillo, named the island San Salvador. In 1602, Vizcaíno "discovered" it on the Eve of Saint Catherine’s Day and thus renamed it Santa Catalina Island. Mexico granted the island to Thomas M. Robbins in 1846. In 1850 Robbins sold the island to José María Covarrubias who in 1853 sold it to Albert Packard who in turn sold it to James Lick.



After the end of the Civil War, real estate developer George Shatto was the first to capitalize on the island’s potential as a tourist destination and built the island’s first hotel, Hotel Metropole, as well as a pier. His sister-in-law, Etta Whitney, came up with the name Avalon for the resort, inspired by Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem “Idylls of the King.” Shatto soon defaulted on his loan and ownership returned to the Lick estate.

Catalina Island Airport in the Sky

The Santa Catalina Island Company was established by the sons of Phineas Banning in 1891 with the intention of further developing the island as a resort. In addition to promoting Avalon, the Banning brothers developed inland roads for stagecoach tours and to access hunting lodges. They also built homes for themselves at Descanso Canyon and in what’s now Two Harbors. Their efforts were majorly set back when a fire destroyed most of Avalon on 29 November, 1915. In 1919 the brothers were forced to sell shares of their company.


After visiting the island with his family, William Wrigley, Jr. purchased most of the island’s shares and thus gained controlling interest in the Santa Catalina Island Company. To drum up publicity, Wrigley’s Chicago Cubs began using the island for spring training in 1921 and stayed at the Hotel St. Catherine in Descanso Bay. Wrigley built the iconic Catalina Casino in 1929. In the 1920s and ‘30s it was a popular getaway for movie stars and other celebrities. Today, 90% of Catalina's residents live in Avalon. There are five native land mammals on the island -- a subspecies of California Ground Squirrel, the Santa Catalina Island Harvest Mouse, the Santa Catalina Island Deer Mouse, the Ornate Shrew, and the Island Fox. In addition to the fox, the most recognizable fauna icon of the island is the American Bison, introduced in 1924 for a film, The Vanishing American.

Interior of Catalina Jet (boat)

Santa Catalina is easily accessed by use of the Catalina Express. Passenger ferries depart from Dana Point, Long Beach, Marina del Rey, Newport Beach, and San Pedro. Tickets for the boat aren't cheap... except on your birthday, when they're free! Helicopters also connect Long Beach and San Pedro to the island.

Claressa Avenue in Avalon
Santa Catalina was sung about in the song "26 Miles," by The Four Preps -- which is referenced in the title of this piece. Additionally, it’s been mentioned or referenced in songs including Harry Carroll and Harold Atteridge's "By the Beautiful Sea" (1914), Al Jolson and Vincent Rose's "Avalon" (1920), Nacio Herb Brown and Grant Clarke's "Avalon Town" (1928), Carrie Jacobs-Bond's "California" (1929), Cliff Friend and Con Conrad's "California" (1930), Harold Spina's "Santa Catalina" (1946), Gorden Vanderburg's "Catalina Honeymoon" (1953), The Descendents’ “Catalina" (1982), and Modern Skirts’ “Pasadena” (2005). Every year the island hosts the Catalina Island Jazztrax Festival. It was also the recording site of John Tesh: The Avalon Concert (1997). 

To read my account of visiting Santa Catalina, click here.


SAN CLEMENTE ISLAND 


San Clemente (Image source: The Wanderling)

San Clemente Island is 147 square kilometers in area. Its highest peak is the 599 meter high Vista Point. Though officially uninhabited, at any point there are about 300 Navy personnel stationed at the island's military base.

Image source: Neil Kramer

The Island was likely first inhabited by the Chumash, whose skeletons might be among those discovered at the ancient battle sites. The island was known as Kiingkenga by the Tonva and included several villages including Guinguina and Kinkipar.



In 1542 Cabrillo renamed it Victoria. Since Vizcaíno spotted it on the Eve of Saint Clement’s Day in 1602, he re-named it San Clemente Island. The city of San Clemente in South Orange County is named after the island. Salvador Ramirez likely introduced goats to the island from Catalina in 1875. The navy acquired the island in 1934. By 1972 there were about 11,000 feral goats wreaking devastation on the island's ecosystem and in 1980 the Navy announced their intention of terminating the remaining 4,000 or so with extreme prejudice. Horrified, the Fund for Animals intervened and captured and relocated them to the mainland and the San Clemente Goat is now recognized as a distinct breed. There’s even a San Clemente Island Goat Association.

San Clemente Goats (Image source: SVF Foundation)

The island remains home to the endangered the San Clemente Island Loggerhead Shrike and the San Clemente Island Fox.


SAN NICOLAS ISLAND 


San Nicolas Island (Image credit: NOAA
 Habitat Conservation)

San Nicolas Island is 59 square kilometers. The Chumash called the inhabitants of the island Niminocotch. It was also the apparent site of deadly battles. Its highest point is an unnamed, 276 meter peak. As with San Clemente, it’s currently under the control of the US Navy who maintain a permanent presence of about 200 military and civilian personnel on the base. It’s the most remote of the islands, located about 119 kilometers from the mainland.




The island was renamed for Saint Nicholas after Vizcaíno sited it on Saint Nicholas Day in 1602. The Native population were re-named the Nicoleños by the Spanish. After a series of deadly conflicts with Aleut hunters, the padres of the nearby missions relocated them in 1835 to the mainland, where they all quickly died from diseases to which they had no immunity. One from the inhabitants of the village Ghalas-at was left behind and lived alone for eighteen years after the evacuation until she was discovered by Captain George Nidever and his crew in 1853 and taken to Santa Barbara. There she died seven weeks later and her story was the basis for O’Dell’s 1960 book Island of the Blue Dolphins. The book was the basis for the 1964 live action film of the same name directed by James P. Clark (The Sad Horse, A Dog of Flanders, Misty, Flipper, and My Side of the Mountain) which, of course, stars a white in Redface doing a weird sort of English. San Nicolas Island was also the setting of its less-known sequel, Zia. More obscurely, it was the setting for the 1994 computer game, Rise of the Triad: Dark War and was Arius’s Island in the film, Commando (1985). 



The island was grazed by sheep until their removal in 1943. Another threat to the ecosystem came when Navy officers brought cats that quickly established a feral population. Beginning in 2009 a group of organizations began relocating the cats to a sanctuary in Ramona, California. They were believed to be eradicated by 2010 and were officially declared so in 2012.

Image source: Chuck Graham for Noowshawk

Despite the degradation, three endemic plants remain on the island: Trask's milkvetch, Red buckwheat, and San Nicholas biscuitroot. There are only three species of endemic land vertebrates on the island; the island night lizard, a type of deer mouse, and the island fox.


SAN MIGUEL ISLAND



San Miguel Island is the westernmost of the Channel Islands. Its area is 38 square kilometers and it includes offshore islands and rocks, most notably Prince Island. The highest point is the 253 meter high San Miguel Hill.



The Chumash called the island Tuqan and it supported at least two villages. Nowadays it supports no permanent human population. There are natural oil seepages which the Chumash utilized for a variety of purposes including waterproofing and paving.


ANACAPA

Anacapa Island (Image credit: Callie Bowdish)

Anacapa is the only one of the Channel Islands not to have a Spanish-derived name. Perhaps it was too small – or maybe it wasn’t there when the Spanish passed through. After all, the name comes from the Chumash 'Anyapakh meaning “mirage island.” The Chumash established no permanent villages due to a lack of consistent fresh water sources but did camp there seasonally as evinced by the remaining shell middens.



Anacapa is actually composed of three volcanic islets: East, Middle and West Anacapa, sometimes referred to collectively as the Anacapas. Their collective area is less than 3 square kilometers and it’s the smallest of the northern islands. At eighteen kilometers from the mainland coast, it’s also the nearest of the islands to shore. The ranger station there is home to three permanent residents.

Anacapa Lighthouse (image source: Shannon Technologies)

In 1853 the steamer, the SS Winfield Scott, ran aground off its coast and sank, stranding a group of passengers. Although they were rescued a week later, they left behind the ship's rats,which contributed to the destruction of the ecosystem. The US Coast Guard built a light beacon in 1912 and a Mission Revival-style light station built in 1932, which still stands and includes a lighthouse, fog signal, keeper’s quarters and other structures. It was the last lighthouse built by the United States Lighthouse Service. The island's most iconic feature is a twelve meter high natural bridge known as Arch Rock.

Arch Rock on Anacapa Island (Image source: Digital Apoptosis)

Sheep were introduced in the late 1890s and rabbits in the 1910s which decimated the landscape that was previously dominated by Giant Coreopsis (a large succulent that reaches heights of two meters) and Anacapa Island desert-dandelions. The last sheep were finally removed in 1938 and the rabbits were vanquished in the 1950s. The last of the rats were eradicated by 2002. It’s still home to sixteen endemic plant species which also survived the introduction of highly invasive iceplants by the Coast Guard. The current plan is to eradicate the last of that introduced species by 2016.

Pelican nesting spot on Anacapa (Image source: Callie Bowdish)

Anacapa is home to the largest breeding colony of the California Brown Pelican in the US and another unique subspecies of deer mouse. There are two native reptiles including the endemic Side-Blotched Lizard.


SANTA BARBARA ISLAND

Santa Barbara Island sea lion rookery

With an area of just 2.63 square kilometers, Santa Barbara Island is the smallest of the Channel Islands. Its highest peak is the 193 meter high Signal Hill. The island is located nearest to the center of the archipelago and is both lumped in with the southern islands and part of the Channel Islands National Park. It includes two named, offshore rocks: Shag Rock and Sutil Island which, like it, were formed by volcanic activity. 




Lacking a consistent source of fresh water or firewood, the island (which the Tongva called Tchunashngna) likely supported no permanent Tongva settlements. It was re-named by Vizcaíno who visited the island on December 4, 1602, Saint Barbara’s Day. The island is home to the largest breeding colony for Scripps's Murrelet , a threatened species of seabird. It’s also home to a large populations of California sea lions, harbor seals, and northern elephant seals. The Santa Barbara Island live-forever is a succulent species endemic to the island. A subspecies of horned lark, orange-crowned warbler, and house finches are also endemic. The only reptile on the island is the endemic (and threatened) night lizard.

(Image source: T.C. Boyle for Smithsonian Magazine)

Feral cats led to the extinction of the endemic Santa Barbara Island song sparrow in the 1960s. After years of ranching and the introduction of nonnative plants, rabbits, and cats, the native landscape is recovering under the guidance of the National Park Service.


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So there you have it, eight more reasons that Southern California is so special. Although I haven't opened up my community explorations to Santa Barbara or Ventura Counties, that's no reason to not visit the islands that are part of them. Of course you can always vote for Two Harbors or any other Los Angeles County communities to be the subject of future entries by clicking here. To vote for Orange County communities, click here. Finally, to vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, click here.


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In praise of the papoose - Happy Native American Heritage Month!

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 6, 2013 11:58pm | Post a Comment
The term "papoose" in English refers to both young Native American children and their cradle board carriers. The word come to English from the Narragansett term papoòs. As evinced by the following historical photographs, cradle board carriers were once popular not just within the Alqonquin nation but throughout much of indigenous North America and maybe beyond. I don't recall ever seeing one in use in modern times except for in instances where Native Women wear traditional clothing such as special observances, historical reenactments (e.g. documentaries), and in Westerns. I think that they're cute.

   
  
  
  
  
  
  



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Jay Silverheels - Happy American Indian Heritage Month

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 24, 2010 02:00pm | Post a Comment

Jay Silverheels was a Kanien'kehá:ka actor born Harold J. Smith on May 26th, 1912. He was born on the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation reservation, the most populous First Nation in Canada, and the only nation in which all six Iroquois nations live together. He was the third of eleven children born to Major George Smith, the most decorated Native American soldier in the Canadian Army, who served in World War I.




Harold began going by the name Jay and was given the nickname Silverheels when he played on the lacrosse team, the Mohawk Stars, at sixteen. He later moved across the Niagara River to play lacrosse on the North American Amateur Lacrosse Association team, the Rochester Iroquois. He also boxed and in 1938 placed second in the middleweight section of the Golden Gloves tournament. He lived for a time in Buffalo, where he had his first son, Ron, with Edna Lickers.

The previous year he'd begun working in film, as an extra in the musical comedy, Make a Wish. He married his first wife, Bobbi, and they had a daughter named Sharon. They divorced in 1943. Over the next few years he appeared, usually uncredited, as a stuntman or extra in The Sea Hawk, Too Many Girls, Hudson's Bay, Wester Union, Jungle Girl, This Woman is Mine, Valley of the Sun, Perils of Nyoka, Good Morning, Judge, Daredevils of the West, The Girl from Monterrey, Northern Pursuit, The Phantom, I Am an American, Raiders at the Border, Passage to Marseille, The Tiger Woman, Haunted Harbor, Lost in a Harem and Song of the Sarong.

Continue reading...

Ray Mala - Hollywood's First Native American Star

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 20, 2010 06:30pm | Post a Comment

   

Ray Mala was an Inupiat actor born in Candle, Alaska on December 27th, 1906. In 1925 Mala made his way to Edendale and got a job as a cameraman with Fox Film Corporation, which relocated the following year to Movietone City, in modern Century City.

    

In 1932, Mala was featured as an actor in Edwin Wing's "documentary," Igloo, which was distributed byUniversal and became a hit. The following year, he appeared as "Mala the Magnificent" in the big budget MGM film, Eskimo. The pre-code film titillated audiences with displays of wife-sharing and co-stared, as Mala's second wife, Japanese-Hawaiian actress, Lotus Long. An enormous success, it led to his becoming the first Native star of the Hollywood Studio Era

In 1935, he rejoined Lotus Long, returning the cultural casting favor playing a Pacific Islander with her in Last of the Pagans (1935). He went on to play mostly Pacific Islanders and Native Americans in Northerns like Robinson Crusoe of Clipper Island and The Jungle Princess (both 1936). June 2, 1937 he took as his bride Galina Kropotkin, a Russian Princess sometimes known as Galina Liss. He then took the year off from acting. 



He returned the following year with Call of the Yukon, The Great Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok and Hawk of the Wilderness (all 1938); Union Pacific, Mutiny on the Blackhawk and Coast Guard (all 1939); Green Hell, Zanzibar, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, Pago Pago, Girl from God's Country and The Devil's Pipeline (all 1940); Hold Back the Dawn and Honolulu Lu (both 1941); Son of Fury -The Story of Benjamin Blake, The Mad Doctor of Market Street, The Girl from Alaska, The Tuttles of Tahiti and Sgt. Koovuk (all 1942).


At that point, Mala also spent a considerable amount of time behind the camera as a cinematographer. He worked with Joseph LaShelle on many pictures including Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Laura (1944), The Fan (1949), Meet Me After the Show (1951) and Les Misérables (1952). He and his wife had one son, Ted, around 1949.


Mala appeared in front of the camera in one more film, Red Snow (1952). He died after suffering a heart attack on a Hollywood set on September 23rd, in 1952, just 45 years old. His granddaughter, Galina Mala Liss, is a model/actress who has appeared on CSI - Miami, among other titles.

Red Wing and Young Deer, the First Couple of Native American Silent Film

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 20, 2010 04:00pm | Post a Comment

Cast and Crew Members at Inceville in Santa Monica, circa 1915

Before the emergence of Hollywood and the studio system, moviemaking was something of a free-for-all, open to anyone that could afford it. In the US, that privileged group was almost exclusively white and male. Roles for minorities were usually crudely stereotypical, minor, and liable to be played by a white actor in yellowface, brownface, blackface or redface. As a result, some minority figures attempted to start their own alternatives. In 1916, Oakland resident Marion Wong made the first example of Asian-American Cinema with The Curse of Quon Gwon. A few years later, Anna Mae Wong and Sessue Hayakawa began making films. In 1918, John Noble invented Black Cinema with Birth of a Race. He was soon joined in his endeavor by Oscar Mischeaux.

In the Land of the Head Hunters movie poster 

True Native American cinema beat them both by almost a decade. The mainstream view of Natives at the time was generally less murderously hateful than those of contemporary Asians and blacks (or the Natives' ancestors). In fact, Natives were widely adored and fetishized, what Frank Chin would later term “love racism." Natives, regardless of reality, were reduced to mere metaphors and symbols… for stoicism, honor, strength, &c. Edward S. Curtis's 1914 In the Land of the Headhunters and Robert Flaherty's 1922 Nanook of the North have little to do with reality, but did reflect well-meaning white men’s attempts to portray their subjects with some respect, even if it meant they had to fictionalize and stage everything.


Red Wing, Young Deer and cast members

However, beating them to the punch was a member of the Ho-Chunk nation, James Young Deer. Red Deer was born in Dakota City, Nebraska in an unknown year. He was already a showbiz veteran by the time he got into film, having previously performed with the Barnum and Bailey circus and the Miller Brothers' 101 Ranch Wild West Show. In 1909, the New York Picture Company established their western imprint, Bison Motion Pictures, in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Edendale, then the center of west coast film production. Fred J. Balshofer was put in charge and Young Deer directed the first Native American film with 1909’s The Falling Arrow. Young Deer also co-starred in the picture, along with his wife, Red Wing.

  

Red Wing was born Lillian St. Cyr on February 13th, 1883 on Nebraska's Ho-Chunk Reservation to a white father and a Ho-Chunk mother. When Lillian was four years old, her mother died. Red Wing and two of her siblings were sent off to pro-assimilation schools. Red Wing went to Carlisle Indian Industrial School; her siblings Julia and David attended Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. On April 9th, 1906 she married James Young Deer. Working together behind and in front of the camera, the couple began working on films that addressed racism, assimilation, miscegenation and cultural clashes between whites and reds. That year, they also worked on For Her Sale; or, Two Sailors and a Girl and Red Wing's Gratitude (both 1909). 

France’s Pathé Frères, in a bid for greater authenticity, hired Red Wing and Young Deer in 1910. They worked primarily in New Jersey until Red Deer became head of Pathe's West Coast studios. In Los Angeles, they were also in demand as actors. Cecil B. DeMille chose Red Wing to star in 1914’s The Squaw Man, the first feature-length picture shot in LA. 

In the 1910s, the moviemaking landscape was changing. William Selig moved from Edendale to Lincoln Heights and opened a zoo. Nestor Studio opened in Hollywood. Over the next two years, so did more than a dozen other studios. Red Wing continued acting, appearing in over 35 films between 1909 and 1921. 

Young Deer continued to direct and act. He directed White Fawn's Devotion: A Play Acted by a Tribe of Red Indians in America Under Both Flags, The Red Girl and the Child, A Cheyenne Brave, An Indian's Gratitude, Cowboy Justice and The Yaqui Girl (all 1910); Red Deer's Devotion (1911); The Squaw Man's Sweetheart and The Unwilling Bride (both 1912); The Savage (1913); Who Laughs Last and The Stranger (both 1920); and Lieutenant Daring RN and the Water Rats (1924).


He acted (often for Balshofer) in The True Heart of an Indian, The Mended Lute, Red Wing's Gratitude and Young Deer's Bravery (all 1909); The Ten of Spades; or, A Western Raffle, Young Deer's Gratitude, The Cowboy and the Schoolmarm, The Indian and the Cowgirl, The Red Girl and the Child and Young Deer's Return (all 1910); Red Deer's Devotion and Little Dove's Romance (both 1911); The Unwilling Bride (1912); Against Heavy Odds (1914); Under Handicap (1917); and Man of Courage (1922).

Red Wing and Young Deer's film careers were mostly over by the 1920s. Young Deer worked in France, making documentaries between 1913 and 1919. Red Wing worked as a college lecturer and civil rights activist. During the 1930s, Young Deer worked occasionally as a second-unit director on B-movies and serials. He died in New York City in April 1946. Red Wing died on March 13th, 1974.
  
Of the young, minority cinemas, only Black Cinema continued to prosper through the rise and fall of Hollywood, in part because there was a large black film-going audience who craved an alternative to Hollywood’s viciously demeaning portrayal of their people. With much smaller audiences, depictions and roles for Native Americans, like Asians, were completely co-opted by Hollywood for the next 50 or so years. For half a century, Natives in Hollywood existed almost exclusively within westerns, with rare exceptions like The Exiles (1961) and Through Navajo Eyes (1972).


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