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Reviewed by:
  • Coming to Stay: A Columbia River Journey
  • Ralph K. Allen (bio)
Coming to Stay: A Columbia River Journey Mary Dodds Schlick University of Washington Press, 2006.

Storytelling is as much an art form as a way to describe, explain, and give the significance of events. When woven together with purpose and craft, the result is not only entertaining and visual but also documentary and personal. Perhaps a function of Mary Dodds Schlick's journalistic background, but more likely a result of her experience with tribal members of the Columbia Plateau with whom she has lived and associated with for over 50 years now, her book is an educational story full of hints about and techniques for learning from our native geographic predecessors in north central Oregon and eastern Washington.

A relatively short book, its nine chapters centering on lifestyle and learning from time spent on the Colville, Yakama, and Warm Springs Reservations are punctuated by two brief interludes spent in Washington, D.C. Written in a storyteller's personal perspective, the information presented is of relevance to not only those interested in the region's recent history, but also those specialist folks who teach, plan, or work with the tribal interests in this part of the arid interior of the Northwest.

The storyline of Mary Dodds Schlick's and her family's affection for the land and life on the three reservations on which she has spent her adult life introduces the reader to a large number of tribal customs, characters, and cultural revelations of significance to a wide range of planners, scholars, bureaucrats, and ordinary citizens. Like the making of baskets with which she became fascinated, Schlick's relationships with this area are more than the sum of its parts. Her story demonstrates a fundamental truth about the need for patience, curiosity, and a willingness to learn from and about others when living in another's homelands. [End Page 150]

The book is more than an intriguing personal experience. The characterization of people met along the way reveals much about the nature of the Columbian Plateau peoples. Readers will learn how the Columbian Plateau peoples have been treated by the federal government and how they have reacted to federal treaties and territorial mismanagement.

Coming to Stay is arranged chronologically, for the most part, with the stage set in Chapter 1 as a Yakama tribal leader's funeral and the recent funeral of Schlick's own son provide a way to introduce reflection upon an adult life engaged as an Iowan forest service employee's wife in a new and completely different cultural setting. Chapter 2 recounts the years 1950-56 when, while on the Colville Reservation, Schlick learns of Eey'sin, a celebration for friends that the Schlicks attended as privileged guests. This sort of description and introduction to the customs of local people gives the casual as well as technical reader insight regarding ways of behaving and etiquette for strangers. Her descriptions of clothing, colors, and material usage are instructive and reasonably well illustrated through an abundance of black-and-white photographs of people and places she discusses. Her discussion of drumming and the impact of sounds from drums, feet, and human voices in song give life to her writing.

Chapter 3, the first of two "Interlude on the Potomac" periods when Schlick's husband was transferred to Washington, D.C., provides much insight for those who feel that tribal interests are performed entirely by bureaucrats in D.C.. Here the Schlicks meet people from the tribes they had worked with, and the reader is given personal views of interactions between native representatives and federal employees dealing with native reservations.

From 1960 to 1964, the Schlick family lived on the Warm Springs Reservation. Here one learns many definitions of native terms and other verbal descriptors of foliage and foodstuffs. Schlick uses her curiosity to draw out explanations from the people she is describing and shares a number of them; for example, Indian people as travelers are at home where they live, hence asking one "Where do you stay?" is more correct than "Where do you live?"

The reader also learns about the impact of the Bureau...


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pp. 150-153
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