Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Indian Leader, Teacher, and Idaho Senator Joseph Garry [otd 03/08]

Joseph Garry in
traditional Indian regalia.
Beal and Wells photo.
Prominent American Indian leader Joseph Richard Garry was born March 8, 1910 near Plummer, Idaho. (Plummer is about 25 miles south of Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene.) Of largely Kalispel and Coeur d’Alene Indian blood, Garry traced Flathead Indian heritage through his mother. For a variety of reasons, he was generally identified with the Coeur d'Alene Tribe.

He was also a great-grandson of Chief Spokane, for whom that city was named, and sometimes appeared there in interpretative demonstrations of Indian ways and dress.

After a common school education, Joe graduated from the preparatory school at Gonzaga. Over the years, he pieced together money enough for several years of college education, but was never able to complete a degree. In the early Thirties, he apparently survived by hunting, fishing, and working at various farms and ranches. Then, for four years after 1936, he held an administrative position with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Garry enlisted in the U. S. Army in 1942 and served in Europe for three years. (Some accounts suggest he was a Marine, but enlistment and service records do not bear this out.) Recalled for the Korean War, he served there a year and emerged as a sergeant.

Before and after his stint in Korean, Garry taught school in Plummer and twice served on the School Board there. In 1957, voters in Benawah County elected Joseph to the Idaho House of Representatives, the first Native American to be elected to that body. Ten years later, he was elected to the Idaho state Senate, becoming the first Native American to join that august group.
Joseph Garry,
legislator and spokesman.
Beal & Wells photo.

However, Garry made his mark as a spokesman for his tribe and for the general Indian community. He began taking an active role in 1948, during a crucial period when the U. S. government sought, in the name of ending “paternalism,” to do away with the various tribal governments.

One of several who spoke for his people, Joe insisted that those organizations should be retained: Through those leaders, Indians controlled their own destinies, and the lands which were both their heritage and the only source of economic hope for the future.

Garry served 25 years on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Tribal Council (thirteen as its chairman), and also six years as President of the National Congress of American Indians. In 1957, while he served in the Idaho House, Garry was honored nationally as the “Outstanding Indian” for that year. The Spokeman-Review (Spokane, July 23, 1957) noted that Joseph was “the first Northwest Indian to be chosen for the honor.”

Through these avenues and an extensive speaking schedule, Garry and others successfully protected the integrity of tribal lands and helped improve economic conditions on the reservations. But times changed, and other voices arose to lead the Tribes; Garry was no longer their spokesperson when he died in late 1975.

Still, a statement from the National Congress upon his death noted that Garry "was responsible for the Indians holding on to their land base, and he invented tribal government, as we know it."
                                                                                 
References: [B&W]
John Fahey, Saving the Reservation: Joe Garry and the Battle to be Indian, University of Washington Press, Seattle (October 2001).
Frederick E. Hoxie (Ed.), Encyclopedia of North American Indians, Houghton Muffin, NY (1996).

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