They say history is only one side of the story; this couldn’t be truer for the history of the Americas. Often presented as a straightforward story of European conquest of indigenous cultures, the settlement and expansion by the Spanish, Portuguese, English, Dutch and French of American territory is truly a story of colonization of lands and people that had already occupied these areas for generations. The Sun Valley Center for the Arts’ BIG IDEA project, Unraveling: Reimagining the Colonization in the Americas explores the retelling of the colonial history of the Americas from alternative perspectives and stories based on both fact and fiction. One of these perspectives comes from Tribal Court Judge Leo Ariwite who will give a free lecture entitled “This Land is Home” at the arts center in Ketchum at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 25. Ariwite will share stories of his homeland and how its people were impacted by colonization.
“It was essential that we included a native voice in this current BIG IDEA,” said Katelyn Foley, Sun Valley Center for the Arts director of education and humanities. “Engaging someone to talk about local colonization from their perspective ultimately led me to meet with Leo Ariwite and ask him to be involved in our project. The Sun Valley Center for the Arts acknowledges the Shoshoni and Bannock people and their homelands here in the Wood River Valley and their use of these lands, past, present and future.”
A Northern Shoshoni who descended from the band of Sacajawea, Ariwite was born and raised in Salmon, Idaho. His forebears were forced to leave Salmon in 1907 and relocate to the Fort Hall Reservation located in southeastern Idaho on the Snake River Plain about 20 miles north and west of Pocatello. Ariwite himself didn’t move onto the reservation until 1971 after his grandmother had passed away.
“She wanted me to get to know my relatives on the reservation,” said Ariwite. “Until then, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a reservation.”
Ariwite dislikes the term “colonization” and instead uses “forced removal” to describe the migration of Native Americans in the 19th century from native lands to Indian reservations. Ariwite is lucky to have experienced in his own life a time before the reservation.
“I traveled a lot with my grandmother on her subsistence annual route,” said Ariwite. “Our routes went through southwestern Montana into northwestern Wyoming, basically making the loop through Montana, Wyoming and back through the Tetons and up towards Salmon and sometimes down to the Camas Prairie in Fairfield.
“We’re hunter-gatherers so I still do that. I still carry on all of my cultural traditions,” he said.
Ariwite became a tribal court judge much for the same reason he began speaking publicly about forced removal — to help his people. He has spoken on the topic of colonization, forced removal, and the history of his people across various states and at schools and for governments.
“A lot of people didn’t really know that Indians lived in those areas, especially my people,” Ariwite said. “People don’t know where my homeland is, where my people came from, or how I ended up here.”
The people of Ketchum, who are hosting Ariwite’s lecture, were also among those surprised to learn the extensive history of Ariwite’s people.
“When I started working with the people in Ketchum and Sun Valley, they knew that Indians came through the area but they didn’t exactly know who, when, why, where and how,” Ariwite said.
A few years ago, Ariwite and a group of his Shoshoni people were invited to do a dancing demonstration as part of the annual Wagon Days Parade in Ketchum. They’ve been such a crowd favorite that they’ve again been invited to this year’s Wagon Days Parade.
Ariwite said he has one goal for the audience at his lecture. “I want to let them know what happened to my people. Hopefully, it’s a learning event, like a cultural exchange.”