Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America

November 4, 2000 - Issue 22

Indian Leader Peter Campbell Dies
by Torsten Kjellstrand-The Spokesman-Review

Spokane _ There are dozens of Native Americans throughout the Northwest who credit their college degrees to Peter Campbell.

There are thousands of music and literature lovers who discovered contemporary Native American artists thanks to Campbell.

And he was about to have a similar impact on the art world.

Campbell died just after midnight Friday of a heart attack. He was 60.

He had just been named head of the newly created Center for Plateau Cultural Studies at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (formerly Cheney Cowles Museum). His goal was to elevate local Native American heritage to national recognition.

And no one doubts he would have done it. Now, dozens of his students and colleagues are dedicated to carrying on his legacy.

"Peter's efforts have already set the roots for the center," said Jane A. Johnson, chief executive officer of the museum. "We are committed to ensuring that his vision continues."

Campbell, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes, was raised on his mother's farm on the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation.

Like many of his generation, he was educated at boarding schools, including DeSmet during his younger years and Gonzaga Prep for high school.

"They were painful times, and yes, it was traumatic," he told a reporter in 1997.

Although he carried a great sorrow over the injustice Native Americans have suffered, he refused to be overwhelmed by bitterness, his friends and relatives said.

Campbell often told this story of the single formative moment during his childhood:

He was 5 years old when his uncle returned to the reservation after having served in the Army during World War II. He still was wearing his uniform when he accompanied several of his nieces and nephews to a movie theater in Tekoa, Wash.

Although the Indians were supposed to sit in the back, the uncle escorted his family to the front of the theater and sat down. He refused to move when the manager asked. From then on, the family sat where it wanted to in the theater.

"It just wasn't right," said Charlene Abrahamson, Campbell's niece. "It wasn't a matter of yelling. It wasn't a matter of fighting. It was just a matter of doing what was right."

Campbell graduated from Gonzaga Prep in 1958.

He studied architecture at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., for three years. He worked on his mother's farm for several years on the Coeur d'Alene reservation.

Campbell moved to Spokane in 1970 and worked for the state Employment Security Department.

He returned to school in the mid-1980s and graduated from Eastern Washington University in 1987 with a degree in social work.

Two years later, Campbell joined the staff of EWU. He was a counselor, instructor and mentor.

"If it wasn't for Peter, I would have dropped out of school," said Jody Beemer, now a multicultural specialist for the university.

She started her studies in 1992, a new widow, far from home.

"There's a lot of people who come from the reservation who have a hard time adapting to college life," she said. "They have extended families who support them on the reservation. They get to college and they are on their own."

Campbell became the extended family for dozens of students. He organized dinners and social gatherings. He taught them the ins and outs of university life. And he encouraged them whenever they felt defeated.

"I know of at least 10 people who wouldn't have gotten their degrees if Peter wasn't here," Beemer said.

Campbell was perhaps best-known in the community as host of "Coyote & Friends," a free annual concert at The Met featuring author and humorist Sherman Alexie and musician Jim Boyd.

"Peter Campbell was a gentleman, kind and funny, thoughtful and crazy," Alexie said Monday. "Indian people often speak of respecting elders, though most elders of whatever color are not necessarily worthy of respect. But Peter Campbell was one elder who certainly deserved respect."

Campbell recently left EWU for the job at the museum. It was his lifelong dream to take the extensive collection of Native American artifacts owned by the museum and display them in a dignified manner that pleased the tribes.

He also was hoping to negotiate with the city of Spokane to turn the former Salty's restaurant, which overlooks the Spokane River falls, into an interpretive center.

And he was hoping to educate the rest of the nation about the distinctive culture of the Plateau tribes, which often has been ignored.

"He was such a warrior," Abrahamson said. "In Indian culture, a warrior is a peacekeeper. It involves strategy, strength, intelligence, teaching.

"He was the ultimate warrior that way," she said. "In knowing what battles to fight and which to leave for another day."

Campbell is survived by two sisters, Joan Campbell Abrahamson of Plummer, Idaho, and Rose Paddock of Olympia; a brother, Noel Campbell of Inchelium, Wash.; and several nieces and nephews.

Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture



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