Mourning Dove—Christine Quintasket

The colonization of Turtle Island moved like a tidal wave across the continent, affecting some nations far later than others. While Toypurina and her contemporaries were planning their rebellion against the Spanish, the peoples of the Upper Columbia River Plateau region were still living in relative isolation, with little to no contact with the white world. Born a Colville Indian (Swy-ayl-puh, as she spelled it) around 1884—barely more than one decade after the establishment of the Colville reservation—Mourning Dove (her pen name) was a writer who thought of herself as a woman between two worlds. Her first language was Salish, but her Catholic mission school education and later at a business school gave her enough command of the English language to compose manuscripts that would be published into books.

Mourning Dove Christine Quintasket (1880s-1936) Washington State University Library. (Lucullus V. McWhorter Collection)

Her first book, Cogewea, The Half-Blood: A Depiction of the Great Montana Cattle Range was published in 1927 and for many years was thought to be the first novel ever published by a Native American woman (until the rediscovery of S. Alice Callahan’s 1891 Wynema: A Child of the Forest). Mourning Dove went on to record the traditional stories of the Colville people in Coyote Stories (1933), and two other books were published posthumously, Tales of the Okanogans (1976, edited by Donald M. Hines), and A Salishan Autobiography (1990, edited by Jay Miller).

Mourning Dove worked much of her life as a migrant laborer, writing late into the night in a tent or cabin after long days in the field, as well as being involved in tribal politics. Her health suffered as a result and she died before she was 50, never having had children.

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