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Treaties and Compositions
E. Richard Hart and Lynette Westendorf

Ask Winthrop pianist, composer and teacher Lynette Westendorf why she abandoned Seattle to settle in the Methow, and she answers: “Stars. We needed to be in a rural environment.”

And, she emphasizes, “I wanted to be where there was a music community.” She found plenty of both stars and music in the Methow.

She and her husband E. Richard Hart arrived in 2001, empty nesters whose son Reuben had moved to San Francisco. She soon became a prominent figure on the valley music scene as a teacher of piano and music theory, as well as a popular performer of jazz, modern and classical music.

The valley is unusual in having such a large number of excellent musicians in such a small place, she notes. “There’s a lot of focus on (music) education.” She counts among her own local former students Jake Shaw, “a fine musician” who plays with the popular band Luc and the Lovingtons

Local music offerings have increased and diversified markedly over the years, she points out. When she arrived, “Whatever you put on, we were the only thing on the agenda. But now you need to book six months in advance, and even then there might be several other things going on. It’s grown a lot,” in both diversity and frequency, she says approvingly of the valley’s musical offerings.

Westendorf until recently was president and treasurer of Cascadia Methow Music Association, now in its 25th year. “They were the only players on the block as nobody presented classical music in the valley,” she says.

But now, with the success of the Methow Music Festival, (where she’ll do a pre-concert lecture on July 26) there’s less need for Cascadia to be the presenter of classical music, she explains. The organization still sponsors several events each year, including Keyboard Confections and the Christmas Chorale with the Pipestone Orchestra under the direction of another multi-talented musician, composer and guitarist Terry Hunt. But Cascadia now is focusing more on its education mission with its Pipestone Music Institute, Westendorf says.

She’s an avid skier and impressive hiker – she sprinted up the dizzying spire of 8,750-foot Huayna Picchu at Machu Picchu in Peru while less hearty fellow travelers in her party (like me) lolled about at lower elevations. A Jill of many trades, Westendorf is a pen-and-pencil artist, quilter, pie-baker and seamstress. Her specialty is sewing Western shirts for Richard.

Westendorf, 60, grew up on a farm near Rupert, Idaho, without a piano. So she stayed in at recess to play the school’s piano. When she was eight, her parents decided this was serious. One day on a pretext, they sent her down to the basement, where they had hidden a piano. She turned on the light, and “Wow! There was a piano. It’s the most wonderful shock a little girl could have.”

“I’ve always taught piano,” she adds. She was teaching the neighbor kids even before she herself had begun lessons, and now teaches piano to both adults and children.

After high school, she moved to Salt Lake City and began a colorful career as a traveling musician, the details of which she laughingly confesses she has not fully divulged to her mother, Berniece, who has moved to Winthrop to be near her daughter and son-in-law.

Westendorf played the Nevada casino circuit with an all-girl band in hot pants, and once had to furnish musical accompaniment for the gyrations of a stripper. She traveled with the bands on the lonesome highways and byways of the West in a Volkswagen bus at night, in winter, without heat. “We could have easily frozen to death. What were we thinking?” she wonders now.

Westendorf went on to earn a doctorate in music composition from the University of Washington and a Northwest Emmy award for her score for the documentary “False Promises: The Lost Lands of the Wenatchi.” (Her husband, Richard, appeared in the film as an expert witness for the tribe in that legal case.) She also collaborated with Richard on a suite of “songs without words” based on a collection of his poetry titled “Twenty Moons in the Big Canyon.”

She has countless other compositions to her credit for dance and theatre, including the soundtrack for the traveling exhibit of “The River of Memory: The Everlasting Columbia.” “Tributary,” her commissioned symphony for the 50th anniversary of the Magic Valley Symphony in Idaho, was performed by that orchestra last fall. One of her recordings, “Surrounded by Green” was inspired by being caught in a torrential rainstorm in the Hoh rainforest.

Next, she says, “I’m going to do a piano jazz trio, most of them waltzes.” Meanwhile she’s collaborating with pianist Suzanne Johnson, director of the Cascadia Chorale, on another of their virtuoso Twenty Digits piano performances this fall.


    Richard Hart and Lynette Westendorf made the Methow their home in 2001.

Historian E. Richard Hart came home from work one day in the mid-1990s in Seattle and told his wife, pianist and composer Lynette Westendorf: “I’m moving to the Methow.”

“Work” at the time for this highly regarded expert on Indian treaties was with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. Hart had become acquainted with the valley thanks to his work with the Methow band from that reservation. They showed him traditional valley foraging places, and the Methows still come to gather roots at the Hart-Westendorf Wolf Creek property.

“One woman showed me where she had taken bark off a Western red cedar for baskets,” Hart recalls. “They don’t use the same tree each year because that could kill the tree. She even showed me a tree her mother had used,” he adds.

Such attention to detail is at the heart of the expert testimony Hart has been providing on Indian issues in federal and state courts for both the tribes and the U.S. Justice Department for 41 years. He has yet to be part of a losing case. “My testimony has always held up,” he says.

He got into the business of filling in the blank pages of Indian history as a college student in Salt Lake City at a time when federal funds first were being made available for tribes to research and record their histories. “It was a vacuum really and I just got sucked into it,” he says of what became his profession. He had been working at construction but came from a family that knew its way around the library research stacks; his father - (in the interest of full disclosure, my Shakespeare professor at Brigham Young University) – got his doctorate from Oxford University in England, and Hart lived there as a young child.

Hart’s first big client was the Zuni Pueblo in New Mexico. They wanted him to find out if they had a legal land claim and if so, why they hadn’t filed it. His 400-page investigation report showed they had an “excellent” claim on millions of acres of ancestral land. A local Bureau of Indian Affairs official finally confessed to Hart that the reason no claim had been filed was that he had made threats to retaliate against the tribe if they dared to claim them. It took 20 years, but the Zuni won.

When Wells Dam was built on the Columbia River by the Douglas County PUD, it was done without permission of the Colvilles, who happened to own the land halfway out into the Columbia River. Hart’s research established the legality of the Colville’s claims. The upshot was that the PUD agreed to give the Indians 5 ½ percent of the net proceeds from power sales, which Hart says amounts to about $11 million a year for the Colvilles.

The Wenatchee band of the Yakama should by legal rights be living at Leavenworth. They were promised a reservation there under terms of a treaty. But the government never surveyed the land for their promised reservation, so nothing came of it, and they subsequently were denied fishing rights. Hart’s research recently helped restore those fishing rights.

At the moment he’s working on a case involving the Sinixt, also know as the Lakes Tribes, who live on the Colville reservation but have claims in Canada. Fishing claims for the Klamath in Oregon, Colorado River water adjudication for the Hualapai in Arizona, submerged land claims for the Swinomish on Puget Sound and Coeur d’Alene in Idaho are among Hart’s other cases. The latter was a dispute over who owned Lake Coeur d’Alene.

“I testified that the tribe owned the southern one-third and the state owned the northern two-thirds, which didn’t make anybody very happy. The tribe was mad at me. The state was mad at me. But it was the truth,” says Hart. The U. S. Supreme Court agreed.

A poet, author and editor, Hart was executive director of the non-profit Institute of the North American West and of its predecessor, the Institute of the American West. He heads HWA, a private historical research company. He’s best known locally for his work as chair of the Shafer Historical Museum, and he recently joined the board of the Methow Conservancy.

“Things are just going so well right now at the museum,” says Hart. “We have 50 or 60 volunteers and we have no paid positions,” and the museum recently acquired the lot across the street for expansion of its displays of early valley life.

At 65, he’s not trying to retire, but he knows fewer cases likely will come his way. Typically Indian claims take decades to resolve, and, he jokes, “They don’t want some 80-year old appearing (to give expert testimony) in court.”