A SPECIAL BOND
By Bill Rautenstrauch
Observer Staff Writer
A miserable and homesick teenaged girl stood in the corner of a classroom and stared at nothing.
The professor who had ordered her to do so wanted to know what the angels were saying to her.
"What are you talking about?" asked the girl, who with the rest of her class had been assigned to write a paper about spirituality and the Bible. "Of course there are no angels here."
"No, there are not," the professor thundered. "But there is an angle, which you spelled as angel throughout your paper!"
Behind her, the class tittered. The girl felt her face burning. She stood there a full three minutes, staring at the angle, contemplating her transgression, feeling like a fool, and most of all wishing she was back home in the wide open spaces around Joseph, Oregon.
But she couldn't get away. She was stuck in this exclusive and very stuffy school for girls in Philadelphia.
All she could do was get mad.
"I thought, Â‘Well, who are you to treat me that way?' I decided to work and study. And I never misspelled another word again," said Milley Zollman Fraser, today a leading advocate for Native American causes and for preservation of cultural resources in Wallowa County.
The classroom incident happened more than 30 years ago, but it stands out in Fraser's memory as a defining experience, one that taught her about fighting back.
Fraser, 51, was born in Wallowa County and raised in Joseph, the daughter of bowling-alley proprietor, Alfred Zollman, and registered nurse, Olena Zollman. She traces her Wallowa County ancestry back to its earliest settlement days.
She went to Joseph High School through her freshman and sophomore years. Then she was sent to Philadelphia to an academy founded by the famous religious theologian, Emanuel Swedenborg.
Both her mother and grandmother had attended the school, and later Bryn Athyn college, also a Swedenborgian institution.
Fraser's Philadelphia classmates came from wealthy, cultured families, and had been well-prepared for the rigors of study at the school. From the beginning, Fraser felt like an outsider.
Nothing she had done at Joseph High School had prepared her for life at the academy. Unlike her classmates, she knew nothing about classical literature or foreign languages. She was the subject of much ridicule.
"I was a hick. I talked about cowboys and Indians as if I had lived it Â— which I had Â— and it amused them," she recalled.
Eventually she adjusted, and with extra effort she excelled. She emerged as valedictorian of her graduating class, and in her senior year in high school she was taken under the wing of Mildred Pitcairn, matriarch of one of the wealthiest families on the east coast.
Pitcairn, the wife of an attorney and businessman, Raymond Pitcairn, was a close friend of Fraser's grandmother; she was in fact, her namesake.
While attending Bryn Athyn, Fraser lived and worked as a receptionist at Glencairn, the Pitcairns' medieval-style estate near Philadelphia. She helped arrange social functions attended by rich and powerful Americans.
"I got to listen to a lot of high-classed political discussions. The people were very Republican and they supported the Republican Party in a major way," she said. "All of a sudden, I was enmeshed in a huge Republican attitude."
But there was a very different side to life in the Pitcairn family's palatial home. The household staff consisted of people with far less influence and money, and some represented minorities. Their social gatherings were held in the basement, and political discussions were quite different from the ones upstairs.
Fraser felt quite comfortable in the basement.
In particular, she befriended a young Palestinian woman and a young South African man. She spent a lot of her time with them, listening to their views.
"I learned a lot from them about Zionism in the Mideast and apartheid in South Africa," she said.
Fraser returned to Northeast Oregon for a time, studying anthropology and archaeology at Eastern Oregon State College.
But later she decided to finish her education at the Swedenborgian school. Eventually, she earned a degree in religion and philosophy.
In 1974, she married Malcolm Fraser, a Scotsman she met at college, and moved with him to Scotland. They lived there for 10 years before the marriage ended. When it did, she returned to Joseph with her three children.
Her first summer back, she noticed a reduced presence of Indians at the traditional encampment near the Chief Joseph Days rodeo grounds.
"There were only three tepees there," she said. "I went and talked with an old woman who said there were some problems, that the Chamber of Commerce wanted to turn the encampment into a parking lot, and that nobody had cut poles for tepees."
She contacted Don Green, a Joseph man who was head of the rodeo's Indian Committee. Green said he was trying to improve the situation for visiting Indians, and could use help.
Fraser and Green formed alliances with other community members who wanted to see an improvement in relations between Indians and whites.
A committee was formed. Fraser, Green, Ralph Swinehart and others visited the Umatilla, Lapwai and Colville Indian reservations, urging tribal members to take part once again in Chief Joseph Days festivities.
Many have, and Indians are once again an integral part of the Chief Joseph Days festivities. The encampment is full each year, and a friendship feast, hosted by the Indians, is a regular part of the program.
Through the work of many people on both sides, the Indian presence and influence in Wallowa County has grown in other ways in the past 15 years.
Nez Perce homelands in northern Wallowa County have reverted to tribal ownership, and an interpretive center has been built in Wallowa. Fraser thinks that's as it should be.
"When I was young, I think I romanticized a lot. I wandered the lake and the moraine, and I wondered about the Indians," she said.
"Later I made friends with many of them. I was touched by them. They have a peacefulness, and a certain respect for life, nature, animals.
"They seem to have internalized the beauty of this place."
That beauty remains important to Fraser as well. Over the years, she has stood in opposition to many development proposals for Wallowa Lake's east and terminal moraines.
She is a familiar figure at local city council, county commission and planning commission meetings. She has spoken in opposition to various proposals for subdivisions, and has appealed some local decisions to the Land Use Board of Appeals.
Many of her efforts are focused on the Marr Ranch Property, situated next to the Old Chief Joseph burial site and Indian Cemetery at the north end of Wallowa Lake.
She objects to development in that area on the grounds it contains irreplaceable cultural and historical resources.
Growing up around Joseph, she felt as if the lake and the moraines were a special kind of playground. She said she has an even deeper affection for them now that she's older.
"Those hills give me a sense of warmth and protection. I always felt safe there when I was young, and that feeling is with me today," she said.