Nez Perce of the Northwest Basin

Originally, the Nimiipuu people, now known as Nez Perce, occupied a vast area (which included parts of present-day Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming and Washington) of the north west to fish, hunt, and trade. The Nez Perce territory at the time of Lewis and Clark (1804–1806) was approximately 17,000,000 acres. When Sacajawea, the Shoshoni indian, was asked “What Indians are these?” she answered, “They are ‘Chupnit-pa-lu'” which means people of the pierced noses. It was recorded thus in the explorers’ journal.  In 1800, the Nez Perce had more than 100 permanent villages, ranging from 50 to 600 individuals per villiage, depending on the season and social grouping. Archeologists have identified a total of about 300 related sites including camps and villages, mostly in the Salmon River Canyon that was from the Nez Perce indian. During this time in history the largest tribe was 6,000 on the Columbia River Plateau. By the beginning of next century, the Nez Perce had declined to about 1,800 people.

The Nez Perce of the 1800s…

During the 1855 treaty negotiations at Walla Walla, the Tribe insisted on retaining these inherent land rights of approximately 7.5 million acres to be protected as the Tribe’s exclusive reservation. However, once gold was discovered, mass trespass and theft took place within the Tribal land. Instead of protecting the reservation from encroachment, the federal government forced the Tribe into a second treaty in 1863 which reduced the reservation to about 750,000 acres, one tenth of the original treaty. A third treaty in 1868 primarily dealt with timber trespass issues.

In 1871, the federal government ceased the treaty-making process with the First People, but, instead, imposed the Allotment Act which surveyed the native Nations in determining and assigning land parcels to individual tribal members. This was done to further free-up the remaining reservation land so to open this freed-up land for non-Indian settlement. This new program was further developed with the 1893 Agreement. With the Allotment Acts implemented by the United States governing body, First Nations became a “checkerboard” of tribal lands where Indian allotments are intermingled with non-Indian parcels to create a complex jurisdictional landscape.

Nez Perce Indians of Today…

Today’s Reservation land is located in north-central Idaho. The Tribe now called Nez Perce is a federally recognized tribal nation with more than 3,500 citizens. Their central government headquartered in Lapwai, Idaho known as the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee (NPTEC).

You must stop your ears whenever you are asked to sign a treaty selling your home. A few years more, and white men will be all around you. They have their eyes on this land. My son, never forget my dying words. This country holds your father’s body. Never sell the bones of your father and your mother. 

-Nez Perce Chief Old Joseph, to his son Chief Joseph

                The Nimipuutimt language, a Sahaptin language group, , is still spoken today and used in the Reservation school system. Niimíipuu, meaning “the walking people” or “we, the people”.  After acquiring the horses from other nations, the Nez Perce people went on in the 1700’s to come excellent horse breeders of the appaloosa horse.

The Nez Perce continue working to conserve and boost the fish populations. Today, the Nimiipuu people continue to exercise their treaty rights to hunt, fish, and gather on their historic lands. The annual salmon return and its celebration by the tribes assure the renewal and continuation of human and all other life. The songs sung and ceremonies held in the longhouses today are the same ones that have been performed in honor of the sacred First Foods for thousands of years.

My strength is from the fish; my blood is from the fish, from the roots and berries. The fish and game are the essence of my life. I was not brought from a foreign country and did not come here. I was put here by the Creator.

-Chief Weninock, Yakama Nez Perce, 1915

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