Monday, May 5, 2014


Documentary Film:
Nez Perce- Portait of a People


Nez Perce Warriors - Photo Source:

Food and Fry Bread Recipe

Meat Being Made Into Jerky - Photo Source:

The Nez Perce fished and hunted year round for food. They often fished in the Columbia River for salmon, which was their favorite fish to eat. Along with fishing, they hunted deer, elk, birds and other small animals. In order to save their stock of meat from spoiling they usually turned their meat supply into jerky. They would cut their meat up into strips and then dry it out in the sun. The Nez Perce also picked berries and roots. Kouse, or cowish, is an edible root they harvested. It is said to taste like turnips. The white settlers referred to kouse as the “biscuit root” because they thought it tasted like stale biscuits. Another root harvested and eaten by the Nez Perce were camas bulbs. The abundance of the camas root was the origin of the name of a local prairie, Camas Prairie. They would steam the camas bulb by applying water to a fire below the bulbs. Sometimes the Nez Perce would apply roots that they harvested to water and make tea. Camas tea was a popular drink among them. Also eaten was flat bread, which is flat dough that was fried in oil.

Although there seemed to be an abundance of food, the Nez Perce faced a period of famine and starvation in the 19th century when the white man drove them from their land. Today, the Nez Perce is not as healthy as they once were. Fast and processed foods have infiltrated their naturally organic diets. The once lean and strong Nez Perce now face a high percentage of obesity. Alcoholism is also prevalent within their tribe. Today about 30% of the Nez Perce are obese while about 19% of them are dependent upon alcohol.

Fry Bread Recipe:
2 Cups of Flower
2 Teaspoons of Baking Powder
½ Teaspoon of Salt
1 Tablespoon of Sunflower Oil
¾ Cup of Water

Fry Bread - Photo Source:

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl, then add the oil and water and mix it in with a large spoon. Dust your hands with flour to keep them from getting sticky and mix the dough with your hands until it is stretchy, but not sticky. Do not use a lot of flour or the dough will get heavy. When it is smooth, pull off a clump of the dough about the size of a plum and roll it into a ball with your hands. Squeeze the dough ball gently between your hands until it is flat. Then, gently pull the dough to stretch it out until it is thin. It you cannot get it stretched thin, lay it on a surface dusted with flour and roll it flat with a rolling pin. Punch a hole through the center with your thumb. This hole will help the bread cook evenly. Drop the dough in a few inches of hot canola or peanut oil. When one side turns a light brown, turn it over with two forks or a long metal spatula and cook the other side. Put the hot bread on a plate covered with a paper towel to drain and cool. If you like, you can sprinkle the bread with powdered sugar or drizzle it with honey.

Fry Bread - Photo Source:

Ceremonies, Rituals and Music

War Dance Ceremony - Photo Source:

The Nez Perce practice many different kinds of ceremonies and rituals for many different reasons. These ceremonies have been part of their culture for many years. Generation after generation certain ceremonial traditions are passed down. Some reasons the Nez Perce have a ceremony include the changing of seasons, births, deaths, puberty, marriage, and harvests. During these ceremonies the Nez Perce sing, dance and play music.

Some traditional rituals practiced by the Nez Perce may seem odd to us now. For instance, they would avoid tying knots because whatever they are trying represents the umbilical cord and prevents it from knotting up in the womb. Also, when the baby is born they will take their umbilical cord, sew it into a pouch and attach that to the baby’s cradle. Large ceremonies of gifts, singing, dancing, music, and food are held for births and for the naming of the baby. When a baby is born they are given many gifts and the Nez Perce believe that if they name the baby after a well known member of their tribe, the baby will gain the same traits.

The most important ceremony practiced by the Nez Perce was the Winter Spirit Dance. Young boys and girls who found their weyekin in the mountain will come back to the tribe and take part in this dance. They will sing in hopes of merging with their weyekin and becoming one. These youth often sing their weyekin’s song, which is usually all improvised, in the hopes to establish good health, safety, strength and skill.

The Nez Perce also practiced death rituals. As soon as an individual passed away close female relatives would begin wailing and sobbing. This is customary. The dead individual’s face will be painted red and the body will be washed and clothed in a new outfit before being buried the following day. The deceased will most likely be buried with most of their valuables and even if the deceased had a favorite horse that horse can be killed and buried nearby. The spouse of the deceased would cut their hair very short and refuse to smile while they were mourning. This mourning process would last a rather long time. When the process ended they would be given a new outfit to wear and could eventually remarry.

Nez Perce Flute - Photo Source:

Along with gift giving, dancing and food, music was a very important part of Nez Perce ceremonies. Their music was most often improvised and impromptu. The singing was also improvised and usually consisted of sighs, moans, yelling and even animal noises. Flutes and percussion instruments are mostly used in Nez Perce music. Flutes with six finger holes were made out of elderberry stems and other whistles were made from Eagle bones. They also used a wooden rod to tap out a rhythmic beat. An instrument called a Rasp consisted of a bone scrapping against a serrated stick. Eventually, in the 19th century, hand drums replaced the Rasp. Over time, the hand drums grew in size and by 1890 the Nez Perce used a drum that was played by 8 people. Also used during ceremonies, mostly by shamans, were rattles made of deer hooves, which were eventually replaced by beers traded to them from the white man.

Nez Perce Rattle - Photo Source:

Other important ceremonies include the Prophet Dance, the Gathering Camas Root Ceremony, the Salmon Harvest Ceremony, the First Hunt Ceremony, and the First Harvest Ceremony.

Historical Preservation and Cultural Survival

Collection of Historical Photos - Photo Source:

The Nez Perce are very active today in preserving their history and culture. There are several organizations dedicated to the task of preservation. Preservation also takes place on an individual level. In 1994 some Nez Perce began breeding horses in an attempt to revive an almost dead tradition of horse breeding and horsemanship. The Nez Perce Horse and it’s breeding is now an integral part of their culture and a prime example of how their preserving their culture on a more individual level. Several organizations exist with the purpose of preserving Nez Perce culture and history. The Nez Perce County Historical Society and Museum operates to preserve their history and share it with others. The Nez Perce Community Library offers references that inform and keep their culture and history alive. The Nez Perce National Historical Park boasts the beautiful geography of their land and offers it from the viewpoint of it’s ancestral inhabitants. Also, The Nez Perce National Historic Trail preserves the route the Nez Perce took to Canada in an attempt to flee from the U.S. military in the late 19th century.

Nez Perce County Historical Society and Museum - Photo Source:

The Nez Perce County Historical Society and Museum is a perfect example of how the Nez Perce people are preserving their history and culture today. The museum houses artifacts and displays of many different events and topics including The Nez Perce War of 1877, agriculture, industry, World War I, The Great Depression and World War II. Also available are historic books and publications. The Nez Perce County Historical Society offers information on their land’s geology, interactions with Lewis and Clark, the construction and operation of the Camas Prairie Railroad and stories regarding the days of pioneers. Also, The Nez Perce Community Library is available to all who want to check out books on Nez Perce history and culture. Available through the library is the Nez Perce Reading Group and profiles on local Nez Perce authors. The library also runs a family history profile program where, for a fee, an expert will research the roots of a local Nez Perce family. These profiles are publicly displayed in the community library. Along with many books the library also holds catalogs of historical photographs.

The Nez Perce have always felt connected to the Earth and have done their best to protect it. This is commemorated at the Nez Perce National Historical Park. Here, you can inquire into the stories and history of the Nez Perce, who over thousands of years lived on this land. The park offers artifacts, tours and historical sites where one can really gain insight into the land of the Nez Perce. The Nez Perce Historical Park is enormous and offers several unique experiences. The park stretches across four states and boasts 38 sites such as Big Hole National Battlefield and Bear Paw National Battlefield. There is a visitor center that houses artifacts and displays as well as several outdoor activities. Some outdoor activities include the coyote creation story being told on a hike, canoe trips, national battlefields, and several other hiking trails. Not only does the Nez Perce National Historical Park offer interesting information and activities, but it also explains and preserves the history and culture of the Nez Perce people.

The long trek north to Canada by the Nez Perce in 1877 was a major event in Nez Perce history. More than 1,170 miles they traveled while being pursued by the United States military from June to October of 1877. This trail has been preserved for the informative opportunity to relive that northern flight. The trail offers many events such as hikes and horseback riding. There is also a learning center that gives information on nature, science, Nez Perce history and culture and outdoor safety. Thankfully, with these fantastic organizations and the efforts of the Nez Perce people, their history and culture will be preserved for another thousand years.

Bear Paw Battlefield - Photo Source:

Migration and Diaspora

Migration Path & Settlement Area of the Old Cordilleran Culture - Photo Source:

The ancestry of the Nez Perce stretch back thousands of years. Experts believe that they are the descendants of the Old Cordilleran Culture, also known as the Cascade Phase, which dates back to 6,000 – 4,000 B.C.

Humans have lived in the Columbia Plateau region dating back to 30,000 B.C. The first documented group of humans living there is called the Clovis Culture. They lived from 10,000 B.C. to 9.000 BC. The Clovis Culture is famous for their fluted point spearheads, which are highly collectable and sell for great sums of money. They were a nomadic culture that shared the land with animals such as wooly bison, ground sloths and camels. They hunted mastodon and mammoth avidly. So much were they hunted that they eventually went extinct.

The next phase of humans are called the Windust Phase and they lived from 9,000 B.C. to 6,000 B.C. These early humans were semi-nomadic. Some of them were extensively migratory, while others began living in stone shelters and open camps. They hunted elk, deer and other small animals. It is even during this time that salmon fishing begins. Evidence shows that the first humans that fished for salmon did so around 6,500 B.C. near the Columbia River.

The Windust Phase eventually ended and gave birth to the Cascade Phase, or the Old Cordilleran Culture. The Old Cordilleran Culture is thought to have originated in Alaska and migrated south in the present day Northeast United States. They went as far south as California and as far east as Idaho. These humans were the first to settle in the land that will eventually be that of the Nez Perce tribe. They used a leaf-shaped spear point for hunting and other uses. Their spears were very similar to the spears used during the Windust Phase, but those of the Old Cordilleran Culture began sharpening a side for food processing uses. Humans of this phase also fished and hunted, mostly for deer and bison. They also started harvesting berries, roots and other plants to eat. They spoke a Macro-Penutian language and created the oldest known examples of art in the Northeast Pacific. This abstract petroglyph dates back to 4,800 B.C.

Eventually, the Nez Perce culture emerged. By that time this group of humans were already inhabiting a 17 million acres of land that covers four states: Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

Spearheads from the Cascade Phase -

Sunday, May 4, 2014


Birds are very abundant in the Nez Perce’s land. They are mentioned in myths and appear in their clothing and imagery. Also, it is known for some to have birds as a spirit guardian or weyekin. The word for bird in their language is “wi’wit.” list these species to be the most common in Nez Perce, Idaho:

Male & Female Mallards - Photo Source:
Mallard: Also known as a Wild Duck, male mallards, called Drakes, have a shiny green head with a brown chest and back. Their wings and belly are grey and have orange feet. Females are a speckled light and dark brown and also have orange feet.

Male & Female Barrow's Goldeneyes - Photo Source:
Barrow’s Goldeneye: The Barrow’s Goldeneye is a duck that was named after English statesman, Sir John Barrow. Males are black with white spots. Their heads have a blue shine to them. Females are also white and brown, but with a yellow bill.

Canadian Goose - Photo Source:
Canadian Goose: The Canadian Goose is a very common species found in the Northern United States and Canada. It has a black bill and head with white where their head meets their neck. Their neck is long. Their body is brown and white.

Rock Pigeon - Photo Source:
Rock Pigeon: These pigeons are known to use cliffs and rocks to roost and mate, hence their name. They are grey with a green and purple tint on their neck. They have two black bars on their grey wings and the tips are also black. Their eyes and feet are orange.

 Tundra Swan - Photo Source:
Tundra Swan: The Tundra Swan is all white with black feet and a predominately black bill.

Barn Swallow - Photo Source:
Barn Swallow: The Barn Swallow is the most wide spread swallow in the world. They are blue with with red on their face, a white belly and a deep forked tail.

Male & Female Northern Shoveler - Photo Source:
Northern Shoveler: Known as the “shoveler” for their large beaks that they use to shovel through soil to find food. Males are bright green, white and blue. The females are normally a dull speckled brown.

Cedar Waxwing - Photo Source:
Cedar Waxwing: The Cedar Waxwing is a mix of yellow, orange, brown, grey, white with a black mask. Named for it’s wax-like wing tips. Small clusters of red wax-like droplets form on the tips of their wings. They breed in area, but migrate to the south during the winter.

American Avocet - Photo Source:
American Avocet: Also known as Blue Shanks, They have long thin grey legs, black and white feathers and a rusty red neck. This bird is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Some other birds that are commonly found throughout the land of the Nez Perce include: the Bufflehead, the Common Redpoll, the European Starling, the California Gull, the Common Goldeneye, the Violet-Green Swallow, Vaux’s Swift, the Horned Lark and many others.