America’s Christian General and the Nez Perce

As a Christian nation, the United States has never been comfortable with the idea that American Indians might have their own non-Christian religions or that Indian spiritual leaders could provide role-models for other Indians. Under the European notion of the Discovery Doctrine, the United States felt that it had a legal right to rule over non-Christian nations and to convert them to Christianity.

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Nez Perce Political Organization

The Nez Perce, whose traditional homelands included parts of what is now Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, entered into the American history books in 1805 when the Corps of Discovery under the leadership of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark crossed over the Lolo Trail into Nez Perce country. The Lolo Trail was a traditional route used by the Nez Perce in going to the buffalo country east of the Rocky Mountains. However, the season was late and the Americans floundered in snowstorms and almost starved. The Nez Perce found William Clark and six hunters from the Corps of Discovery sick with dysentery from gorging themselves on roots and fish.

The Nez Perce warriors considered killing the sick men for their rifles, but they were stopped by a Nez Perce woman, Watkuweis, who had been captured by the Blackfoot and sold to an American trader before returning home. She had been treated well by the trader, so she asked the warriors not to hurt the Americans. Historian Stephen Ambrose, in his popular book Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West, notes: “The expedition owed more to Indian women than either captain ever acknowledged. And the United States owed more to the Nez Perce for their restraint than it ever acknowledged.”

The Americans were taken to the village of the war chief Tunnachemootoolt (Broken Arm). The village consisted of a single long building about 150 feet in length with 24 fires down the center and housing about 48 families. The Nez Perce not only fed the Americans and nursed them back to health, they also made maps for the Americans on whitened elk skins which showed them the river route to the Pacific.

The fantasy of the Nez Perce as a single, politically unified tribe would be later forced on them by the Americans during treaty negotiations which would lead, in part, to the 1877 Nez Perce War. Politically, the Nez Perce were a number of politically independent bands and villages unified by a common language and culture. With regard to language, the Nez Perce language belongs to the Shaptin language family which means that they are distantly related to other Plateau area tribes such as the Umatilla, Wanapam, and Yakama.

Prior to the coming of the horse the village was the primary political unit, and decision-making involved all of those in the village. There was no political organization or government which united the autonomous villages and/or bands. The Nez Perce Tribe, in their book Treaties: Nez Perce Perspectives, puts it this way: “We had (and needed) very little political organization beyond the band headmen and peace leaders who insured the safety and provisioning of the women, elderly, and children.”

Village membership tended to be fluid and there was a constant movement of people between villages. Archaeologist James Keyser, in his book Indian Rock Art of the Columbia Plateau, reports: “People were free to change village membership within their tribe, and even to neighboring tribes, and did so frequently either through marriage or simply from the desire to change situation.”

The extended bilateral family meant that people had relatives in many different villages and when resources in one area became scarce, they could easily move to another village.

The Nez Perce band was composed of several villages or camps which were located along a stream. Band names were usually taken from the most prominent village within the band’s territory. Each village had a council which selected and advised a village leader. Anthropologist Deward Walker, in his book Conflict and Schism in Nez Perce Acculturation: A Study of Religion and Politics, reports: “Village leadership was in the hands of the eldest, able male in most instances, this position being semi-hereditary but also based on individual ability.”

Walker prefers to call this leader a “headman” rather than a chief (“chief” tends to be a European concept). He goes on to report: “In the larger villages comprised of several interrelated extended families, there was often more than one such headman. Typically, they were advised by a council of the elderly and prominent males, with women not having a formal voice in such matters.”

With regard to the role of the Nez Perce headman, historian Alvin Josephy, in his book Nez Perce Country, reports: “His duties were to arbitrate disputes, act as spokesman, oversee the well-being of the villagers, and provide an example of outstanding and generous conduct, sharing his wealth with the needy. In return, the people often gave him food, clothing, and other goods, especially for settling arguments.”

At the band level, the Nez Perce had a council made up of the headmen from the various villages as well as other prominent men.

There were two ways of obtaining leadership status at the band level. The first was to gain a reputation as being a generous man by sponsoring feasts and tutelary spirit dances and by distributing goods. The second way was through war exploits. To become a war chief, a warrior had to obtain ten war honors (coups). According to Deward Walker: “The leader of the most powerful village may have had a greater voice than the others, but not as a rule. Instead, at this level, individual war prowess seems to have been more important in determining a leader’s authority, and well-known warriors might come from any of the villages of the band.”

The Nez Perce also had some governmental organization above the band level. Neighboring bands would sometimes be unified into confederacies or composite bands. The largest of these composite bands was found on the upper Clearwater River, centered in the Kamiah Valley. There were also composite bands in the Lapwai area, at the mouth of the Grand Rone River, at the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers, in the Wallowa Valley, and in the Whitebird area along the Salmon River. The composite bands had no single head chief or permanent council.

The Nez Perce shaman also exerted a great deal of political influence and Deward Walker writes: “In fact, a good argument probably could be made for this being the single most powerful leadership status.”

He goes on to report: “Because of the charismatic character of Nez Perce ability, whether political, economic, or religious, the shaman frequently was thought to be an all-around leader. When compared with the temporary and situationally specific authority exerted by other specialists such as war leaders, hunting, root-digging, and fishing specialists, of the specialists in the care of horses, the authority of the Nez Perce shaman was extensive.”

Overall, political organization among the Nez Perce, as well as other tribes in the Plateau area, is summed up by Kent Nerburn, in his book Chief Joseph and the Flight of the Nez Perce: The Untold Story of an American Tragedy:“No one would presume to tell another how to believe or live, and none could speak for another unless appointed to do so.”

The American government, however, was more comfortable dealing with absolute dictators and therefore attempted to appoint and support this type of leadership in American Indian nations.

Imposing Law on Sovereign Nations

While the Constitution of the United States and the Supreme Court recognize Indian tribes as sovereign nations, this has been frequently ignored by Indian agents. Ignoring the fact that Indian nations had their own laws which had been developed over centuries of experience, Indian agents frequently imposed their own laws, based on their concepts of Christianity and European feudalism.

In 1842, Oregon Country—an area that included all of present-day Washington, Oregon, Idaho, British Columbia, and western Montana—was jointly administered by the United States and the United Kingdom. At this time, the United States had negotiated no treaties with the Indian nations in this territory.

Elijah White, described by historians as “a scheming man” and “a flimflammer”, was appointed as sub-agent for Indian affairs. White was a physician and a Methodist missionary who had helped to establish the Methodist mission in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

One of White’s first actions was to hold a council with the Nez Perce in Lapwai, Idaho. Unconcerned with the fact the Nez Perce were a sovereign nation and that the United States had not established any jurisdiction over them, he imposed on them a set of “laws” under which they were to live:

1. Whoever willfully takes life shall be hung.

2. Whoever burns a dwelling house shall be hung.

3. Whoever burns an outbuilding shall be imprisoned six months, receive fifty lashes, and pay all damages.

4. Whoever carelessly burns a house or any property, shall pay damages.

5. If anyone enter a dwelling, without permission of the occupant, the chiefs shall punish him as they think proper.

6. If any one steal he shall pay back two fold; and if it be the value of a beaver skin or less, he shall receive twenty-five lashes; and if the value is over a beaver skin he shall pay back two-fold, and receive fifty lashes.

7. If any one take a horse, and ride it, without permission, or take any article, and use it, without liberty, he shall pay for the use of it, and receive from twenty to fifty lashes, as the chief shall direct.

8. If any one enter a field, and injure the crops, or throw down the fence, so that cattle or horses go in and do damage, he shall pay all damages, and receive twenty-five lashes for every offence.

9. Those only may keep dogs who travel or live among the game; if a dog kill a lamb, calf, or any domestic animal, the owner shall pay the damage, and kill the dog.

10. If an Indian raise a gun or other weapon against a white man, it shall be reported to the chiefs, and they shall punish him. If a white person do the same to an Indian, it shall be reported to Dr. White, and he shall redress it.

11. If an Indian break these laws, he shall be punished by his chiefs; if a white man break them, he shall be reported to the agent, and be punished at his instance .

In traditional Native American jurisprudence, the adjudication of a crime focused on healing and the restoration of social harmony, not on punishment. In addition, the idea of death by hanging was abhorrent. The Nez Perce Tribe summarizes the laws this way:  “To put it mildly, this system of government was not one the tribe adopted easily or even willingly.”

In addition to the “laws”, White also ordered the Nez Perce to choose a single chief as high chief and to have all of the other chiefs subordinate to him. White ignored the fact that the Nez Perce were really more than 40 culturally affiliated but autonomous bands. Each of these bands had its own leadership and the idea of having a supreme chief was alien to them.

Ellis, a Christian who was both fluent and literate in English, was designated as the high chief. However, most of the Nez Perce did not regard him as having any more power than any other Nez Perce leader.

The following year, White called a council of the Nez Perce, Cayuse, and Walla Walla. The Indians were read the “laws” which had been earlier imposed on the Nez Perce. Walla Walla chief Peopeo Moxmox asked White:  “Where are these laws from? Are they from God or from the earth? I would that you might say they were from God. But I think that they are from the earth, because, from what I know of white men, they did not honor these laws.”

After two days of discussion, the Cayuse accepted the laws and elected Tauitau as high chief. However, Tauitau was a Catholic and therefore unacceptable to the Methodist missionary. White then simply appointed Hezekiah as high chief.

Fort Fizzle (Photo Diary)

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Just west of Lolo, Montana is Fort Fizzle Picnic Ground and Historic Sites operated by the Lolo National Forest. This is a day-use facility celebrating Fort Fizzle, an interesting non-battle of the 1877 Nez Perce War. The site also celebrates the passage of the Corps of Discovery under the leadership of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.  

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The Fort:

Shown below is a replica of the “fort.”

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Fort Fizzle and the Nez Perce

The War Department in 1907 officially enumerated 1,470 incidents of military action against American Indians between 1776 and 1907. According to the War Department, only two of these actions have the formal status of “war” under U.S. Army terminology: the 1877 Nez Perce War and the 1878 Bannock Indian War. One of the interesting non-battles of the Nez Perce War was Fort Fizzle-the battle that never happened and the fort that fizzled.  

While many of the Nez Perce bands had not signed a treaty with the United States and had not relinquished their lands, the United States government decided in 1877 that all of the bands had to move to the reservation in Idaho. There were a number of reasons for this decision. First, American settlers-technically squatters-who were claiming Nez Perce land insisted that the Nez Perce be moved. While the American government had negotiated a treaty with the American supported and appointed Nez Perce chief Lawyer, the minutes from the negotiations make it clear that Lawyer had not signed the treaty on behalf of the bands outside of the reservation area.

Second, the United States wanted to put down what it felt to be an illegal religious movement inspired by the Wanapam prophet Smohalla. Commonly called The Dreamers by the Americans, the United States had sent in America’s Christian General, O.O. Howard, to put down this religious movement and to make it clear to the Indians that their only chance of survival involved their conversion to Christianity. The Nez Perce reservation in Idaho was run as a theocracy by the Presbyterians, and other religions, including Catholicism, were actively discouraged. In fact, other religions were not allowed.

General Howard met with the non-treaty Nez Perce bands and made it clear that he intended to go to war against them by making logistically impossible demands regarding their move to the reservation. As the Americans had intended, violence erupted and with that they now had a “just” war. What wasn’t expected, however, was the American defeat at Clearwater, Idaho.

The Nez Perce bands did not want war and sought only to escape the violence which they knew contact with the army would bring. On war footing, the warriors (those who had actually counted coup in battle) met in council to discuss their options. Many felt that Montana was a separate region from Idaho and that the army would not follow them there. With Looking Glass in supreme command, the non-treaty Nez Perce bands decided to leave the war behind in Idaho and cross over into Montana. The Nez Perce felt that they would be able to find peace in Montana. With 200 warriors, 550 women and children, nearly 3,000 horses, and several hundred dogs, they started up the Lolo Trail across the Bitterroot Mountains. The Nez Perce column stretched out for several miles.

In the meantime, non-Indian settlers had started to move into the Missoula and Bitterroot Valleys, often ignoring the treaty rights of the Bitterroot Salish (also known as the Flathead). While the Bitterroot Salish had always extended the hand of friendship to the Americans, starting with Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the newcomers always demanded more and acted as if they owned the land. Many feared the peaceful Indians and asked the government to send in troops to protect them from the Indians. Many wanted the Indians removed from the area, and there were those who advocated total extermination.

While the army saw no military need for a fort in Western Montana, political pressure from Washington required that one be built. In 1877, shortly before the breakout of the Nez Perce War, the army reluctantly authorized the construction of Fort Missoula. Captain Charles Rawn and 34 men from the 7th Infantry were dispatched from Fort Shaw (located near Great Falls, Montana) to build the new fort. Since the fort had no real military function, it was not walled in and the men started putting up some buildings which would serve as housing and storage.

In the midst of their building project, a courier arrived from Fort Shaw, bringing word of the Nez Perce War. It was known that the Nez Perce were crossing over the Lolo Trail-a well-known, well-used road to the buffalo hunting grounds east of the Rocky Mountains. Captain Rawn and his men were to intercept the Nez Perce as they came out of the Lolo Trail into the Bitterroot Valley.

Captain Rawn had only 30 regular army soldiers at Fort Missoula. He quickly recruited 100 volunteers from the non-Indian farms and ranches. Another 100 were recruited from Missoula. He then led this anxious and untrained group into the mountains to meet the fierce Nez Perce warriors. At the narrowest part of the Lolo Canyon, Captain Rawn had his men and the volunteers construct a barrier about three feet high using sticks and logs. They then dug rifle pits to provide additional protection. They then loaded their guns and waited for the “hostile” Indians.

Nez Perce scouts spotted the make-shift fort and the main body camped about two miles away. The Nez Perce were not seeking war or conflict and were rather surprised to find soldiers waiting for them.

The next day, Looking Glass and Whitebird, accompanied by Delaware Jim as their translator, approached Fort Fizzle. They explained to Captain Rawn that they had peaceful intentions and wanted simply to pass through the Bitterroot Valley. While Captain Rawn agreed that he would grant them passage, he stipulated that they must surrender their arms, ammunition, and horses. Once again the chiefs faced what they felt were unreasonable demands by the American military. They realized that Rawn was asking for unconditional surrender and that a fight would have negative consequences for both sides.

Captain Rawn suggested that they meet again the next day to finalize their agreement. Rawn was hoping that reinforcements would arrive by then and reinforce his position. The Nez Perce chiefs agreed and then sent out scouts to survey the countryside.

The next day, Looking Glass and Delaware Jim returned to meet with Captain Rawn. Looking Glass again told the captain that the Nez Perce are peaceful and Rawn reiterated his demands to surrender their guns, ammunition, and horses. Looking Glass indicated that he would discuss the matter with the other chiefs and left.

When the American volunteers found out that Rawn was negotiating peace, most of them left. They had volunteered to kill Indians, not talk to them.

In the meantime, the Nez Perce broke camp, moved up the slopes, and outflanked the barrier. W. R. Logan, who was stationed at the breastworks, later reported:

“About ten o’clock we heard singing, apparently above our heads. Upon looking up we discover the Indians passing along the side of the cliff, where we thought a goat could not pass, much less an entire tribe of Indians with all their impedimenta. The entire band dropped into the valley beyond us and then proceeded up the Bitter Root.”

The Americans reported that the Nez Perce were in good humor, cracking jokes, and being amused at the way they fooled the soldiers. While Captain Rawn attempted to catch up with the Nez Perce, all of his volunteers had deserted.  

Fort Fizzle and the Nez Perce

The War Department in 1907 officially enumerated 1,470 incidents of military action against American Indians between 1776 and 1907. According to the War Department, only two of these actions have the formal status of “war” under U.S. Army terminology: the 1877 Nez Perce War and the 1878 Bannock Indian War. One of the interesting non-battles of the Nez Perce War was Fort Fizzle-the battle that never happened and the fort that fizzled.  

While many of the Nez Perce bands had not signed a treaty with the United States and had not relinquished their lands, the United States government decided in 1877 that all of the bands had to move to the reservation in Idaho. There were a number of reasons for this decision. First, American settlers-technically squatters-who were claiming Nez Perce land insisted that the Nez Perce be moved. While the American government had negotiated a treaty with the American supported and appointed Nez Perce chief Lawyer, the minutes from the negotiations make it clear that Lawyer had not signed the treaty on behalf of the bands outside of the reservation area.

Second, the United States wanted to put down what it felt to be an illegal religious movement inspired by the Wanapam prophet Smohalla. Commonly called The Dreamers by the Americans, the United States had sent in America’s Christian General, O.O. Howard, to put down this religious movement and to make it clear to the Indians that their only chance of survival involved their conversion to Christianity. The Nez Perce reservation in Idaho was run as a theocracy by the Presbyterians, and other religions, including Catholicism, were actively discouraged. In fact, other religions were not allowed.

General Howard met with the non-treaty Nez Perce bands and made it clear that he intended to go to war against them by making logistically impossible demands regarding their move to the reservation. As the Americans had intended, violence erupted and with that they now had a “just” war. What wasn’t expected, however, was the American defeat at Clearwater, Idaho.

The Nez Perce bands did not want war and sought only to escape the violence which they knew contact with the army would bring. On war footing, the warriors (those who had actually counted coup in battle) met in council to discuss their options. Many felt that Montana was a separate region from Idaho and that the army would not follow them there. With Looking Glass in supreme command, the non-treaty Nez Perce bands decided to leave the war behind in Idaho and cross over into Montana. The Nez Perce felt that they would be able to find peace in Montana. With 200 warriors, 550 women and children, nearly 3,000 horses, and several hundred dogs, they started up the Lolo Trail across the Bitterroot Mountains. The Nez Perce column stretched out for several miles.

In the meantime, non-Indian settlers had started to move into the Missoula and Bitterroot Valleys, often ignoring the treaty rights of the Bitterroot Salish (also known as the Flathead). While the Bitterroot Salish had always extended the hand of friendship to the Americans, starting with Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, the newcomers always demanded more and acted as if they owned the land. Many feared the peaceful Indians and asked the government to send in troops to protect them from the Indians. Many wanted the Indians removed from the area, and there were those who advocated total extermination.

While the army saw no military need for a fort in Western Montana, political pressure from Washington required that one be built. In 1877, shortly before the breakout of the Nez Perce War, the army reluctantly authorized the construction of Fort Missoula. Captain Charles Rawn and 34 men from the 7th Infantry were dispatched from Fort Shaw (located near Great Falls, Montana) to build the new fort. Since the fort had no real military function, it was not walled in and the men started putting up some buildings which would serve as housing and storage.

In the midst of their building project, a courier arrived from Fort Shaw, bringing word of the Nez Perce War. It was known that the Nez Perce were crossing over the Lolo Trail-a well-known, well-used road to the buffalo hunting grounds east of the Rocky Mountains. Captain Rawn and his men were to intercept the Nez Perce as they came out of the Lolo Trail into the Bitterroot Valley.

Captain Rawn had only 30 regular army soldiers at Fort Missoula. He quickly recruited 100 volunteers from the non-Indian farms and ranches. Another 100 were recruited from Missoula. He then led this anxious and untrained group into the mountains to meet the fierce Nez Perce warriors. At the narrowest part of the Lolo Canyon, Captain Rawn had his men and the volunteers construct a barrier about three feet high using sticks and logs. They then dug rifle pits to provide additional protection. They then loaded their guns and waited for the “hostile” Indians.

Nez Perce scouts spotted the make-shift fort and the main body camped about two miles away. The Nez Perce were not seeking war or conflict and were rather surprised to find soldiers waiting for them.

The next day, Looking Glass and Whitebird, accompanied by Delaware Jim as their translator, approached Fort Fizzle. They explained to Captain Rawn that they had peaceful intentions and wanted simply to pass through the Bitterroot Valley. While Captain Rawn agreed that he would grant them passage, he stipulated that they must surrender their arms, ammunition, and horses. Once again the chiefs faced what they felt were unreasonable demands by the American military. They realized that Rawn was asking for unconditional surrender and that a fight would have negative consequences for both sides.

Captain Rawn suggested that they meet again the next day to finalize their agreement. Rawn was hoping that reinforcements would arrive by then and reinforce his position. The Nez Perce chiefs agreed and then sent out scouts to survey the countryside.

The next day, Looking Glass and Delaware Jim returned to meet with Captain Rawn. Looking Glass again told the captain that the Nez Perce are peaceful and Rawn reiterated his demands to surrender their guns, ammunition, and horses. Looking Glass indicated that he would discuss the matter with the other chiefs and left.

When the American volunteers found out that Rawn was negotiating peace, most of them left. They had volunteered to kill Indians, not talk to them.

In the meantime, the Nez Perce broke camp, moved up the slopes, and outflanked the barrier. W. R. Logan, who was stationed at the breastworks, later reported:

“About ten o’clock we heard singing, apparently above our heads. Upon looking up we discover the Indians passing along the side of the cliff, where we thought a goat could not pass, much less an entire tribe of Indians with all their impedimenta. The entire band dropped into the valley beyond us and then proceeded up the Bitter Root.”

The Americans reported that the Nez Perce were in good humor, cracking jokes, and being amused at the way they fooled the soldiers. While Captain Rawn attempted to catch up with the Nez Perce, all of his volunteers had deserted.  

Indian Town Names on the Nez Perce Reservation

The Nez Perce Reservation in what is now the state of Idaho has its origins in the 1855 Treaty of Walla Walla. Governor Isaac had come to the treaty council with area tribes with the intent of establishing two reservations in the region: one in Nez Perce country for the Nez Perce, Cayuse, Walla Walla, Umatilla, and Spokan, and one in Yakama country for the Yakama, Palouse, Klikatat, Wenatchee, Okanagan, and Colville.

Upon arriving at the treaty council, the Nez Perce put on a show of horsemanship and dancing. Governor Stevens fails to recognize the significance of the Nez Perce entrance. According to the Nez Perce Tribe:

“Our Nez Perce ancestors were not only honoring him as an important person: they were also demonstrating that the Nez Perce are a strong and important people who expect to be treated as equals.”

The man chosen by the United States to be the supreme chief of the Nez Perce was Lawyer, who was regarded by the Nez Perce as a tobacco cutter (a sort of undersecretary for Looking Glass, Eagle of the Light, Joseph, and Red Owl). Duncan McDonald, Eagle of the Light’s nephew, put it this way:

“In other words, for certain considerations he was prevailed upon to sign away the rights of his brethren-rights over which he had not the slightest authority-and although he was a man of no influence with his tribe, the government, as if duty bound on account of his great services, conferred upon him the title and granted him the emoluments of head chief of the Nez Perces.”

Today, there are about 3,300 Nez Perce tribal members, two-thirds of whom live on or near the reservation.

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Kamiah:

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According to Nez Perce tradition, the people were created at Kamiah, on the Clearwater River. It was here that they had a winter village with a large longhouse. During the winter they would braid ropes from cannabis hemp and dogbane which would then be used in their basketry. Some sources feel that the name “Kamiah” means “tattered ends of hemp” while others feel it means “many rope litters.”

In 1805, the Nez Perce had their first recorded encounter with Americans when the Corps of Discovery under the leadership of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark came into their territory. The Americans had crossed over the Lolo Trail, a traditional route used by the Nez Perce in going to the buffalo country east of the Rocky Mountains. However, the season was late and the Americans floundered in snowstorms and almost starved. The Nez Perce found William Clark and six hunters from the Corps of Discovery sick with dysentery from gorging themselves on roots and fish. Nez Perce warriors considered killing the sick men for their rifles, but they were stopped by a Nez Perce woman, Watkuweis, who had been captured by the Blackfoot and sold to an American trader before returning home. She had been treated well by the trader, so she asked the warriors not to hurt the Americans.

On their way home in 1806, the Corps of Discovery camped with the Nez Perce at Kamiah.

Today, Kamiah has a population of about 1,300.

Lapwai:

The Nez Perce word “Lapwai” means “butterfly” and refers to the many butterflies that gather in the area. The community began as a Presbyterian mission established by Henry Spalding in 1836. Spalding gave the name Lapwai to the new community.

Fort Lapwai was established in 1863 by the U.S. Army for the purpose of keeping non-Indians off the reservation.  The fort was abandoned in 1884.

Today, Lapwai is the capital of the Nez Perce nation and has a population of about 1,144.

Ahsahka:

Ahsahka appears to come from the Nez Perce word that means “the spot where two rivers meet.” The community is located on the north fork of the Clearwater River. Presbyterian missionaries established a church here for the Nez Perce in 1884.

Kooskia:

The name “Kooskia” comes from the Nez Perce name for the Clearwater River: Kooskooskee. In actuality, Kooskooskee means “this is smaller” and probably comes from their attempts to explain to Lewis and Clark that there were two rivers: the Clearwater (the smaller one) and the Snake (the larger one). The Nez Perce word for Clearwater is “Kaih-kaih-koosh.”

The Nez Perce In Canada

On October 5, 1877, following six days of siege by American army troops and artillery known as the Battle of the Bear Paw, Nez Perce Chief Joseph delivered his rifle to Colonel Nelson Miles and officially surrendered. According to the official army accounts a total of 418 Nez Perce surrendered: 87 men, 184 women, and 147 children. Among those who surrendered was Halahtookit (Daytime Smoke), the son of Captain William Clark, and his daughter and granddaughter. For most history books, this marked the end of the Nez Perce War, one of two officially designated Indian wars.  

On October 22, 1877, North-West Mounted Police Superintendent James Walsh met in council with the Nez Perce near Wood Mountain, Saskatchewan. Meeting in the center of Sitting Bull’s Sioux camp, the Nez Perce chief White Bird recounted the struggles of his people and how they had come to seek asylum in Canada. Walsh counted 290 Nez Perce refugees living among the Sioux: 90 men and 200 women and children. The story of these refugees-nearly half of the Nez Perce who had survived their long battle from Oregon and Idaho, through Yellowstone National Park, and across Montana-is often omitted from the history books.

The Battle of the Bear Paw:

A few miles from Canada, in Montana’s Bear Paw Mountains, the Nez Perce bands stopped to rest. This was an area well known to them from their buffalo-hunting and trading expeditions onto the Plains. They called the area Tsanim Alikos Pah (Place of the Manure Fires), and they knew that Canada lay but forty miles away.

In the morning, Wotolen told the people that he had had a dream about this place and that in the dream the sky had been dark with the smoke of battle and that the waters of the creek were running red with blood. When the scouts reported that they had seen American troops coming, many of the Nez Perce begin to hurriedly pack. Looking Glass, the primary military leader, told them that there was no hurry, that there was plenty of time. Once again, Looking Glass was wrong and Wotolen’s vision was correct.

At the beginning of the attack, there were a number of Nez Perce who were away from the camp and they did not return. Some people had started to break camp and at least 40-70 people on horseback fled from the camp, driving a number of horses before them. Joseph told one of his daughters to catch a horse and join the others who were fleeing north. He called out to those who were fleeing, telling them to hurry.

One group of Nez Perce, under the leadership of the veteran war chief White Bird, used the cover of night and a snowstorm to escape from the soldiers. White Bird, a respected medicine man and leader, was about 49 years old at this time. Throughout the conflict he had been consistent in his determination to flee to Canada. Under the cover of darkness, they gathered their blankets around them and left on foot. While it was reported that some of the soldiers saw them, they did not fire. Wotolon would later report:

“We carried only a little grub. We could not travel fast because of the women and children.”

White Bird reported that 103 warriors, 60 women, and 8 children escaped. No dogs came with them, which was highly unusual. For ten days the people travelled with little food and often in blizzard conditions.

The American army wanted to portray the Battle of the Bear Paw as a great American victory and the end of the Nez Perce war. Therefore, the army downplayed the escape of many of the Nez Perce, particularly those in White Bird’s band. Historians have suggested that the American military leaders did not really know that nearly 300 people had escaped from the battle site. Army correspondence mentions that “a few” Indians got away.  

Regarding the “few” who got away, the army set out detachments of soldiers to either kill or capture any Nez Perce they could find. The army also recruited Assiniboine and Gros Ventre warriors to seek out and kill any Nez Perce who had not surrendered. Colonel Nelson Miles would write:

“the Assinboines are killing the Nez Perces as I sent them word that they could fight any that escaped and take their arms and ponies.”

Colonel Miles promised local residents 25 horses from the Nez Perce here plus $500 for bringing in White Bird dead or alive.

Canada and Indian Refugees:

By 1877 Canada was no stranger to Indians seeking asylum from American military aggression. Following the War of 1812, the Dakota wars of the 1860s, and the more recent 1877 Sioux War, many Indians had crossed the international boundary-known as the Medicine Line-to escape the American military. Canada had a different approach to its relations with the Indians. While the United States sought military solutions which required a great show of force using thousands of soldiers and emphasized retaliation rather than justice, Canada used just a handful of men known as Mounties: the North West Mounted Police.

The North West Mounted Police had been formed in 1873 to administer law and order in the Northwest Territories. The Mounties, as they came to be called, used consultation and negotiation to avert conflict rather than seek it. The Mounties sought fairness in their dealings with the tribes.

Mountie 3105

Shown above is the original uniform of the North West Mounted Police.

Mountie 3104

The photograph above shows the current Mountie uniform.

The Nez Perce in Canada:

Following the Battle of the Bear Paw in Montana, Nez Perce refugees began to cross the Medicine Line into Saskatchewan, Canada to arrive at Sitting Bull’s Sioux camp. The Nez Perce were wary as the Sioux had been traditional enemies, but the Sioux welcomed them and took them into their lodges, providing them with food and clothing.

In 1878, an American scout, Christopher Gilson, visited the refugee Nez Perce in Saskatchewan. Gilson had been asked by Colonel Nelson Miles to find Chief Joseph’s daughter, Kapkap Ponmi. He located her and presented her with a photograph of her father. He reported back to the Americans that the Nez Perce were ready to return home. According to his report:

“They are anxious to come back and begged me to bring some one of their tribe to see them so they could return. Joseph’s daughter is well and wants to see her father.”

As a result of Gilson’s report, three Nez Perce prisoners-Yellow Bull, Husis Kute, and Esoweaz- travelled from the Nez Perce prison camp in Kansas to White Bird’s camp in Saskatchewan. The Americans wanted them to dispel rumors that Joseph’s people had been ill treated.  The three prisoners travelled without military escort.

The three men had not been selected at random, but were men felt by the Americans to be respected men of influence who could convince White Bird to return to the United States. Yellow Bull was White Bird’s brother-in-law; Estoweaz was a respected warrior known for his truthfulness; and while Husis Kute was actually Palouse, he was viewed as a spiritual leader.

The three emissaries found the Nez Perce camped with the Sioux at the Sandy Hills. After meeting with the three for more than a week, White Bird and seven others travelled to the North West Mounted Police station at Fort Walsh to meet with the American negotiators. The American spokesman, First Lieutenant George William Baird, told White Bird:

“Joseph and his Indians will be put on a good Reservation, and have an opportunity to live comfortably.”

He goes on to say:

“If you want to go back with me, I will take you down, and you will go to the same Reservation as Joseph. The Americans are your friends, and want you to go back to your old home, and if you don’t, you will go to some other good reservation.”

Husis Kute said:

“Joseph does not want to go further south, because it is not healthy; his people die even at Leavenworth. Joseph surrendered just to save his people, so why should he go further south and let his people perish?”

The Americans attempted to persuade White Bird by telling him that if he were to join Joseph in Leavenworth, then Joseph might be allowed to return to Idaho, but that if White Bird did not go south, then Joseph would not be allowed to return home. In reality, the Americans had no intention of letting Joseph’s people return home, but fully intended to keep them as prisoners in Oklahoma.

White Bird concluded the council saying:

“You go back and bring Chief Joseph to Idaho. I will know. I will hear of it. Do this, and I am promising to surrender. I will come to Idaho if I have to go afoot.”

In a later interview with Duncan MacDonald of The New North-West, White Bird said:

“The United States recognizes Indians as nations and not slaves. Why does she want to coop us up in a bad climate that will cause us to die in a short time.”

In 1878, a group of 29 Nez Perce led by Wottolen left Canada. With the group was Kapkap Ponmi (the daughter of Chief Joseph), Yellow Wolf (who was a member of Joseph’s band), Peopeo Tholekt, and Black Eagle (Wottolen’s son). There were only five warriors in the group, each of whom had about 10 cartridges for his weapon. This small band made their way through Montana by killing livestock here and there for subsistence. At the Middle Clearwater River, soldiers from Fort Missoula attempted to block the Nez Perce passage to Idaho. A detachment under the command of First Lieutenant Thomas Wallace engaged the Indians in battle and claimed to have killed six and wounded three.

In 1879, Wottolon returned to White Bird’s camp in Saskatchewan after an attempt to lead his people back to Idaho. Phillip Williams then left on foot with about a dozen people. Some of them found refuge with the Flathead in western Montana.

White Bird’s people moved west to establish a new camp near a quarry along the banks of Pincher Creek near the edge of the Piegan Reserve in Alberta, Canada. Here, in an area between the Piegan lands and the North West Mounted Police station, the Nez Perce constructed cabins of poplar and pine logs. This became known to the non-Indians in the area as the “Nez Percy camp.”

Over the next decade, the Nez Perce lived peacefully in the Pincher Creek area. There were some minor disturbances, such as in 1888 when a Nez Perce identified as Fish Hawk was convicted of drunk and disorderly conduct and sentenced to one month of hard labor. Thirty-four days later, Fish Hawk was again arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct, found guilty, and again sentenced to one month of hard labor.

In 1892, Nez Perce leader White Bird was murdered by Hasenahmahhikt, known to the non-Indians as Nez Perce Sam. Nez Perce Sam apparently thought that White Bird, who was known as a shaman, had exerted evil influence on his family, and killed him with an ax. Sam struck White Bird four times with the ax, three times in the face. He was given a jury trial, found guilty, and sentenced to be executed.

The Methodist missionary at Fort Macleod, the Reverend John Maclean, was convinced that Nez Perce Sam had acted in defense of his family in murdering White Bird. At the annual Manitoba and North-West Church conference, the attendees voted for a resolution asking clemency for Nez Perce Sam and submitted a petition to Ottawa with more than 700 signatures asking for commutation. The Macleod Gazette responded:

“to see a lot of christian [sic] ministers, headed by two missionaries, begging for this man’s life on these grounds is silly in the extreme. The men who propose such things should have long ears and eat grass.”

The following year Nez Perce Sam died of natural causes in prison. Some say that, depressed, he starved himself to death.

In 1895, Pete Sam and Jack Sam, the sons of Nez Perce Sam, were arrested for breaking into a home and stealing clothes. They were sentenced to a month in jail.

In 1898, Sarah, described as the “last Nez Perce woman” in the Pincher Creek area, died from tuberculosis. Her daughters were sent to the Nez Perce Reservation in Lapwai, Idaho to live with relatives.

In 1995, a reunion of the relatives of the Nez Perce who had sought asylum in Canada following the 1877 Nez Perce war was held in Brocket, Alberta. The Canadian descendents of Chief White Bird’s band joined with their American counter parts in observing, sharing, and celebrating their familial relationships and cultural past. Nearly 200 Nez Perce from the Lapwai, Colville, Umatilla, and Piegan Reservations attended. Elder Horace Axtell led a Seven Drum Ceremony.

First Nations News & Views: NN12 American Indian Caucus, the Nez Perce in 1873

Photobucket

Welcome to the 17th edition of First Nations News & Views. This weekly series is one element in the “Invisible Indians” project put together by navajo and me, with assistance from the Native American Netroots Group. Last week’s edition is here. In this edition you will find a recap of our American Indian Caucus at Netroots Nation, a look at the year 1873 in American Indian history and some linkable bulleted briefs. Click on link below to read our earlier editions.

All Previous Editions

NN12 American Indian Caucus

By Meteor Blades

The American Indian Caucus of Netroots Nation, spurred into existence in 2006 by navajo, had its best attendance ever this year in Providence, R.I. Competition from simultaneously occurring panels makes it tough. (We even wanted to see a couple of those panels.) Fifty-five people attended ours. But talk of the caucus went a lot further than our little room because we attracted a right-wing troll whose only interest was in making points against Elizabeth Warren. She has made a much-discussed claim to Cherokee heritage that is being used against her in her Senate campaign to unseat Republican Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts. (You can read diaries about the troll here and here.)

The highlight of our caucus was the presentation of our guest, 72-year-old story-teller Paulla Dove-Jennings, a Niantic-Naragansett Indian whose ancestors have lived in what is now Rhode Island for several thousand years. The 2400-member tribe, which was once reduced to a three-acre plot of land where the Episcopal Indian Church had stood since 1744, regained federal recognition in 1983 and now holds 1800 acres of additional land. You can read FNN&V‘s condensed but more detailed history here.

In addition to our story-teller’s wonderful weaving of tribal history, family life, politics and Niantic-Naragansett tales, navajo and I also briefly discussed the progress of FNN&V and quickly summarized what would have been a full hour’s discussion of Indian voting rights and voter suppression if our proposal for such a panel had not been rejected by the Netroots Nation screening committee. Because I know most readers would prefer to watch Jennings’ presentation in the video below than read my abbreviated version of what that panel would have covered, I’m saving that for next week’s FNN&V.

For those who are video impaired, there is a transcript of Jennings’ talk at the end of this edition of FNN&V. Thanks to oke and rfall for videotaping the session and transcribing it.

Here’s an introduction to Jennings in her own words followed by the video:


Members of the Turtle clan are the keepers of tribal History, family history, and

traditional legends. I am a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.

Working as curator of museum Native collections, Tribal Council member, oral  

historian, story-teller, and published author have all enhanced my confidence

and knowledge of true story-telling. A story-teller never uses another tribe’s story without permission.

I grew up with my parents, grandparents, and other family elders telling tribal history, family history, and legends in the 1940s, 1950s, and ’60s.  I have passed some of my stories on to nieces and nephews as well as my own grandchildren.

Several years ago I invited my mother, Eleanor Spears Dove, to Brown University

to a story-telling event. Seven well-known Rhode Island storytellers of various

ethnic groups presented their stories. All of the presenters used props such as

instruments, music, scarves, sticks, etc. They were wonderful. I told the story of

how the bear lost his tail. My props were the tone of my voice, the shift of my

body, movements of my hands, eye contact, and the lift of my head, leaning

toward the audience and pulling back. I try to build the scene, the weather, the

wind, the sky, the earth, the water, the forest, and the animals.

When the event was over, my mother surprised me by saying she actually saw the bear!  

I have told stories from Maine to Alaska, to the young and the old, in cultural

institutions, colleges, universities, schools, powwows, organizations, and private

and social events. I thank the Creator for this gift.

http://vimeo.com/44174290

Haida Whale Divider

(First Nations News & Views continued below the frybread thingey)

This Week in American Indian History in 1873

By Meteor Blades

wallowa nez perce interpretive center logo

On June 16, 1873, President Ulysses S. Grant issued an executive order barring white settlers from claiming title to northeast Oregon’s Wallowa Valley. This was the traditional turf of one band of the Nez Perce (Nimi’ipuu) tribe. The executive order was needed because Nez Perce bands who didn’t live in the valley had signed a treaty in 1863 surrendering it along with other lands. The U.S. government kept to the executive order until Grant left the presidency. Within two months of Rutherford B. Hayes’s inauguration, however, the non-treaty Nez Perce had been ordered out of the Wallowa Valley and a five-month war and trek had begun, with 2,000 troops of the U.S. Army in pursuit.

The Nez Perce were the largest tribe on the Columbia River Plateau when Lewis and Clark encountered them in 1805. The two Americans weren’t the first white people the Nez Perce had seen. They got their name – “pierced nose,” even though they didn’t pierce their noses-from French fur traders. A half-century later, vastly reduced in numbers by war with white men and European diseases, they stood in the way of America’s inexorable Manifest Destiny.

In 1855, some Nez Perce bands agreed to a treaty with most of their traditional hunting grounds, including the Wallowa, set aside for them “permanently” in exchange for giving up some land and right of way. All the bands agreed, including the Wallowa band led by Tuekakas, known to the whites as Joseph after his Christian baptism in 1839, and later, Old Joseph. However, in 1861, gold was discovered on Nez Perce land in Idaho and 10,000 white settlers poured in. Conflict naturally arose. The government called for another treaty. This reduced the original land promised in 1855 by 90 percent.

Tuekakas opposed the deal because his band’s beloved Wallowa Valley would have to be surrendered. Because he and the leaders of four other bands opposed the deal, the divisions were henceforth labeled treaty and nontreaty Nez Perce. Tuekakas staked out the valley with poles and declared “Inside this boundary all our people were born. It circles the graves of our fathers, and we will never give up these graves to any man.” He died in 1871, and his son, Hinmuuttu-yalatlat (Thunder Rolling Down the Mountain), also known as Young Joseph, became leader of the Wallowa band. His father is reported to have said before his death:

My son, my body is returning to my mother earth, and my spirit is going very soon to see the Great Spirit Chief. When I am gone, think of your country. You are the chief of these people. They look to you to guide them. Always remember that your father never sold his country. 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.

For four years, they stayed put, as President Grant had said they could. But relations with whites were tense. Settlers continued to move into the Wallowa and this led to inevitable clashes and a few killings on both sides.

In May 1877, the one-armed Gen. Oliver O. Howard arrived. Without ceremony, discussion or advance notice, told Chief Joseph that his band would be moved immediately. The first thought of many non-treaty Indians was to fight, but Joseph knew this was a losing proposition. The band pulled up stakes, literally, from the Wallowa and crossed the Snake River, joining the other non-treaty bands and a small group of Palouse Indians. They wer headed for the reservation, heartsick. Before they could move to the reservation, however, a small group of young warriors joined the band to say they had killed some whites and taken their horses. The 800 or so people in the allied bands soon learned the Army was coming after them.

Nez Perce photographed after their capture in 1877
Nez Perce photographed after their capture in 1877

Thus began one of the most famous conflicts of the Indian Wars. It captured the attention of the nation and Europe as newspapers told of the pursuit of the Nez Perce by Gen. Howard. The Crow refused asylum to the Nez Perce. So the decision was made to flee to Canada, where, they had learned, Sitting Bull had taken the Hunkpapa band of Lakota to evade the Army seeking revenge for Battle of the Little Big Horn.

The Wallowa Nez Perce and their allies went on a nearly 1200-mile, three-month-long zig-zag trek, out-maneuvering the Army, white volunteers and Indian scouts, which included some of the non-treaty Nez Perce. Small clashes were won and lost throughout the summer. But attrition was catching up with the band. Its cohort of battle-ready warriors dwindled week after week. Ultimately, after a five-day battle in the freezing cold, with the remnants of the band starving and more than 150 warriors dead, Chief Joseph surrendered just 40 miles from Canada on Oct. 5, 1877.

There, he was said to give a stirring speech ending with “From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.” Scholars now believe it was a later invention of a lieutenant colonel and poet under Howard’s command.

The Nez Perce repeatedly promised they could return to the Wallowa. But it never happened. Chief Joseph died in 1904 at the Colville Reservation, living with the other 11 bands assigned there. And, despite there being numerous bridges, dams, streets, a mountain pass, a highway, a town, a creek and a canyon named after their leader, the Chief Joseph Band of Nez Perce still live at Colville.

In the Wallowa Valley that the band never agreed to surrender, there is today the 160-acre Wallowa Band Nez Perce Trail Interpretive Center. The mission is to tell the story of the band’s trek and “to assist in assembling the Wallowa Band Nez Perce culture and history in order to provide interpretation, knowledge and understanding to those who visit the grounds.” Still there, near Lake Wallowa, lies the grave of Old Joseph. His valley is no longer surrounded by poles but, unlike his living kin, he remains forever in the land of his fathers.

•••

Sources:

The Last Indian War: The Nez Perce Story by Elliott West (2009).

Treaty of 1863.

Nez Perce Joseph: An Account of His Ancestors, His Lands, His Confederates, His Enemies, His Murders, His War, His Pursuit and Capture by O. O. Howard (1881).

NAN Line Separater

Complaints Gain Invisible Indians a Spot on Obama Campaign Website: The Obama-Biden campaign website had outreach pages for African Americans, Latinos, Asians, gays and women. Notably missing until Friday, however, was a page for American Indians despite the fact the election is less than five months away. Thanks to complaints, Native Americans for Obama was posted June 15 with a logo and the tag-line “A place for Native Americans to organize and speak out in support of President Obama and his accomplishments.”

But Indians from several tribes who met last week in Chicago with members of the campaign team say they are concerned that not as much seems to be being done with Indians as was done in 2008. And they expressed disappointment that the Obama campaign apparently plans to depend on the efforts of state Democratic Party apparatuses to handle voter outreach to the tribes. In the past, Indians have been ignored-or treated with hostility-by state parties.  

-Meteor Blades

Jihan Gearon photo
Jihan Gearon

Navajo Tribal Council Delegates to Vote on Water Pact: Navajo Nation Chief Ben Shelly and Attorney General Harrison Tsosie support a water settlement under which the Navajo and Hopi people would waive claims to water from the Little Colorado River system. In exchange, the federal government would pay to develop groundwater projects for the tribes.

Approval by the Navajo, the Hopi and 30 other entities are required before the pact can be finalized. The 24 Navajo delegates to the Tribal Council will vote sometime this month, possibly as soon as this week. The settlement, introduced in February, is the swan song of Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl and backed by Sen. John McCain. Foes encompass numerous grassroots Navajo groups cooperating as the Dine Water Rights Committee, Dine being what the Navajo people call themselves in their own tongue. Members include the Forgotten People Corporation, Black Mesa Water Coalition, To Nizhoni Ani, Dine Citizens Against Ruining the Environment, Hada’asidi, Next Indigenous Generation and the Council Advocating an Indigenous Manifesto. Jihan Gearon, executive director of the Black Mesa Water Coalition said:

“It’s obvious that the grassroots people of the Navajo Nation reject the settlement agreement. We have collected hundreds of petition signatures from concerned citizens opposed to the settlement as well as hundreds of letters against the settlement. Furthermore, there was overwhelming opposition at each of the eight educational forums organized by the grassroots organizations, not to mention the overwhelming opposition voiced against the settlement at each of the seven town hall meetings sponsored by the president’s office under direction from the council.”

Sarana Riggs of Next Indigenous Generation said: “Our vision for the future includes a just transition away from the coal-based economy, a diverse and sustainable economy based on traditional values, and true self-sufficiency for the Navajo Nation. We will sign these things away if we agree to the settlement.”

In a open letter, Anna Rondon (Navajo) wrote:

I also serve on the Navajo Nation Green Economy Commission. I question why our leaders cater to the very federal government that has time and time again under-funded us, to design internal fighting among ourselves. Our leaders turn the other way when real Dine’ ideas lead the way for a healthier and sustainable economy. But, our leaders are selling us out. I cannot believe the Navajo Nation is setting precedence that is not only unruly for us as a People, but for our other tribal nations that will also feel the negative impacts of this legislation.

-Meteor Blades

North Dakota Voters Say Goodbye to ‘Fighting Sioux’ Nickname: After six years of acrimony, countervailing actions by politicians, university officials and the NCAA, plus national media attention, the University of North Dakota will no longer use the “Fighting Sioux” nickname and logo for its sports teams. The name had deeply divided citizens across the state, but two-thirds of them voted down the nickname in a primary election June that had three other measures on the ballot.

The NCAA ruled in 2005 that all university and colleges should drop Indian-themed mascots, logos and nicknames ranging from “Redskins” to “Braves” to just plain “Indians.” Exceptions were allowed for schools that obtained tribal permission. Although some foes of eliminating Indian mascots and nicknames have claimed these are not degrading but respectful, images and attitudes expressed around these have historically been filled with ridiculous caricatures and racist stereotypes. One of those stereotypes is that so many of the logos and mascots choose Plains Indians as their image no matter what the local Indian culture was and is. Hundreds of universities, colleges and secondary schools have dropped the nicknames over the past 40 years as opposition has steadily grown. Oregon formally banned mascots and nicknames this year after some schools held out against the state school board’s request several years ago that they do so voluntarily. Last month, Sanford became the last small school in Maine to drop the “Redskins” nickname from its high school sports teams.

While a dwindling number of schools retain the nicknames, two national franchises-the Cleveland Indians baseball team with their despicable Chief Wahoo, and the Washington Redskins- continue to thumb their noses at people who object to their racist depictions.

While many Indians say they have no objections to such nicknames, the National Indian Education Association passed a resolution in 2009 calling for getting rid of all the Indian-themed mascots, logos and nicknames. And the National Congress of American Indians has been campaigning for an end to mascots and nicknames since 1968.

Previous coverage of this issue in FNN&V can be found here and here and here.

-Meteor Blades

Ed WindDancer
Ed WindDancer

Real Indians Protest Fakes: Sal “White Horse” Serbin (Oglala-Lakota) grew up on the Pine Ridge reservation of South Dakota. But he lives in Florida now and in 2010 established a group called the Fraudulent Native American Task Force. Its numbers are small. But Serbin is trying to make its impact greater by protesting fake Indians every chance he gets. That often puts him into conflict not only with wannabes and other frauds but with other Indians, too. Among the many frauds he has challenged are “healers” and performers and participants in phony sun dance ceremonies or moon worshipping and other whatnot, often charging fees for services they claim to be Indian in origin.

“The stealing and exploitation of the Native American culture,” Sal said, “has become an epidemic.”

At one event recently, the Chasco Fiesta Parade, Serbin and five other Indians of various tribal heritage held signs when the faux-Indian Krewe of Chasco danced past in “Mohawk” haircuts, feathers and beads, dressed as “Pocahontas” and other stereotypes. Serbin’s sign read: “Having Fun Playing Indian? Grow Up!!”

He has links with other groups, including the Florida chapter of the American Indian Movement, the militant organization whose most famous confrontation occurred at Wounded Knee in 1973 on the reservation where Serbin was born nine years earlier. The 77-year-old leader of Florida AIM, Ruby Beaulieu, who has protested the Chasco parade’s inclusion of fake Indians for many years, told Leonora LaPeter Anton at the Tampa Bay Times that her complaints had gotten rid of outrages like “Find the treasure in the Indian burial mound” and “Pin the tail on the Indian.” But the parade remains.

At the Venice Community Center, the night before the parade, Serbin had another encounter:

There, a man named Ed WindDancer, a flute player and a carpenter, had put together a cast of Indian performers for a show called “Flight of the Red-Tailed Hawk.” The cost to attend: $15. CDs of his music were on sale. The parking lot was filling up fast.

WindDancer said he was Cherokee, but Sal called the Cherokees. Sal said they had never heard of him. When WindDancer said he was Nanticoke, Sal said he called the group’s chief in Delaware and learned WindDancer was not on their tribal rolls either. He knew that WindDancer had changed his last name from Pielert and that part of WindDancer’s family had come from Germany four generations ago. He knew that WindDancer had received probation and a $5,000 fine for bartering eagle, hawk and great horned owl feathers with a wildlife officer, a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

In another central Florida town recently, Serbin and some Indian allies confronted the New Age-style fake-Indian ritual midway. The participants, all sporting “Indian” names responded:

“In a past life, we were you,” said Raven That Speaks With the Cloud People. “We were Indians.”

“Let’s just love each other,” said Tiger Lily. […]

“If you want to continue with this group, if you could just add ‘style’ or ‘hobbyists’ to the end of your advertisements,” [Serbin] implored nicely. “This could be a wonderful thing if done properly.”

Small battles, occasionally small victories. But he doesn’t give up.

-Meteor Blades

American Indian Schools Get Solar, Wind Money from Arizona: After the expansion of a Tucson Electric Power company’s 400-megawatt, coal-fired power plant in 2009, the Arizona Renewable Energy Investment Fund was given $5 million to support projects to reduce pollution and benefit Native American communities in Arizona and northwestern New Mexico. Several projects have now been selected to receive a share of those funds: $236,000 for a solar and wind power project at Little Singer, Dilkon Community, Leupp, Shonto Preparatory and NATIVE schools; $65,000 for a solar and wind power project at Moenkopi Day and Hopi Day schools; and $253,000 to provide wind power to an assisted-living facility for the Hopi Office of Elderly Services.

-Meteor Blades

Montana’s 40-year-old Indian Education Act Praised: Surviving delegates and other Montanans gathered in the state’s House chambers Friday to commemorate the passage of Montana’s constitution in 1972. They focused intently on the document’s Education and Public Lands Article that changed how Montana relates to its American Indian populations. It says: “The state recognizes the distinct and unique cultural heritage of the American Indians and is committed in its educational goals to the preservation of their cultural heritage.”

It wasn’t until 1999 that this article was actually implemented. That took the prodigious efforts of Rep. Carol Juneau (Hidatsa and Mandan) to shepherd through the legislature. And it took several more years of lawsuits to get it funded, according to Montana Assistant Attorney General Andrew Huff (Cree-Rocky Boy Reservation). Juneau’s daughter Denise (Hidatsa and Mandan) is now the state’s superintendent of public instruction.

Because he didn’t look obviously like an Indian or what other people thought an Indian should look like, many people thought Huff was Italian or Mexican or marveled at his apparent easy ability to tan.

“So by the time I had hit high school in Missoula, I’d heard just about it all with regard to Indians – all the Indian slurs, the stereotypes, the racial epithets,” he said. “I’d heard that Indians were drunk, lazy, that we were a defeated people, that we should just blend in, that we should accept our fate and assimilate and that reservations should be done away with.”

Many people in his life – his supportive family, many teachers and his friends – had fought against these stereotypes, Huff said. Many people wanted to help Indian children, but lacked the knowledge to counter the stereotypes, he said.

It took 40 years, but Montana at last is fulfilling the promise of that provision, Huff said.

Montana has a K-12 Indian Education for All curriculum, developed in consultation with Indians and their tribes, he said. Teachers are getting trained on how to teach it and learn about Indians and Indian tribes. And Montana children of all backgrounds are learning about Indians and their history.

-Meteor Blades

Indians Not Happy with IRS Meddling: The president of the executive board of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, John Yellowbird Steele (Oglala-Lakota) told members of a Senate committee Thursday that the Internal Revenue Service is stepping over the line of tribal sovereignty and violating treaties in its attempts to tax treaty-guaranteed government assistance for things such as housing, school clothes and burial aid that tribes provide their members.

“We fix houses, and they want us to put a value on how much that lumber cost to patch a hole in a roof or a floor, put shingling on, they want us to put a value on that and give the person a 1099” tax form to possibly be taxed on the help, Steele said. “The next year, where are those people going to find the money to pay the IRS?”

The agency has over the years cut back on what social benefits for tribal members can be exempted from taxes. It has been meeting with various tribes to clarify rules on what is taxable under the General Welfare Doctrine. But, Steele said, in th midst of those meetings, tribes are getting notices that they are being audited. He called this an IRS fishing expedition.

-Meteor Blades

Indians Honor Owner of Cleaned-up Chickamauga Mound in Chattanooga: A Chattanooga burial mound dating back to perhaps 900 BCE was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1984. But it was overgrown with poison ivy, wisteria and 30 trees, practically invisible and, some in the American Indian community said, disrespected until the new owner of the industrial property where it sits decided to clean it up and give access to Native people. That owner, Kenny Wilhoit, was honored in a small ceremony today in conjunction with the National Days of Prayer to Protect Native Sacred Places. He was given a wooden bowl made from one of the trees removed from the mound.

Tom Kunesh (Standing Rock Sioux) of the Advisory Council on Tennessee Indian Affairs said that prior to 2010: “We would stand outside the fence, pray, offer tobacco and look forward to the day when we would be allowed access to it.” Wilhoit says that access will continue for as long as he owns the property.

-Meteor Blades

National Congress of American Indians, 1944. (Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives
National Congress of American Indians, 1944. (Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives

National Congress of American Indians Meeting for First Time in Nebraska: It was 1944 when the 60 male and seven female delegates of the first-ever get-together of the National Congress of American Indians met in Denver. Today, the congress began its mid-year conference in Lincoln, Nebraska. There will be more than 800 representatives from scores of the 565 federally recognized tribes at the Cornhusker Hotel. The four-day event, which will cover a broad range of issues, including climate change and violence against Native women, will end the first day’s events with a pow-wow. NCAI President Jefferson Keel (Chickasaw) will deliver an address Monday about “Uniting Tribes to Advance Our Shared Goals.”

In an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star last week, Keel discussed the economics of the tribes, including his own. In the 1980s, the 40,000-member Chickasaw tribe’s economic goal was $5 million. “If you look today, there’s probably a billion dollars flowing through our businesses.” These include a chocolate factory and a metal-fabrication factory. “Those create jobs,” he said, “and the jobs then relate to raising the quality of life of Indian people across the country.” One example is the 4,800-member Winnebago tribe of Nebraska, which went from zero revenue in 1995 and now has revenue of $226 million. But for many tribes, especially those in more remote areas, the economic conditions remain grim.

Keel noted that one major NCAI goal this year is getting out the Indian vote: “In 2008, there were probably one million Native American people who were not registered to vote.” Although he didn’t mention it, suppressing the Indian vote of those who are registered has been a key factor in keeping the numbers who vote at a low level relative to other ethnic groups.

-Meteor Blades

‘American Indian’ Charter School Blasted: Despite a report ripping the American Indian Charter School in Oakland, California, the school board there approved renewal of the school’s charter in April. Among the complaints about the school run by American Indian Models are that it has conflicts of interest, limited parent involvement and high teacher turnover. On a scale of 1-5 on 43 measures, the school received only as high as a “3” on one. But because its academic index was 990 out of 1000, a phenomenally high score that no other school in the Oakland system achieved, it retained its charter. Now some believe the index rating was inflated by cherry-picking transferring students, a violation of the law. Admissions are supposed to be “blind,” but parents have been asked to submit their students’ scores in their applications.

The school got its name from the fact that it was originally designed to serve the American Indian community in Oakland. In the 2010-2011 school-year, there were ZERO students who identified as Indian.  

That’s a sticking point for some local American Indians, said one prominent member of the Bay Area American-Indian community, who asked to be anonymous for fear of making waves. “If anything, I just wish they would change their name – it’s misleading, and potentially damaging to our community.”

-Meteor Blades

Oglala College Students Work Against Youth Suicide: Suicide among young people is epidemic on many American Indian reservations. To raise awareness, generate hope and help reduce this terrible circumstance, some Oglala Lakota College business students, have begun a campaign using traditional advertising and social media. Students in the Introduction to Business class have passed out 200 disposable cameras to elementary and middle school students at the Loneman, Crazy Horse and Red Cloud schools. The assignment: Take the camera home and shoot photos to show what hope looks like.

-Meteor Blades

Photo Exhibits Focuses on the 1973-1976 ‘Reign of Terror in South Dakota’:  From the time of the Wounded Knee siege in 1973, the FBI, government bureaucrats and corrupt tribal officials were at loggerheads with traditional Indians and the American Indian Movement. From now until the end of June, AIM-WEST, a non-profit community based inter-tribal organization in San Francisco, is hosting a photo and art exhibit about the “Reign of Terror in South Dakota” of that era. More than 60 AIM members were murdered in a three-year period. Included in the exhibit will be paintings by political prisoner Leonard Peltier, photos of AIM’s past activities, including the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz and the 1973 siege of Wounded Knee, as well as Bay Area indigenous activism. The exhibit is at the Arte International Gallery, 963 Pacific St. More information is available at AIM-West.

-Meteor Blades


A Tobacco Offering

I brought some tobacco with me today. A little here for the past, a little here for the present, a little here for the future. History and all the powers that be said that my people have been here ten, maybe fifteen thousand years, but my grandmother told me we’ve been here 30,000 years. When I started on this journey of talking about my people and learning about my people I went to anthropologists and mythologists, and I interned at a museum. And they said, “How do you know what you’re saying is true, what’s your primary source?” “My Grandmother.” They said, “Where was it written?” Well, my grandmother writes beautiful letters but she never wrote down our history. I’ve converted a lot of educated PhD authorities and one day they’re going to catch up and realize my people have been here 30,000 years.

I was going to sit down and talk but I like to see faces so I’m going to stand up so I can see faces.

My name is Paula Dove-Jennings, I have a brother who is a year older than me but on the day that I was born my father stood at the end of the street and said, “Today I am a man because I have a daughter, because women are the givers of life.” And I tease my two younger sisters from all the time, saying they weren’t necessary one sister is 9 years, the younger one is 18 years younger than me. I asked my father one night my after my first sister came along. “You had me, why her?” He said, “Well, you keep saying you wanted somebody else to play with.” We lived out in the country, without electricity without running bath, that kind of stuff.  It was great, it was wonderful. When my baby sister came along my father said, “I thought it was a tumor.” But I love them both. Women, not only being born make a man a man, just as a son makes a woman a woman, have always played an

important part in our nation.

Now if you look on this sheet here and other places you’re going to see the word “Narragansett” correct spelling, or pronunciation, is Nah-ah-gansett because we didn’t have the letter ‘r’. If you’re from Rhode Island or talk to other Rhode Islanders you’ll often find they leave the ‘r ‘out. We like to say,  “they’re trying to talk Narragansett.”

My people have always been here, this land where this building is right now is part swampland, low-lying lands. If you go to Providence Place mall where the parking area is there’s a sacred burial ground. And we were given about 350,000.00 dollars to allow them to bury our people on that land. My voice was not loud enough, the elders voice was not loud enough, the young people were not loud enough. So it’s up to those of us today to speak up and be loud about it. Be courteous but be loud. People think it’s amazing that women finally are running for President. We had women who led our people. Some more well known than others.

We also read in the paper now that women can fight in different battles in the United States Army, Marines, Navy. We had women warriors, we did all this and it’s taken 400 years  of everything to come around full circle so people realize that when the creator made us, man and woman, it was to walk side by side.

Squaw Man

Now, that didn’t always happen some people like my father’s mother married an Englishman. My grandfather is about 6’4″, 250 lbs; he went to college and became an engineer. But then he married my little 5’2″ grandmother she was Niantic and in Rhode Island my grandfather was known as squaw man. He could only get a job as policeman  or fireman, that’s what he did. He and my grandmother had eight children. His family disowned him, didn’t want anything to do with him because he married this woman. My grandmother and grandmother lived in Westerly, Rhode Island which is in the southern part of the state, in an old Italian neighborhood. My grandmother would stand at the fence, a white picket fence, she’d be on one side of the picket fence, Mrs. Filosetti would be on the other side. Mrs. Filosetti was speaking in Italian, Calibrese, and my grandmother was speaking in Narragansett and they would understand each other. And my grandmother would send over baked fish and they would send over the most delicious sausage, and sauce, and they’d exchange.

Once a year, around Thanksgiving time, a news reporter from the Westerly Sun would come to interview my grandmother. My Grandmother had a front porch which we called a piazza, and we’d be on her front porch. In those days I didn’t talk much. Grandmother would be out there, she’d have her apron on, the reporter would come to interview her. He’d ask what she was going to do for Thanksgiving, what she was going to cook. And my grandmother would say, “Well, we’re going to have roast turkey.” A truck would come by and it would have all these cages on it and my grandmother would reach up for the fattest one, she’d check them all out, pick out one that was 25 or 30 lbs. and take it out in the backyard, chop the head off, did what she had to do. She’d talk about the vegetables and so forth and the family members that would come in from wherever. But one year they sent a new reporter out and this reporter said,  “Mrs. Dove, do you people go hunting for your turkey?” My grandmother’s sitting there and I’m holding onto her apron. I looked up at her and her eyes were getting blacker and blacker. She told him no, she had bought it from Mr. so-and-so.” “Well, did your people live in tee-pees?” “No, we had long houses, we had wig-wams.” I could feel my grandmothers body tense up and her eyes kept getting darker and darker. He went on in this way for quite awhile. Finally he said, “Well isn’t it true that the women are not as good, well they’re inferior to the men.” Grandmother said, “No, that’s not true.” Then he said, “Well, I heard that Indian women always walk behind their men.” By this time my Grandmother rolled those eyes up at him and said, “That’s true.” “Well see you are inferior then.” My grandmother stood up, all 5’2″ of her, holding onto her apron and she said, “We stand behind our men to tell them where to go.” Still true, still true.

Now my grandmother said to my grandfather, “You have to vote, you have to get involved. It’s not only your right, it’s your responsibility.” You have to make sure when your children come of age that they vote. Don’t just vote for the President, or the national, or just for the Governor, remember who you’re voting for in these small towns.

Now 1924, when the reorganization act was going, on a woman known as Princess Red Wing, a Wampanog-Narragansett, she designed the Tribal Seal. It’s the peace pipe, the North Star and the sun. And she worked hard. So, we weren’t Federally recognized, but we were recognized.

Now our people fought in all the wars, up to and including the Civil War and after the Civil War was over and we’re back on our reservation in Charlestown , Westerley, all through the Southern coast, that was all our land but it slowly being stolen. It was taken away and we moved back in further and further. One of our elders called our people together and a man came down from the state house up here and said, “you fought in the civil war, you did well. We’re going to make you citizens of the state of Rhode Island.” He went on and on about the benefits of being a citizen of the state of Rhode Island. He didn’t mention voting. Just as the black men were given the right to be citizens he said at that time. We sent him away. We do not want the citizenship. We are happy to be Narragansett. Why would we give up what we have? Yes, you claim the black man is now a citizen, but we will never see a black man running this country. And I wept when Obama won, I didn’t vote for him, I voted for a woman. And then I prayed that he would be safe and not killed, or his children be harmed. Because I worry about this. Well time went on, 1924 we’re now official citizens of the state of Rhode Island. But it wasn’t until 1951 or ’52 that Rhode Island made the law that allowed us to vote.

Now I lived in Charlestown and there were a lot of Native families there around us and the beginning of November a car would drive out the dirt roads, no electric, and drive to my cousin’s house, to my cousin’s father’s house, to our house, and they would come out and say, “you vote for us, don’t vote for anybody else.” Then leave a pint of whiskey. My father’s cousin and my father put all the whiskey up and my father would call them together and one of the elders, he was a young man then, would say, “you go and vote, and you vote for the person you think is going to be the most responsible for all our needs, not just a certain individual.’ Then at Christmas time they’d all bring their pints and my father would take fresh whole cream and make the best eggnog you ever had and he shared it all.

My father tried to run for local town office in Charlestown, he could never get in. Sometimes he wasn’t even allowed to get on the ballot. Then we moved to Exeter, Rhode Island. And when we moved there first, my father went to the PTA meetings, to the local town meetings, and in a few years he was the town moderator. He periodically came up to the state house. He would meet with the local politicians. He would call them up, he would draft a letter to whoever the local representative was. So when they heard the name ‘Ferris Dove’ they’d say, “ah, he’s got some influence with the tribe.”

His Native Name was Roaring Bull

His whole purpose was to help us get some of our land back. He was on the tribal council, and he also ended up after a couple of terms as town moderator they used to tell him he didn’t have to use the mallet, his native name was Roaring Bull, that he could just raise his voice. He became a tax assessor for several years.

My father met my mother just before he got a scholarship from the DAR to go to Bacone Indian college in Oklahoma. The DAR said they were going to pay his way there. If he did well, it was a two-year college, they’d send him onto graduate school. When he left he had 2 outfits, 4 pairs of undies, 4 pairs of socks and 2 dollars. Took the Greyhound. He loved school, loved education. Now before he went they offered two or three other Native men. He had been out of school 3 or 4 years but his younger brother said, “no, I’m going in the Navy.” This was in the thirties. My father went out there. My family is fortunate, we must be a bunch of pack rats because we still have the letters he sent. His greatest pain was they would go from Oklahoma to Texas and they walked to a store where they were going to get something to eat and a sign said, “No dogs or Indians.” And my father wrote to my grandmother and said, “I want to come home, I want to come home, I can’t live with this.” And my grandmother said, “Your own Grandfathers and Grandmothers barely speak to you and you’re going to worry about this sign? Stay. Get your education.” My grandfather stayed. He went to school with Dick West. And he loved school. And when he came back, whenever he had a chance, he took courses at the University of Rhode Island. He died when he was sixty-eight, in 1983, and he was still taking courses. When he became town moderator he took some political courses. And when he was the tax assessor he took some financial courses.

My parents owned a restaurant, twenty years. It was my mother’s idea. My mother worked in a factory called Kenyon Mill. She said, “I’m not coming back after summer vacation.” We had this house with a building next door and my mother’s father was a chef, her grandfather also owned a restaurant here in Providence. I think there’s a Wendy’s or McDonald’s there now where it was located. My parents did catering work as well as my father working making submarines, and my mother working in this factory. And being a female daughter you get drafted whether you want to or not, working those days off from your regular job, you had to waitress or cook, or do something. And every week two or three people that would say, “are you a real Indian?” I’d wonder to myself, “what’s an unreal Indian?” Oh, they mean what happens at Halloween, the stereotypes. They’d ask what tribe are you. “Narragansett.” “Never heard of them.” “But you’re here in Rhode Island. How can it be you’ve never heard of them?” Then I thought back when I was in school, I was in grammar school. In our classes at Thanksgiving time it was the Indians that met the Pilgrims. We weren’t heard again.No other Native nations were mentioned until in the spring when they talked about the Cherokee and the Trail of Tears. That was it. The rest of the time we didn’t exist. And not talk about the names of the towns, the cities, words that they’d use, “hammock”. [unintelligible 20:51] They’d go to the beach, names like Pawtucket. All this, this is ours.

And they’d talk about how wonderful Roger Williams was, how much he helped us. He fought for us to be able to use our own religious beliefs. But they don’t talk about how after the battle at Great Swamp how he voted to send our ancestors, our people, to Barbados and to the islands of the Caribbean as slaves. And I grew older and had children and grandchildren and who comes from the islands to my nieces school as exchange, Narragansett, Niantic, Wampanoag, and Peuquot descendants from the slaves. And my niece and the schoolchildren, half of them went down there. We were shocked at how much we looked alike and at how many things their ancestors had passed on and had stayed the same. You always wonder who writes history. Red Wing always says the winner writes history. I look at history books, and you all can look at history books and you can see the biases,  and it’s passed on to the children and it’s passed on to the children’s children. It’s time that we speak the truth.

A Real Indian

At one time I was executive director of the commission for Indian Affairs for the state of Rhode Island. I had a window office and a secretary and the secretary’s name was Lois San Antonio. A very pretty Italian woman. She was always peeking around the corner. After a month or so I said, “Lois, what’s the problem?” She said, “I can’t believe I’m working for a real Indian.” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I said, “Lois, what’s an unreal one?” She said, “I didn’t think any lived in Rhode Island. I told her they may live on the same street you live on, you have this image in your mind. Don’t let that fool you. Don’t let that take away. Then I brought her down here to meet my parents, and my children and grandchildren and different siblings. After about two years she said, “I want to apologize for my stupidity, but it’s not my fault, it’s the school’s.”

And part of the schools is that you go and vote for your committees. You make sure that people are looking out for everybody. You have to remember that, it’s important. You have to be able to think beyond what’s right before you and see the rest.

I have a book that I found in a second hand bookstore and it has the native names that we use in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Place names, towns, rivers. How many of you know that half of our 50 states are named for the local indigenous people. People don’t think about that. It’s fact, not fiction. People don’t say enough about Native people. There’s a Vice-President that was half Native. They don’t talk about the Native that went out into outer space. I don’t even want to go into outer space, I’ll be honest with you. The Creator made us here, we stay here. But my grandmother in another interview, different reporter, different paper, was asked about going to the moon because that was the big thing when President

Kennedy was here. And so she said, “Well, I have no desire to go, I wouldn’t allow my children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren to go, but maybe everybody else will go!” And the reporter, and I was there, he was shocked, he was stunned, “What do you mean?” “If everyone goes we can reclaim the land, they won’t chop down anymore trees, or put down pipelines here or there, they won’t defile the water, they’ll let things grow naturally.”

People don’t realize, when people came across that big water over here we had everything we needed. We had our food, clothing, shelter, our educational games. No it wasn’t in a classroom with desks lined up in a row and rote memorizing. See, in the wintertime and the elders would tell stories and help you learn how to identify things, things that were necessary. Think about the things we didn’t have before those ships got lost and landed here. We didn’t have rats, the common housefly. We had good mosquitoes and other kinds of flies. We didn’t have jails. We didn’t have homes for the elderly, we took care of our own. We didn’t have guns. guns are for food, not today. it’s to kill to slaughter someone so they can’t live again.

The British were astounded at the wars we would have. Whether I’ll get your bag and take it home. I got whatever’s in your back pocket and take it home, I won, I got it. I might even say that’s a pretty young woman and I think I’ll take her home to work in my garden. She might work there for a year or so, she might decide she wants to stay or she might want to go on. And these were all good things. So we had what we needed.

One of the first things that happened when this part of the country was invaded was the British chopped down the trees. Because in Europe and in England the biggest trees belonged to the Lords. High and mighty so they chopped down the biggest trees here to take back. Not for the poor people, not for the homeless. You got put in places, if you couldn’t pay your debt you got thrown in jail. They took everything and they keep taking from Mother Earth, that’s why you need to vote. And they put nothing back that’s good in there. They keep putting stuff that’s not good up in the air so people can’t breath and have diseases and different things happen to them.

You have to vote, you have to remember. You got to start at the local level and keep going and going. And speak up. A lot of times in the newspaper or telephone books will say who your local representative is. Call them up even if you get a voicemail. Go on the computer, I’m not a computer person. But, go on it and let them know how you feel . So they’ll hear more than those that they want to hear. They’ll hear truth and they’ll think about the people, and that’s important. Gotta stand strong, stand together and you gotta speak up because it doesn’t do a bit of good if you sit there and just say, “I don’t really agree with that.” You have to stand up. Go to your town meeting. I know, some of them are boring and some of them you say oh my god where did these people come from. But, if you don’t speak up it’s going to keep going the way it has been going.

If you don’t recognize the racism in this country, you never will. I was born and raised in Rhode Island. I had one child born in Connecticut, my oldest one. On her birth certificate it says “American Indian.’ My second child was born in Mississippi. My husband got out of the Air Force he was a tall cool drink of water and I said that was for me. He was black, Indian, and white. He looked like a white. We go to Mississippi, I have my first son and the doctor’s and nurses are all running in there, “he looks like a white baby. He’s not white.” They put N on his birth certificate. I told them I’m American Indian, they still put down, N. This son I lost. He was ten years old when he died in an accident, and this was before we were going for Federal recognition. My youngest son was born here in Rhode Island, South County Hospital. Picked out a name, his name was Adam, the first man. I filled out his name, filled out race, and so forth. They called me into this little office when I was getting ready to come home. “You have American Indian on here, what tribe are you?” “Narragansett” She crossed it out. I called the doctor. He said he’d fill it. He did and I didn’t see it, didn’t worry about it, it was Dr. Barber. To go for Federal recognition you have to have birth certificates. The Health Department over here told my son they had him as white, Caucasian. I go to the Health Director. He looked at me and said, “Well, Mrs. Jennings, you know what they say.” I said, “Sir?” “Momma’s baby, father’s maybe.” I took my first Nitro pill less than a month after that. It angered me so, frustrated me so. I wrote a letter to the present Governor and told him about it. He called my father and apologized to my father, but I never forgot it. There’s not one time I go into that health center that I don’t remember the abuse of that man. It was small but it was painful. It was after that my father told me of his eight sisters and brothers, five were listed as white, three were listed as Indian and they all had the same mother and father.

To The Moon

Don’t let anybody mistreat who you are. Respect it and love it. I have nieces and nephews that are half Chinese and half German, they love both sides of their culture. When they go to the Powwow or August Social they look as Narragansett as anybody else. At German beer festivals they’re more German than anybody else. it all depends on who and what you are. But they all know that Grandfather said voting is not only a responsibility, it’s a right. Do it. Don’t complain. Do it. I expect each and every one of you to tell your young ones to do the same, otherwise I’m going to send you to the moon.

[applause]

I brought out my tribal ID card which does have a picture on it and a tribal seal. I wish on the back there was a little list of history that said when we got recognition, when we were de-tribalized, some more things about us. But after 911 I happened to be on the Tribal Council at that time and happened to be traveling across the country and remember in Nevada. I went to get on the plane and I showed this card and they took it. Next time, 3 weeks later, I had to go to Washington State. When I got there I pulled the card out, they refused to take it. They patted me down, went through all my things. Finally I get in line to go in and they pull me aside again. Well, I was so frustrated and so angry I said, “You’re here in my country, why am I going to bomb it?” And they looked at me like who’s this wild woman. There was a younger native woman with me and she said, “calm down, calm down.” It is very frustrating when people don’t recognize who and what and where we’re at.

I wanted to go over this just a little because I wanted to make a few notes. If you look at this paper Verrazano said we were the tallest looking Indians he’d ever seen. We love to tease the people. We were taller than the English. We were always in the subservient area when you see these European drawings. I told you we’d been here 30,000 years. Many people were affected by plagues and disease. Do you realize, and this is documented, over 70% of the medicines used is medicine that derived from the Native people in North and South America? It’s ours, we did it. I can remember when Pampers came out, they thought that was a big thing. Well, we took the inside of the milkweed and made Pampers. We had it all.

Remember Wampanoag and Narragansett only has an ‘s’ on it when it’s possessing something. It’s just that way. We talked about Roger Williams, he bought land. Well we didn’t have the concept of buying land. You could use the land till you didn’t need it any longer and then you moved on.

The war with the Pequots, the Mohegans, well the war with the Pequots was the same nation but they split. They came from upstate New York and my people got angry because they kept fishing in our ponds and they wanted to make war. We didn’t like that. King Philip decided to make war, it’s on page 2. He didn’t decide to make war he tried to preserve some land, culture and religious beliefs of our people. So, he didn’t make war he was doing something to protect us.

When the battle of the Great Swamp my people took in Wampanoag, elders, young people, down in South County. The English came in and from CT and MS and slaughtered, burned. People that weren’t sent into slavery were put on a ship and told they were going to Block Island when the boat got half way there they threw them overboard and it’s not in the history book. But my grandmother told me because her grandmother told her. I have never been able to go to Block Island. Can’t bear the thought that I would be floating over an ancestor. I’m the only member of my family that’s never been to Europe or Asia. My grandmother told me don’t go across the big water, your name is Sunflower, stay here. I’ve been up and down North and South America but not across the big water.

Then it says in 1782 it says only 500 Narrangansett were left to sign. They LOCATED 500, now others they didn’t want to locate. At that time, and right up until 1924 the Native people from Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, were meeting right here in Providence. Meeting at various churches and venues trying to reclaim our land. This wasn’t something that happened in the ’60s and ’70’s after AIM. We’d been trying all that time.

None of our nations are perfect, the United States certainly isn’t perfect, but I can’t think of another place I’d rather live. I’ve lived in California, NY sate, miss, I’ve lived in CT. As far away as I get my heart keeps coming back to the cold winters, the lovely springs, the beautiful fall, the seafood.

This is it, this is it. And if you love wherever you’re from, and if you love who your family has been and who they will be you will do the things that need to be done to help this world survive. I don’t know you all but I can tell you I love you all because you’re fellow humans.

Thank You.

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Indians have often been referred to as the “Vanishing Americans.” But we are still here, entangled each in his or her unique way with modern America, blended into the dominant culture or not, full-blood or not, on the reservation or not, and living lives much like the lives of other Americans, but with differences related to our history on this continent, our diverse cultures and religions, and our special legal status. To most other Americans, we are invisible, or only perceived in the most stereotyped fashion.

First Nations News & Views is designed to provide a window into our world, each Sunday reporting on a small number of stories, both the good and the not-so-good, and providing a reminder of where we came from, what we are doing now and what matters to us. We wish to make it clear that neither navajo nor I make any claim whatsoever to speak for anyone other than ourselves, as individuals, not for the Navajo people or the Seminole people, the tribes in which we are enrolled as members, nor, of course, the people of any other tribes.

 

Heathens on the Nez Perce Reservation

When Ulysses S. Grant assumed the Presidency, he inherited a major problem with regard to the administration of the Indian reservations. The Indian Service was notoriously corrupt and his solution was to create faith-based reservations: that is, to turn the administration of the nation’s Indian reservations over to Christian, primarily Protestant, missionary groups. The missionaries, working on behalf of the United States government, were to help the Indians on the road to civilization which required them to become English-speaking Christian farmers.

In 1871, the Nez Perce reservation in Idaho was first given to the Catholics, but due to Presbyterian protests it was then given to the Presbyterians. Under this administration, the Presbyterian missionaries and teachers deliberately made the Indians ashamed of their own culture, language, history, and traditions. Old ways were not only frowned upon and ridiculed, they were also prohibited.

At this time, the Nez Perce were divided into two main factions: the reservation group which was primarily Christian (mostly Presbyterian), pro-American, and willing to accept European customs, and the off-reservation group which had adopted an anti-government, anti-treaty, anti-Christian, and anti-acculturational stance. The off-reservation group was involved in the 1877 Nez Perce War.

The new Indian agent, determined to continue and strengthen the Presbyterian influence on the reservations, ordered the Methodist missionary off the reservation and refused to allow the Catholics to build a mission.

The missionaries on the reservation opposed those things they viewed as associated with Nez Perce heathenism: polygyny, gambling, shamanism, guardian spirits, and any Indian ceremony that including drumming, singing or chanting, and dancing. They also condemned long hair on men, aboriginal clothing, and horses, as all of these had been a part of the traditional Nez Perce way of life. They also strongly opposed the Catholics, who had not been a part of the traditional lifestyle, but who were seen by the Presbyterians as heathens or pagans.

In 1873, the United States government built a church for the Presbyterian mission at Kamiah, Idaho on the Nez Perce reservation.

In 1884, the United States formally outlawed “pagan” Indian ceremonies and any form of promoting these ceremonies. Indians who were found guilty of participating in traditional religious ceremonies were to be imprisoned for 30 days.  This was seen as an important step in the destruction of the Indian way of life.

As the United States government legislated against traditional Native American religions, the Presbyterian missionaries on the Nez Perce Reservation were scandalized at what they viewed as the pagan interpretations of patriotic holidays. During holidays, such as the Fourth of July, many of the Nez Perce would engage in such heathen practices as horse-racing, war dancing, and open sexuality. In order to counter these “pagan” activities, the missionaries decided to sponsor a picnic to provide a Christian alternative during the holidays.

In 1885, the missionaries among the Nez Perce organized the second annual Kamiah picnic as a way of uniting the Nez Perce and countering paganism. The peace of the picnic, however, was interrupted by gunfire as tribal police under the leadership of Tom Hill attempted to make an arrest. Two men were killed. Tom Hill was later charged with murder, but the jury rendered a verdict of justifiable homicide.

By 1888, all of the Nez Perce Presbyterian churches were under the control of native preachers. Non-Indian missionaries assisted in an advisory capacity.

In spite of picnics and Native preachers, the old ways refused to die. In 1891, as a result of the controversy over the blending of pagan and Christian elements in patriotic celebrations, such as the Fourth of July, the “heathen” Nez Perce were expelled from the agency grounds. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs ordered that the race grounds be fenced and forbid all heathenism and immorality on the school grounds.  Later missionary writers would report that this simply removed the heathens from any ameliorating Christian influences. From a Christian missionary viewpoint this meant that the heathen celebrations became more “evil.” Presbyterian missionary Kate McBeth, who was on the reservation at the time, wrote:

“That Fourth of July the camp was made just outside the school ground, half a mile away, and heathenism still raged.”

She went on to say:

“Renegade Indians from almost every tribe on the coast came, delighting to introduce new immoral plays into the Nez Perce camp. Oh! The vileness of it all!”

In 1897, during the ten-day Fourth of July celebration, the Nez Perce broke into two factions: Christian and heathen. Two separate camps were established. Presbyterian missionary Kate McBeth wrote:

“Those who went into the heathen camp were to be considered suspended members until such time as they chose to show sorrow for their acts and confess their sins.”

Word spread among the Christian camp that the heathens were going to lead a parade through the camp. Seven Christian Nez Perce under the leadership of Edward Reboin blocked the road. When the heathen procession led by James Reuben got to them they were stopped. After an exchange of angry words, the procession turned back.

Another Presbyterian missionary wrote:

“In and out of that heathen camp we went and saw all the devilish glamour and savage gorgeousness that covered every kind of wickedness that human mind can invent.”

During the twentieth century, the division between the heathens and the Christians on the reservation remained, but the open conflicts between the two groups became more subtle, often reflected in the political arena.

The Nez Perce in Exile

The 1877 Nez Perce War ended with the Battle of the Bear Paw in Montana. After a five-day siege the five non-treaty bands of Nez Perce surrendered with the understanding that they were to be sent to the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho. A total of 418 Nez Perce surrendered: 87 men, 184 women, and 147 children. Among those who surrendered was Halahtookit (Daytime Smoke), the son of Captain William Clark, and his daughter and granddaughter.

Following their surrender, the Nez Perce were taken to Kansas as prisoners of war. Here they asked the army to take them to Idaho. They pointed out that General Miles had promised them that they could return home. General Sherman, however, denied their request saying:

“These Indians are prisoners and their wishes should not be consulted.”

In 1878, Congress appropriated money for the permanent resettlement of the non-treaty Nez Perce bands to Oklahoma. The Nez Perce, who were considered to be prisoners of war, were transported from Leavenworth by train and then by wagon to lands purchased from the Peoria and Miami tribes. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs assured Congress that the climate of Oklahoma was similar to that of the Nez Perce homelands in Idaho and Oregon.

On the first day of their journey, the Nez Perce were herded into an open field near a railroad siding. In temperatures hovering near one hundred degrees they waited in the open for the train. When it didn’t arrive, they spent the night in the open.

The following year, the government encouraged three young Nez Perce Presbyterians-James Reuben, Mark Williams, and Archie Lawyer-to travel from their Idaho reservation to Oklahoma so that they could preach to the exiled Nez Perce who were being held there as prisoners of war. The bands which had been at war with the United States were pagan, and many were followers of the Wanapan prophet Smohalla. If the Nez Perce prisoners were to move to the Nez Perce Reservation they would have to give up their pagan ways.

In 1879, Nez Perce leaders Chief Joseph and Yellow Bull and their interpreter traveled to St. Louis and then to Washington, D.C. In Washington, Chief Joseph addressed a packed house at the Lincoln Hall auditorium. For an hour and twenty minutes he told the audience about the history of his people, about the many broken promises, and about the problems they were having in Oklahoma. Chief Joseph and Yellow Bull spoke to a large group of cabinet members, congressmen, and diplomats. Joseph’s account of the causes of the war and their difficulties in Oklahoma were eloquent and moving. An interview with Joseph was also published in the North American Review. With this publicity, Joseph became the popular symbol among non-Indians for Nez Perce heroism.

Chief Joseph

While they were in Washington, the Nez Perce were also granted a meeting with President Rutherford B. Hayes. They returned home hopeful that the government would fulfill some of its promises to them.

Chief Joseph 1880

Shown above is Chief Joseph and family in 1880.

In 1880, Nez Perce Presbyterian leader Archie Lawyer organized a church among the exiled Nez Perce. At the same time, James Rueben opened a day school which had an average attendance of 80 students.

In 1883, a few of the Nez Perce prisoners of war-two elderly men and the rest women and orphans – were allowed to return to the reservation in Idaho.  The government refused to appropriate any money for the move so the Nez Perce raised the money themselves by selling gloves, moccasins, and foodstuffs.  

Finally, in 1884, the Nez Perce who had been exiled to Oklahoma for their 1877 war were allowed to return to the northwest. They were given a choice of going to the Nez Perce reservation in Lapwai, Idaho where they would have to become Christians or going to the Colville Reservation in Washington. Nez Perce warrior Yellow Wolf reported that they were asked:

“Where you want to go? Lapwai and be Christian, or Colville and just be yourself?”

According to Yellow Wolf:

“Because we respected our religion, we were not allowed to go on the Nez Perce Reservation.”

Chief Joseph and the members of his band were not allowed to choose and were required to go to the Colville Reservation.

The Lapwai Reservation in Idaho was a Presbyterian-administered reservation, and as such it was not an environment conducive to the practice of the old ways and beliefs. Those who wished to live as Christians would be welcomed, but those who wished to practice any of the old ways faced some danger. Among the Nez Perce captives, 118 chose to go to Lapwai.  

On the Colville Reservation, those who wished to practice the old religion would be welcome. On the Colville Reservation the Nez Perce would be free from the oversight of the churches and Indian agents committed to their Christianizing and civilizing. Here they would be able to retain their traditional ways.

On the trip home, the train stopped in Pocatello where it was to be divided: taking some Nez Perce to Lapwai and some to Colville. As the train was stopped in Pocatello, U.S. Marshals attempted to arrest Chief Joseph for murder. Instead of dividing at Pocatello, the train continued through to Wallula Junction.

On the Colville Reservation, the Nez Perce settled in Nespelem territory. There was some friction as the Nespelem resented that the Nez Perce were settled on their land without their consent.

The non-Indian response to the return of the non-treaty Nez Perce to the Nez Perce Reservation raised a demand to re-garrison Fort Lapwai. One editor wrote:

“Isolated as we are and surrounded as we are by the most powerful tribe of Indians in the Northwest, the people of north Idaho have a right to demand from the government protection for their lives.”

After being settled on the Colville Reservation, Chief Joseph continued being a popular icon among non-Indians. In 1897, Chief Joseph was taken to New York City to participate in a parade for the dedication of Grant’s Tomb. He was invited to Madison Square Garden to watch Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. When Buffalo Bill realized that he was in the audience, he rode over and paid his respects.

In 1900, Chief Joseph, who was still a prisoner of war, was allowed by the government to visit the Wallowa Valley. He visited the grave sites of his parents and wept openly. The Americans who were now living in the valley, however, jeered him. They denigrated his spiritual connection to the land and they viewed his claims as antiquated and delusional.

In 1901, Pendleton Wool Company in Oregon produced its first catalog entitled The Story of the Wild Indian’s Overcoat which featured a picture of Chief Joseph arrayed in a Pendleton robe on the cover. In its catalog and its advertising, the company made an effort to describe native customs and traditions.

In 1903, Chief Joseph met with President Theodore Roosevelt in Washington, D.C.. At a buffalo dinner, Chief Joseph explained the situation of his people. He was promised by the President that someone would come to investigate the matter. It was another empty promise.

In 1903, railroad magnate James J. Hill invited Chief Joseph to give a speech in the Seattle Theater. Chief Joseph told the packed audience:

“The government at Washington has always given me many flattering promises but up to the present time has utterly failed to fulfill any of its promises.”

Chief Joseph died of a heart attack on the Colville Reservation in 1904. Some people say that he died of a broken heart.

Gold and the Nez Perce

It is often said that the European invasion of the Americas was driven by three things: Gold, Glory, and God. Gold-fever often resulted in genocide or displacement of Indian nations. Concepts of law, of morality, of respect for others usually disappeared when gold was discovered on Indian land. One example of this can be seen on the Nez Perce land in Idaho in the 1860s.  

The Nez Perce reservation in Idaho was created at the 1855 Walla Walla treaty council. The treaty with the Nez Perce clearly indicated that no American was to be allowed on the reservation without the consent of tribal leaders and the Indian agent.

In 1860, a group of ten American miners invaded the Nez Perce Reservation without the permission of the Indian agent or the Nez Perce chiefs. They made a rich gold discovery on Canal Gulch and then they claimed that the gold was found east of the Nez Perce Reservation, a claim they knew was false.

The following year, more than a thousand gold seekers invaded Nez Perce land in direct violation of the 1855 treaty. The superintendent of Indian affairs met with the Indian agent for the Nez Perce Reservation who recommended that the Nez Perce treaty be modified to allow the gold miners to stay. The Americans then met with Nez Perce chief Lawyer and his followers who agreed to sell the land around Pierce and Oro Fino. The area was opened to occupation in common with non-Indians and was for mining purposes only. The new treaty clearly indicated that the traditional root grounds and agricultural areas were to be for the exclusive use and benefit of the Indians.

In signing the new treaty, Nez Perce leader Lawyer reminded the Americans that the Nez Perce had not yet received any of the funds promised them in the 1855 treaty. The Americans promised to look into the matter and speed up payment.

The treaty was sent to Washington and was  eventually ratified. Congress eventually appropriated only forty thousand dollars to pay for the land and there is no record that this money ever reached the Nez Perce. In the 1862 Senate debate regarding appropriations for the Nez Perce in Idaho, Senator J.W. Nesmith said:

“Treaties are written out conveying away millions of acres, not one word of  which the Indians understand; and complicated articles involving the most abstruse legal provisions, furnishing subjects for interminable litigation, are fully explained and elucidated by some ignorant half-breed interpreter, who does not know one letter from another, but who acts under the direction of some politician, who desires to win his way to public favor by perpetrating a huge swindle upon those who have neither power or intelligence adequate to their own protection.”

Less than a month after the signing of the treaty, Lewiston, Idaho was founded in flagrant violation of the treaty. After some unsuccessful attempts to get the squatters to leave, Lawyer agreed to the building of a wharf and warehouse provided that no other permanent structures were built at the site. The Nez Perce had farms in the bottom area and wanted to retain this land. A few months later, however, the Americans laid out a permanent townsite.

Near the present-day town of Stites, Koolkool Snehee (Red Owl) encountered a group of miners and informed them that they were in violation of the treaty. After a long discussion, some of the prospectors returned to Oro Fino, but others snuck around the Indians and into the mountains. They later returned to announce their new gold strike and within a couple of months more than 2,000 miners had illegally invaded the area.

In 1861, the non-treaty Nez Perce under the leadership of Eagle-From-the-Light returned from visiting the Shoshone in the Weiser area and found that mining camps had been established in direct violation with earlier agreements. Eagle-From-the-Light quickly found that the American authorities refused to act in the matter, so he called a council in  which he proposed an alliance with the Shoshone to drive the miners out. Red Owl and other Nez Perce leaders refused to go along with this idea. Eagle-From-the-Light gathered his people, vowed not to be a slave to the Americans like the other Nez Perce bands, and departed for Shoshone country in the south.

In 1862, the U.S. military held a grand council with the Nez Perce to propose stationing troops on the Clearwater River to protect the Indians from the lawless miners who were invading their territory. The Nez Perce chiefs attending the council included Lawyer, Joseph, and Big Thunder. As a result of the talks, a new military post, Fort Lapwai, was established near the village of Thunder Eyes. However, rather than being used to force the illegal squatters off Nez Perce land, the military tended to support the American squatters and create anxiety among the Nez Perce.

In 1862, an estimated $7-10 million in gold was taken from Nez Perce lands by non-Indian miners. It was estimated that there were about 15,000 miners on Nez Perce land in open defiance of their treaty. Some of the miners called upon the American government to move the Nez Perce to some other location.

With regard to the Nez Perce treaty, General Benjamin Alvord reported in 1862:

“Even now, at the end of seven years, I can find but few evidences of the fulfillment of the treaty. Lawyer has never received but six months of his salary as head chief, and the house with which he was to be provided has but just been commenced. Few of their annuities have ever reached them.”

In 1862, the Nez Perce received the first of the annuities promised them in the 1855 treaty. The payment was only $6,396 and Lawyer realized that he and his people were being cheated. He complained to the Americans, who simply ignored him.

With the passage of the Idaho Territorial Organic Act in 1863 Congress created Idaho Territory. With the creation of this new territory came increased pressure against the Nez Perce: the miners had their own politicians who could force federal actions against the Indians on behalf of the miners.

In 1863, the Americans met once again with the Nez Perce to negotiate a new treaty with them which would reduce their reservation. According to the American negotiators, this would “protect” the Nez Perce from illegal settlement. During the treaty council Nez Perce chief Lawyer talked to the Americans about breaking the treaty. He said:

You have broken the treaty, not we. When you broke through the treaty, it did not make my heart sad or sore, I only wondered why you did it. Now, I am called on to look upon this proposition of yours after the Americans have broken the treaty so often.”

The American Indian agent addressed the council:

“We come as your friends, to advise with you, and to arrange for the preserving of your rights. As your friends we propose to you to relinquish to the United States a part of your present Reservation, and to take a new Reservation, smaller than the one you now hold. We also propose that on this new Reservation, each man or family shall have a piece of land in their own right [severalty], in their own name, just as the Americans do.”

He also said:

“We intend to act with perfect justice towards you, in the sight of God.”

In the treaty, the Nez Perce gave up nearly 7 million acres and retained only 785,000 acres for themselves. Fifty-one Nez Perce men signed the treaty. No leaders from outside the reservation area signed. None of these signing the treaty lost any land. One of the American participants in the council, Captain George B. Curry, reported:

“Although the treaty goes out to the world as the concurrent agreement of all the tribe, it is in reality nothing more than the agreement of Lawyer and his band, number in the aggregate not a third part of the Nez Perce tribe.”

The army commander at Fort Lapwai on the Nez Perce reservation was sent the following order:

“you are directed to protect-with a strong hand, and in the most-prompt-and vigorous manner, the Indians from all encroachments and aggressions.”

The army commander is also ordered to prevent the sale of liquor to the Indians.

In 1863, prior to the ratification of the treaty by the U.S. Senate, the lands ceded by the Nez Perce treaty were opened for American settlement.

Like many other Indian nations, the Nez Perce found that the discovery of gold on their lands was a curse rather than a blessing. Rather than benefitting from its riches, gold meant a loss of land and demonstrated to them to them the meaning of greed, a cultural value that was alien to Nez Perce traditions.

In 1881, the Secretary of the Interior wrote:

“There is nothing more dangerous to an Indian reservation than a rich mine.”

Setting the Stage for the Nez Perce War

Under the Constitution, Indian tribes are seen as sovereign nations and thus the United States negotiated treaties with Indian tribes. These are not treaties which ended wars, but rather they are agreements concerning peace, and, most frequently, the sale of Indian lands to the United States. In the treaty process, the United States usually ignored traditional tribal concepts of government in order to install puppet dictatorships. In addition, the United States often misrepresented, or misinterpreted, the treaties with deadly consequences for both the tribes and the American settlers. One example of this can be seen in the 1863 treaty with the Nez Perce which laid the foundation for the 1877 Nez Perce War.

The purpose of the treaty was ostensibly to protect the Nez Perce from illegal non-Indian settlement in their territory. In order to protect them, the size of their territory was reduced. The treaty was signed by 51 Nez Perce men, giving it the appearance of Nez Perce support, but the only ones who signed were U.S. government-supported chiefs and sub-chiefs.  

Background:

Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, there was no Nez Perce tribe with regard to a unifying political or government organization. While the bands shared the same language and culture, there was no integration of the various Nez Perce bands into a larger government structure. The Nez Perce tribe was composed of a number of political autonomous bands, each with its own chiefs and council. There were two ways of obtaining chiefly status at the band level. The first was to gain a reputation as being a generous man by sponsoring feasts and tutelary spirit dances and by distributing goods. The second way was through war exploits. To become a war chief, a warrior had to obtain ten war honors (coups).  

Unlike a European king, the Nez Perce chief had no coercive powers. The chief’s duties were to arbitrate disputes, act as spokesman, oversee the well-being of the villagers, and provide an example of outstanding and generous conduct, sharing his wealth with the needy. In return, the people often gave him food, clothing, and other goods, especially for settling arguments.

At times, neighboring Nez Perce bands would be unified into confederacies or composite bands. These composite bands had no single head chief or permanent council.

The 1855 Treaty:

In 1855, the United States government, represented by Governor Isaac Stevens, met with a number of tribes, including the Nez Perce, at Walla Walla, Washington. All of the tribes attending the council understand that the government wants to force the tribes to choose a reservation to prevent wars and to stay out of the way of settlers who want to claim Indian land.

Stevens told the Indian leaders that there were some “bad” Americans who made trouble for the Indians, but east of the mountains the Great Father had taken measures to help his “Indian children” by moving them across a great river where they were away from the “bad” Americans. He carefully omitted any mention of the coercion, starvation, death, and misery that accompanied the Trail of Tears.

Nez Perce leader Lawyer told his people that the agreement with the Americans would protect their villages from the Americans and that without it, the Americans would simply take their lands. Joseph, the leader of the Wallamawatkin band,  pleaded with the Americans to include his peoples’ Wallowa valley in Oregon as a part the Nez Perce reservation. Joseph did not sign the treaty, but the United States maintained the legal fiction that the Nez Perce bands were a single, unified tribe under the leadership of Lawyer and that Lawyer represented all of the Nez Perce.

Lawyer, a practicing Christian, was selected by the United States as the Head Chief of the Nez Perce. From the Nez Perce perspective, he was not a chief, but a tobacco cutter-a sort of undersecretary for Looking Glass, Eagle of the Light, Joseph, and Red Owl. As a chief selected by the United States, Lawyer received certain economic considerations from the government. The Nez Perce felt that Lawyer had no authority.

The 1855 treaty with the Nez Perce was not ratified by the Senate and signed by the President until 1859. At this time, without consulting the Nez Perce, the size of their reservation was reduced from 13,204,000 acres to 7,787,000 acres.

By 1859, the Nez Perce were clearly not a single tribe. About two-thirds of the Nez Perce followed Lawyer and relied upon the laws which had been imposed on them by the American missionaries, soldiers, and Indian agents. On the other hand, several Nez Perce bands saw hypocrisy in the laws and felt that they worked primarily for the benefit of the Americans. These bands maintained their traditional religions and viewed Christianity as the carrier of unjust laws. They preferred to have nothing to do with Christianity.

The 1863 Council:

In 1860, a group of ten Americans invaded the Nez Perce Reservation in violation of the treaty and discovered gold. As a result, more than a thousand gold seekers invaded Nez Perce land in direct violation of the 1855 treaty. The superintendent of Indian affairs met with the Indian agent for the Nez Perce Reservation who recommended that the Nez Perce treaty be modified to allow the gold miners to stay. The Americans then met with Lawyer and his followers who agreed to sell the land around Pierce and Oro Fino (in what is now Idaho). In signing the new treaty, Nez Perce leader Lawyer reminded the Americans that the Nez Perce had not yet received any of the funds promised them in the 1855 treaty. The Americans promised to look into the matter and speed up payment.

Less than a month after the signing of the treaty, Lewiston, Idaho was founded in flagrant violation of the treaty.

In 1862, Senator J.W. Nesmith, in a Senate debate regarding appropriations for the Nez Perce in Idaho, said:

“Treaties are written out conveying away millions of acres, not one word of  which the Indians understand; and complicated articles involving the most abstruse legal provisions, furnishing subjects for interminable litigation, are fully explained and elucidated by some ignorant half-breed interpreter, who does not know one letter from another, but who acts under the direction of some politician, who desires to win his way to public favor by perpetrating a huge swindle upon those who have neither power or intelligence adequate to their own protection.”

With regard to the Nez Perce, General Benjamin Alvord reported:

“Even now, at the end of seven years, I can find but few evidences of the fulfillment of the treaty. Lawyer has never received but six months of his salary as head chief, and the house with which he was to be provided has but just been commenced. Few of their annuities have ever reached them.”

In 1862, the American government established a new military post, Fort Lapwai, which was intended to force American trespassers off Nez Perce land. However, the military generally supported the American intruders rather than the Indians.

With the passage of the Idaho Territory Organic Act in 1863 there was increased pressure by the American settlers to support the interest of the miners rather than abide by the treaty. As a result, the Americans brought the Nez Perce chiefs together in a treaty council to negotiate a major reduction in the size of the reservation. The American Indian agent addressed the council:

“We come as your friends, to advise with you, and to arrange for the preserving of your rights. As your friends we propose to you to relinquish to the United States a part of your present Reservation, and to take a new Reservation, smaller than the one you now hold. We also propose that on this new Reservation, each man or family shall have a piece of land in their own right [severalty], in their own name, just as the Americans do.”

He also said:

“We intend to act with perfect justice towards you, in the sight of God.”

During the treaty council Nez Perce chief Lawyer talked to the Americans about breaking their earlier treaty. He said:

“You have broken the treaty, not we. When you broke through the treaty, it did not make my heart sad or sore, I only wondered why you did it. Now, I am called on to look upon this proposition of yours after the Americans have broken the treaty so often.”

In the treaty negotiations it became evident to all that there was a rift between the treaty faction lead by Lawyer and several other bands. At the end of the negotiations, Big Thunder made a formal announcement that his people wished no further part in the treaty and declared that the Nez Perce Nation was dissolved. Big Thunder shook hands with Lawyer telling him that they would be friends, but hereafter they would be a distinct people. All of the headmen, including the members of the Lawyer party, formally agreed that Lawyer no longer had the right to regard himself as spokesman or head chief of the anti-treaty bands.

One newspaper, the Daily Union, reported:

“It appears there is a feud between the Lawyer and Big Thunder party. So antagonistic are they that one of Lawyer’s Chiefs said the other day that Big Thunder hated them as bad as the Blackfeet, and this misunderstanding seems to be irreconcilable.”

Another newspaper, the Daily Oregonian, reported it this way:

“There seems to be great animosity between the bands of ‘Lawyer’ and ‘Big Thunder.’ So much that they hate each other as much as they do the Blackfeet, and until this difference is reconciled, the chances of making a successful treaty seem very slim.”

The Washington Statesman in Walla Walla reported:

“Big Thunder and his band have thus far refused to treat, and it is thought they will take no part in the Council. Eagle-from-the-Light and Joseph’s bands are with Big Thunder and had not at last account made their appearance at the Council grounds. There has long been a feud between these bands and that of Lawyer-they never recognizing Lawyer as a Chief.”

One of the popular rumors among non-Indians was that Confederate agents were talking to the Indians and stirring up trouble against the American treaty council. The Bulletin, a San Francisco newspaper, reported:

“It is generally believed here among loyal citizens that some of Jeff Davis’s disciples have been at work among these Indians, endeavoring to poison their minds against the Government of the United States, and thus prevent them from making a treaty for the cession of a portion of their present reservation.”

One of the American participants in the council, Captain George B. Curry, reported:

“Although the treaty goes out to the world as the concurrent agreement of all the tribe, it is in reality nothing more than the agreement of Lawyer and his band, number in the aggregate not a third part of the Nez Perce tribe.”

Only those tribal leaders within the reduced area of the reservation signed the treaty. The tribal leaders outside of this area absolutely and flatly denied and rejected the treaty.

The Wallamwatkin band, led by Joseph, did not attend this treaty council and did not sign this treaty. The homeland for this band was in the Wallowa Valley of Oregon. His son, Chief Joseph would later put it this way:

“In this treaty, Lawyer acted without authority from our band. He had no right to sell the Wallowa (winding water) country. That had always belonged to my father’s own people, and the other bands had never disputed our right to it.”

While the Wallamwatkin felt that the treaty did not affect them, the United States felt that it had acquired title to the Wallowa Valley in Oregon.

Impact:

In spite of the fact that both the minutes of the treaty council and the newspaper reports make it clear that the bands outside of the reservation  area did not agree to the treaty, the United States government acts as if it has purchased the land belonging to the non-treaty bands.

A government investigator was sent to investigate the treaty situation with the Nez Perce bands in Oregon in 1875. He reported that the treaty did not apply to them as they had never signed it. He also pointed out that the government had also violated the treaty by allowing settlement in their area. He wrote:

“In my opinion … the non-treaty Nez Perce cannot in law be regarded as bound by the treaty of 1863; and in so far as it attempts to deprive them of a right to occupancy of any land its provisions are null and void. The extinguishment of their title of occupancy contemplated by this treaty is imperfect and incomplete.”

In spite of this report, the Nez Perce lands in Oregon were opened for American settlement. This set the stage for the 1877 Nez Perce War.  

Correcting Popular History: Poker Joe & the Nez Perce War

( – promoted by navajo)

Often, people have an unrealistic understanding of the past, one which is often perpetuated by the popular media. One of the popular misconceptions about Indian history involves Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce War.  

Most people are aware of the Nez Perce War in 1877 in which the non-treaty bands led the United States Army on a chase which started in Oregon, then into Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. The Army finally caught up with the Nez Perce a few miles from the Canadian border in Montana. While the popular media has credited Chief Joseph as the primary Nez Perce leader, he had relatively little to do with leading the Nez Perce flight.  

Each of the non-treaty Nez Perce bands had their own leaders. During the flight from the Army, the Nez Perce warriors would listen to the wisdom of the war leaders and one of these war leaders would usually lead the entire group. For much of the Nez Perce war the primary war leader was Looking Glass.

One of the interesting Nez Perce leaders during the 1877 war was Poker Joe (Lean Elk), who took his name from his fondness for the game. Poker Joe was from one of a number of families from the Nez Perce band of Eagle from the Light who had left the Clearwater area of Idaho a few years earlier and had resettled among the Flathead in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana. He was a buffalo hunter and a warrior with some understanding of English.

Following the Battle of the Big Hole in which the Army surprised the Nez Perce and killed several important Nez Perce warriors, Poker Joe replaced Looking Glass as the primary leader. All who knew him reported that he had no fear and that he knew not only the location of the buffalo country, but also the locations of the soldiers. In addition, he was lucky in gambling and this meant that he had strong ties to spiritual power.

Poker Joe led the Nez Perce with a strong hand. Each morning he would get the camp moving early, shouting orders with a voice as loud as a bull buffalo’s. He pushed the people to cover as much ground as possible each day. He had them split into several groups, hoping to confuse the soldiers who were following them.

Poker Joe led the Nez Perce south into Idaho and then into Yellowstone National Park. While in Yellowstone, they encountered a group of 9 tourists from Montana. Afraid that the tourists might tell the Army where they were, the Nez Perce took the tourists captive. Poker Joe advised the tourists to escape at the first opportunity. It would seem from this action that the chiefs did not wish to harm the tourists and that chiefs had little control over the warriors.

Coming out of the Park, Nez Perce scouts found an American army waiting for them. Poker Joe devised a strategy in which the Nez Perce made a highly visible move toward the Shoshone River, and then doubled back to the Clarks Fork. The American scouts saw the move toward the Shoshone and moved to block the Nez Perce. By the time the Americans discovered their mistake, the Nez Perce had escaped.  

The Nez Perce felt that they could find refuge among their old allies and friends, the Crow. However, they found that the Crow warriors were now working for the Army. The Nez Perce chiefs decided that their only hope lay in moving north to join Sitting Bull’s Sioux in Canada.

Once the Nez Perce bands had passed through the rugged terrain of Yellowstone National Park and had turned northward on the Great Plains, the chiefs decided that leadership should again be turned over to Looking Glass. Looking Glass berated Poker Joe for driving the people too hard. He argued that Canada-the Old Woman Country-was only a few days ahead and that the people needed short days and long camps to build their strength. Poker Joe argued that this was not the time to rest, but the other chiefs were convinced that there was no longer a reason to hurry. So Poker Joe relinquished his leadership position. He was not happy with the decision, but he respected the decision of the council. Poker Joe told Looking Glass:

“You can lead. I am trying to save the people, doing my best to cross into the Old Woman Country before the soldiers find us. You can take control, but I think we will all be caught and killed.”

A few miles from Canada, in the Bear Paw Mountains, the bands stopped to rest. Seeing American troops coming, the Nez Perce began to hurriedly pack. Looking Glass told them that there was no hurry, that there was plenty of time. Once again, Looking Glass was wrong. In the initial charge, 53 of the 115 men in the Seventh Cavalry were killed as the Nez Perce gunfire was extremely accurate. At the end of the day, however, 22 Nez Perce were dead, including Poker Joe.

Christianity Comes to the Nez Perce

( – promoted by navajo)

Christianity came to the Indian nations of the United States in a variety of ways. Sometimes a single non-Indian missionary was the vehicle, and sometimes it came from a variety of sources including Indian missionaries. In 1825, Governor George Simpson of the Hudson’s Bay Company was besieged by Indians in present-day Washington state seeking Christianity. At Fort Okanagon he spoke with a Thompson chief who asked for a missionary. A few days later, a delegation of Flathead, Spokan, and Kootenai asked for a missionary. This delegation was followed by two Nez Perce chiefs who were asking about Christianity.

Inspired by what he saw as an interest in Christianity, Governor Simpson conceived the idea of selecting some Indian boys from the Columbia River tribes and sending them east to be educated. His idea was that these boys could help in “civilizing” the tribes upon their return. Two teenage Indian boys – one from the Spokan in Washington and the other from the Kootenai in Idaho – were sent to the Red River School in Canada. The boys were renamed Kootenai Pelly and Spokan Garry.

In 1829, Spokan Garry and Kootenai Pelly returned to the northwest from the Red River School in Canada. Garry’s father, Illim-Spokanee, died while the boy was at school and so the Spokan greeted him as a leader’s son who should be heard on matters affecting the welfare of this people. Spokan Garry brought with him the Christianity which he learned in school and preached it to the tribes in eastern Washington. Soon after his return, Spokan Garry built a tule mat church and school along the Spokane River. He taught brotherly love, peaceful behavior, and humility.

The Spokan made Spokan Garry a chief and gave him two wives-one a Umatilla and the other a San Poil.

In 1830, the Hudson’s Bay Company sends two Nez Perce boys to the Anglican mission school at Red River, Manitoba for schooling. One of the boys, the son of war chief Red Grizzly, was given the name Ellice (also spell Ellis).

The following year, a group of Nez Perce from Idaho journeyed with an American fur trading party to St. Louis to seek further information about Christianity. The Nez Perce had been inspired by Spokan Garry and wanted to have their own copy of the “book.”  The Nez Perce delegation included Tipyahlanah (Eagle), Kipkip Pahlekin (Man of the Morning), Hi-yuts-to-henim (Rabbit Skin Leggings), and Tawis Geejumnin (No Horns on His Head). The two older Indians – Tipyahlanah and Kipkip Pahlekin – become ill, were baptized, and then were buried in a Catholic cemetery when they died.

On the return trip Tawis Geejumnin became sick and died near the present-day Montana-North Dakota border. Hi-yuts-to-henim returned safely to the Nez Perce.

The Nez Perce oral tradition conflicts with the Christian version of this journey. According to some oral histories, the purpose of the delegation was to acquire American technology and this was misunderstood in St. Louis.

In 1833, two Nez Perce young men-Pitt and Ellice-returned home from the Red River school in Canada. Pitt was the only Indian student from the Columbia River area sent to Red River who was not the son of a powerful chief. He had little impact on the beliefs of his people. Ellice, on the other hand, taught the people a simple form of Anglican beliefs.

In 1836, Marcus Whitman established a Presbyterian mission among the Cayuse in Oregon. The Whitmans were intolerant of Indian culture and beliefs. Like many other missionaries they fanatically demanded total conversion to Presbyterian ways. They tended to divide Indians into only two categories: the devout (meaning Protestant Christian) and the heathen. Tribal affiliation meant little to them.

At the same time, a Presbyterian mission was also established by Henry Spalding among the Nez Perce in Idaho. Spalding believed himself to be the savior to people who had no religion. He saw the Nez Perce as being misled by their spiritual leaders, whom he viewed as sorcerers.  He had little tolerance for the Nez Perce cultural beliefs and habits and often erupted into bursts of anger at them. Nez Perce elder Allen Slickpoo writes:

“Many of our elderly people have related stories about Spalding using Nez Perce labor without any compensation to perform hard chores except being told that they were ‘doing it for the Lord.’ Related stories were also told of Spalding tying a person to a flogging tree and giving him twenty lashes for being disobedient. To many of us this is an act of slavery, whether it was for ‘the Lord’ or not.”

The Presbyterian missionaries violently opposed and condemned the Catholics and most of the non-missionary trappers and traders in the area.

The Presbyterians introduced European medical practices, partially to discredit the Nez Perce medicine people and partially to ingratiate themselves with the people. With regard to religious practices, the missionaries included prayers, hymns, and instructional materials in the Nez Perce language.

There were often conflicts between the Nez Perce and the missionaries. In 1837, one of the missionaries ordered two Nez Perce leaders whipped. One of the leaders, Ellice, simply rode away with his people. The other leader, Blue Cloak, was seized and tied by a young Nez Perce. The missionary then ordered the Nez Perce to whip Blue Cloak saying:

“I stand in the place of God. I command. God does not whip. He commands.”

Two years later, a Nez Perce woman ran away from her American husband. The Protestant missionary ordered the woman to receive 70 lashes. This action upset the Nez Perce as they felt that the woman had the right to divorce her husband if she wanted. From the Nez Perce perspective, it was the husband who should have been whipped since he had abused his wife.  

Old Chief Joseph

( – promoted by navajo)

Tiwi-teqis, later known to the Americans as Old Chief Joseph, was born between 1785 and 1790 in Oregon. He became the principal leader of the Wallowa Nez Perce sometime in the first half of the nineteenth century. This was prior to the creation of reservations for the Indians of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

During his life he saw the impact of the fur trade, the coming of Christian missionaries, and the arrival of American settlers. To give these settlers free land, the United States government sought to move the Nez Perce onto a reservation in Idaho. Joseph, as a traditional Nez Perce leader, resisted the government’s attempts to move him from his homeland and to convert him to Christianity.  

The traditional homelands of the Nez Perce included northeastern Oregon, southeastern Washington, and central Idaho. Unlike many other Native American tribes, the Nez Perce do not have a tradition of migration: their oral history states that they were created at Kamiah, on the Clearwater River in Idaho.

Traditional Nez Perce Government:

Politically the Nez Perce tribe was composed of a number of different autonomous bands, each with its own leadership and territory. In the mid-nineteenth century it is estimated that there were about 40 of these bands. Each band had a prominent leader, often called “chief” by the Americans.

In actuality, each band often had several chiefs. One of these, often considered the headman or main chief, functioned as a civil chief. Other leaders functioned as war chiefs and hunt chiefs. Joseph was a civil chief, or peace chief.

The headman or chief of each Nez Perce band served to act as spokesman for the band, to oversee the well-being of band members, to arbitrate disputes, and to provide an example of outstanding and generous conduct. The chief shared his wealth with the needy.

Nez Perce leadership depended on persuasive abilities and public opinion. No one, including the chiefs, would presume to tell another person how to live or what to believe.

Nez Perce Religion and Christianity

Nez Perce spirituality centered on the wéyekin or tutelary spirit. These were animistic spirits which appeared to individuals in dreams and in real life. These spirits were sought during the vision quest undertaken by all Nez Perce youth prior to adulthood. It was important for an individual to obtain the help of the wéyekin in order to be successful in life. Success in life was seen not so much as the result of individual action, but as the result of having help of the wéyekin. Individuals who were considered to be very successful were felt to have powerful wéyekin.

The Nez Perce were first exposed to Christianity through traders rather than missionaries. Seeing the material wealth of the traders, and interpreting this wealth within the Nez Perce worldview, it was believed that the traders had to have a powerful tutelary spirit. Thus, some Nez Perce sought out this new tutelary spirit. They viewed this as an addition to their traditional religious worldview, not a replacement of it.

The first missionary sent to the Nez Perce didn’t stay very long. In 1834, the Methodist Missionary Board sent Jason Lee to establish a mission among the Flathead. He met with the Flathead and Nez Perce at the Green River Rendezvous in Wyoming. He finds the Indians deeply unsettling. He concluded that the Indians were slaves to Satan and to alcohol. Instead of establishing an Indian mission, he continued his journey west to Fort Vancouver.

In 1836, The Presbyterians established a mission among the Nez Perce in Idaho. The missionaries saw themselves as the saviors of the Nez Perce, a people who they felt had no religion. They had little tolerance for Nez Perce culture. However, many Nez Perce were baptized, an action, from their religious view, which would bring them into contact with this new tutelary spirit.

Tiwi-teqis was baptized by the Christian missionaries in 1839 and was given the name Joseph. However, he soon renounced Christianity in favor of the traditional ways. He was more favorably oriented toward the teachings of Smohalla, the prophet who founded the Dreamer Religion, than Christianity.

For the Nez Perce, Christianity became a force which divided the tribe. For some of the bands in Idaho, Christianity was seen as a new way, a way of living with the changing universe. For the bands outside of Idaho, such as those in the Wallowa Valley in Oregon, Christianity had little appeal.

The Treaties:

Soon after the United States acquired the right to govern Oregon Territory (which included Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and western Montana), the government sought to move the Indian nations onto one or two reservations so that the land could be opened up for American settlement. On the reservations, the goal was to convert the Indians to Christianity and to have them take up farming on individually owned parcels of land.

In 1855, the American government brought together a number of tribes for a treaty conference at Walla Walla, Washington. Among other things, the purpose of the council was to establish a reservation for the Nez Perce. The Americans told the Indians:

“We want you and ourselves to agree upon tracts of land where you will live; in those tracts of land we want each man who will work to have his own land, his own horses, his own cattle, and his own home for himself and his children.”

Nez Perce leader Lawyer told his people that the agreement with the Americans would protect their villages from the Americans and that without it, the Americans would simply take their lands. Joseph asked that the Americans include his peoples’ Wallowa valley in the Nez Perce reservation. Joseph  did not sign the treaty. In the words of his son, also known as Chief Joseph, Old Joseph

“claimed that no man owned any part of the earth, and a man could not sell what he did not own.”

Ignoring what Joseph and the other Nez Perce leaders had told them, the American government simply proceeded under the legal fiction that the Nez Perce were a single political entity and appointed Lawyer as the supreme chief. In the eyes of the Americans, but not the Nez Perce, this meant that Lawyer could sign away Nez Perce land.

In the process of ratifying the treaty in 1859, the United States Senate reduced the size of the Nez Perce Reservation from 13,200,000 acres to 7,787,000 acres. The Nez Perce were not consulted in this action.

By 1859 the Nez Perce were badly divided. About two-thirds of the bands were under the leadership of Lawyer who felt that the people should work under the laws imposed on them by the Christian missionaries, soldiers, and Indian agents. The other Nez Perce, including Joseph’s Wallowa band, wanted to retain their aboriginal ways.

In 1861, thousands of American settlers moved on to Nez Perce land in Oregon’s Wallowa Valley. They knew that this action was illegal, but were counting on the government to buy them out in order to preserve the peace. Instead, the government announced that it did not intend to annex the Wallowa Valley and that it would not reimburse settlers who had moved onto Indian land illegally. As a result, tremendous pressures were brought on the Army and the Indian commissioners to remove the Indians.

At this same time, most of the members of Joseph’s band of Nez Perce adopted the Dreamer Religion of the Wanapum prophet Smohalla.

In 1862, the Nez Perce received the first of the annuities promised them in the 1855 treaty. The payment was significantly less than it was supposed to be and Lawyer realizes that he and his people are being cheated.

In 1863, the Americans force another treaty upon the Nez Perce, one that is intended to reduce their reservation by 7 million acres and allow them to retain only 785,000 acres. In addition, all of the bands are to move onto the reduced reservation. The Americans tell the Nez Perce:

“We come as your friends, to advise with you, and to arrange for the preserving of your rights. As your friends we propose to you to relinquish to the United States a part of your present Reservation, and to take a new Reservation, smaller than the one you now hold. We also propose that on this new Reservation, each man or family shall have a piece of land in their own right [severalty], in their own name, just as the Americans do.”

The American agent concluded:

“We intend to act with perfect justice towards you, in the sight of God.”

In the treaty negotiations it was evident to all that there was a rift between the treaty faction lead by Lawyer and several other bands. At the end of the negotiations, Big Thunder made a formal announcement that his people wished no further part in the treaty and declared that the Nez Perce Nation was dissolved. Big Thunder shook hands with Lawyer telling him that they would be friends, but hereafter they would be a distinct people.

Joseph did not attend this treaty council and did not sign this treaty. His son, Chief Joseph, whose band lived in Oregon, put it this way:

“In this treaty, Lawyer acted without authority from our band. He had no right to sell the Wallowa (winding water) country. That had always belonged to my father’s own people, and the other bands had never disputed our right to it.”

While the Nez Perce in the Wallowa Valley felt that the treaty did not affect them because they had not agreed to it, nor had they been present at the council, the United States assumed that it had acquired title to the Wallowa Valley in Oregon.

One of the American participants in the council, Captain George B. Curry, reported:

“Although the treaty goes out to the world as the concurrent agreement of all the tribe, it is in reality nothing more than the agreement of Lawyer and his band, number in the aggregate not a third part of the Nez Perce tribe.”

The Nez Perce Tribe puts it this way:

“this treaty was signed by the Nez Perce leaders who resided within the proposed boundaries of the new reservation, but it was absolutely and flatly denied and rejected by the leaders outside the boundaries of the proposed reservation.”

The 1863 treaty with the Nez Perce was ratified by the Senate and signed by the President in 1867. Lawyer’s response to the news of the ratification:

“The treaty of 1855 has not been lived up to, and we have no faith that this will be lived up to.”

Joseph died in 1871 at the traditional Nez Perce summer camp near the confluence of the Wallowa and Lostine Rivers. He was buried at the foot of a hill, a fence of poles placed around his grave, and a red pole with a bell suspended from a cross piece was placed within the fence. The bell was used by the Dreamers to indicate important moments. The bell was stolen from the grave in 1874.

In 1886, Nez Perce Chief Joseph’s grave was opened and his skull was taken. The skull was later exhibited in a dentist’s office in Baker, Oregon.  

Following his death, Old Joseph’s sons, Joseph (who later became widely known as Chief Joseph because of the 1877 Nez Perce War) and Ollocot assumed the leadership of the Nez Perce in the Wallowa Valley.

Old Joseph’s grave is shown below:

Old Joseph

American Indian Religions: The Dreamers

The Columbia Plateau is an area that stretches from the Rocky Mountains to the east to the Cascade Mountains to the west. It is cut by the Columbia River. For thousands of years, many different Indian nations have lived in this area, many using the Columbia River to provide them with fish. While there are diverse spiritual traditions among the Indian nations in this area, many of them share a focus on prophecy.

One of the prophets to emerge in this region during the nineteenth century was Smohalla, a Wanapan medicine man whose teachings led to a religious movement known as the Dreamers. American government attempts to suppress this indigenous religion culminated in the 1877 Nez Perce War.  

From an American perspective, Smohalla did not seem to be a likely candidate to become the leader of a religious movement. He did not fit the non-Indian’s image of what an Indian leader should be: he was relatively small and somewhat overweight. In addition, he was born with a hunchback and a large, oversized head. From an Indian perspective, however, he had a very important ability: he was an orator who could hold his audiences absolutely spellbound.

By today’s standards, we might consider Smohalla as a psychic. He had an ability to predict the future, to foretell the coming of storms, to know when the salmon run would start, and to predict the eruption of volcanoes. To the Indian people living along the Columbia River, he was simply known as a prophet, as a powerful spiritual leader.

Smohalla’s spiritual strengths were enhanced through two afterlife experiences. In the first afterlife experience, Smohalla died, travelled to the land in the sky, and conversed with the Creator (Nami Piap). He was not permitted to enter eternal life, and was told that he was to return to his people and tell them to reject American culture. Indian people, he was told, were to return to the Indian social, economic, political, and religious traditions.

In a second incident, Smohalla again died and made the journey to the land in the sky. Once again he visited the Creator and a special dance (washat) and over 120 religious songs.

Historically, Smohalla got into a conflict with Columbia Chief Moses about 1860. Some say that Smohalla was making medicine against Moses, and a fight broke out between the two men. Moses won the fight and Smohalla was left for dead. However, he revived and crawled into a boat. Badly injured, he left the area, wandering first to Portland and then south into California, Mexico, and Arizona. He then returned home through Utah.

When he returned to the Columbia Plateau, Smohalla reported that he had visited the spirit world. He tells the people that in his visit to the spirit world he had been told that the American ways were bad for the people: American ways cause sickness and confusion for Indians.

At this time, Smohalla began to lay the foundation for his new religious movement, later called The Dreamer Religion by the Americans. He taught the Indian people in the Plateau area that they were to return to the ways of their ancestors. He brought about a revival of the traditional Washani religion with an infusion of new songs and dances.

Smohalla had a book which was filled with mysterious characters. He said that this writing was the records of events and prophecies. Concerning these characters, nineteenth century ethnologist James Mooney reported:

“It is probable that they were genuine mnemonic symbols invented by himself for his own purposes, as such systems, devised and used by single individuals or families, and unintelligible to others, are by no means rare among those who may be called the literary men of our aboriginal tribes.”

Among the Indian nations which embrace the revived religious movement are the Palouse and the Nez Perce. Following Smohalla’s teachings, the Palouses new performed the traditional washat using seven drums, seven singers, and several brass bells. Both women and men used eagle and swan feathers to symbolize flight from earth to heaven. To symbolize Dreamer Religion ceremonies, the Palouse would fly a triangular flag with a five-pointed star and a red circle with a white, yellow, and blue background.

Among the Nez Perce, Chief Joseph (the elder) became one of his supporters. When Chief Joseph died in 1871 He was buried at the foot of a hill, a fence of poles is placed around his grave, and a red pole with a bell suspended from a cross piece was placed within the fence. The bell was used by the Dreamers to indicate important moments.

Smohalla’s reputation for prophecy was enhanced in 1872 when he accurately predicted a major earthquake in north central Washington. Smohalla predicted that the Great Spirit would show displeasure by shaking the earth.

By 1875, Smohalla’s teachings placed him in conflict with the American government. The American government felt that Indians must become farmers in order to become assimilated into American society. Smohalla, on the other hand, was preaching that Americans were destroying the earth. While he did not advocate violence, he opposed farming. The Indian superintendent for Oregon and Washington felt that Smohalla’s Dream Religious had to be suppressed, with military force if needed.  He was incredulous that “their model of a man is an Indian.” It was apparent that Indians could not be religious leaders nor models for other Indians.

In the 1870s, Indian reservations were administered by Christian (primarily Protestant) religious denominations. The American government at this time was actively seeking to convert Indians to Christianity and to destroy traditional religions. In the Plateau area, Smohalla’s Dreamers came under fire on several reservations.

The Nez Perce Reservation in 1875 was a theocracy run according to Presbyterian Christianity. The Nez Perce who followed the Dream path were seen as a threat. Smohalla was portrayed as the purveyor of dangerous ideas which were harmful to the people and attractive to those who were not strong in their Christian beliefs.

There were a number of Nez Perce bands which had not been relocated to the Idaho reservation. Many of these bands were followers of Smohalla. One government commission which was looking at Chief Joseph’s band in the Wallowa Valley in Oregon reported that Joseph and his band were under the “spell” of the Dreamers. The commission recommended that the leaders of this religion should be removed to Oklahoma, and that the band should be removed to the Idaho reservation, by force if necessary.

In 1876, the Indian superintendent for Oregon and Washington felt that Chief Joseph’s Nez Perce band was a part of an intertribal Dreamer conspiracy. According to the superintendent the government has an obligation to suppress the Dreamer religion and to force Joseph’s band to live on the Idaho reservation where they must become Christians.

On the Yakama Reservation (home to 14 Columbia River nations), the Indian superintendent (a Methodist minister) insisted that all Indians on the reservation must become Methodists. He blamed Smohalla and the Dreamer religion for every act of Indian defiance in the area.

In 1876, the United States sent General O. O. Howard, billed by contemporary newspapers as “America’s Christian General,” to meet in council with the non-treaty Nez Perce bands and to inform them that they would move to the Idaho reservation. Chief Joseph, acutely aware that Indians on reservations were wards rather than citizens and that they had no rights, including the freedom of religion, informed the council that he could not accept a reservation. General Howard would later write of this refusal: “Indian Joseph and his malcontents denied the jurisdiction of the United States over them.”

After Joseph’s band left the council, the American commissioners concluded that he was under the influence of the Dreamers. They recommended to the Department of Interior that Dreamer teachers be confined to their own reservations and suppressed or that they be exiled to Oklahoma.

In 1877, the military was sent in to forcibly remove the Nez Perce from the Wallowa Valley. The goal was to destroy the Dream Religion and to open up the land for non-Indian settlement. The result was the Nez Perce War. Following the war, many of the Dreamer Nez Perce were held as prisoners of war in Oklahoma.

Today, the Dreamer Religion (also known as the Seven Drums Religion) continues to be celebrated by many Plateau Indians.

Smohalla died in 1907 at the age of 92. His religious movement was called The Dreamers by Americans because revelations were revealed in dreams.