KWABLA has entered into partnerships with artisans of the Nez Perce Native American culture from Idaho, USA. To browse KWABLA's catalogue of goods or listing of artisans from the Nez Perce culture, click on the icons at the bottom of the page.
The Nez Perce people are actually named Nimi’ipuu (pronounced Nee-Me-Poo), which means “the real people” or “we the people”. The Nez Perce first encountered white men during the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1805; this is when they were given the name Nez Perce. The name, which means, “pierced nose” in French, was given by an interpreter who had mistaken them for a tribe further south that practiced piercing in religious ceremonies. Ironically, the Nimi’ipuu never practiced piercing.
The story of the Nez Perce is one of betrayal, resistance, and tragedy. After meeting Lewis and Clark in 1805, the Nez Perce lived in peace with the white man for over 50 years. In 1855, Chief Old Joseph signed a treaty with the U.S. that allowed the Nimi’ipuu to retain much of their traditional lands. However, in 1863 the Nez Perce were betrayed when another treaty was created that severely reduced the amount of land granted to the Nez Perce. This second treaty was never agreed to by Chief Old Joseph and when his son became Chief Joseph in 1877 this dispute came to conflict. Under the leadership of Chief Joseph, as well as Chief Looking Glass, Chief White Bird, Chief Ollokot, and Chief Lean Elk, the Nimi’ipuu resisted U.S. attempts to be moved to the Lapwai reservation. On June 15, 1877 the Nez Perce chiefs decided that fleeing was their last hope for freedom. Originally hoping to find safety by uniting with their Crow allies on the plains to the east, the Nez Perce soon abandoned this strategy and realized they must make it to Canada to find peace. The Nez Perce fought a campaign of strategic retreat (which is still studied today at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point) engaging in 13 battles and traveling nearly 1,800 miles. Today, the path taken by the Nimi’ipuu during this retreat is memorialized in the Nez Perce National Historical Trail, which passes through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.
On October 5, 1877 Chief Joseph surrendered to U.S. Cavalry units only 40 miles from the Canadian border. Chief Joseph's surrender speech is one of the most famous orations of the era, he said: "I am tired of fighting, Looking Glass is dead. Too-Hul-hul-sote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food; no one knows where they are--perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever." The surrender of the Nez Perce people marked the last great battle between an Indian nation and the U.S. government.
After the surrender, many of the Nez Perce people were sent to a reservation far from their traditional lands in what is today Oklahoma, where many died from malaria and starvation. Chief Joseph continued to try every possible appeal to the federal government of the U.S. to return the Nez Perce to the land of their ancestors. In 1885, Chief Joseph and members of his clan were sent to a reservation in Washington where, according to the reservation doctor, Chief Joseph later died of a broken heart.
The Nimi’ipuu were once the largest congregation of tribes in the western United States, spanning across the northwest and even into the Great Plains during hunting season. The traditional homeland of the Nimi’ipuu was in north central Idaho, areas in southeastern Washington, northeastern Oregon, western Montana and Wyoming; and included the Clearwater River Basin and the South and Middle forks of the Salmon River Basin. The aboriginal territory occupied by the Nimi’ipuu consisted of approximately 17 million acres or 27,000 square miles, this land was reduced to a reservation of 138,000 acres in Idaho after the treaties with the U.S. government. Despite this huge loss of land, the Nez Perce today still tie everything to their landscape. The Nez Perce calendar, religion, and legends are all interwoven with the nature that surrounds them. As one Nimi’ipuu Indian said, “It’s a land defined by weather, etched by rivers, and freed from time.”
Many Nez Perce have adapted to new ways of life and new religions over time, but the old Nimi’ipuu faith is still alive and is passed down from generation to generation through stories and fables. For the Nez Perce, the physical and spiritual aspects of life and nature are never separated. This is evident in their colorful celebrations and ceremonies. This way of life and these philosophies are still taught today on the reservations and in the surrounding schools. Even though they do not own the land their people once called home, to the Nez Perce it is still theirs to worship and it is land for everyone to admire. This is the philosophy of the Nimi’ipuu people.
As of November 2004, the population of the Nez Perce tribe was 3,363. Today, Nez Perce artists are most well known for their talents in creating intricate beadwork and making traditional jewelry. To browse KWABLA's catalogue of goods or listing of artisans from the Nez Perce Native American tribe of Idaho, click on the links below.