Put aside the history books and listen to the legends of the Nimiipuu (Nez Perce Tribe), the first people to walk these lands. Walk the rugged mountains and float the same rivers that Lewis and Clark did over 200 years ago.
Long before the Lewis and Clark Expedition ventured west; before the English established a colony at Jamestown; before Christopher Columbus stumbled upon the ‘new world,’ the Nimiipuu lived on the prairies and in the river valleys of what is today north Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.
The thread of the past meets the future as the language, culture and traditions of the Nez Perce thrive in the 21st century.
Nimiipuu Today The Nez Perce are proud of their contributions to the culture and economy of this area. In keeping with their history of self-governance, the Tribe has taken on many functions previously performed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In addition to government programs, the Tribe manages business enterprises related to forest products, convenience stores and gaming facilities.
Nimiipuu Culture Nez Perce country has much to offer visitors. In addition to a landscape rich in history and natural beauty, Nez Perce people share their customs and culture in colorful events throughout the year. Powwows and other community events are hosted in various locations and visitors are welcome. For visitors looking to learn about the Nez Perce and their history here, the Nez Perce National Historical Park offers historical displays and interpretive programs, as well as books and Nez Perce crafts.
The Nimiipuu value their traditional teachings and culture. They continue to live on the land of their ancestors and maintain many of the important teachings, which formed the basis of their culture, and offer a language program.
They have begun breeding horses again. At the facility near Lapwai, the horse lover will find colorful Appaloosas and equine representatives of one of the oldest breeds in the world, the Akhal-Teke. The Tribe has established a new breed registry as the result of crossing these two prized lineages. The tribe has also taken a lead role in reintroduction efforts for coho salmon and the gray wolf in Idaho—both firsts for an Native American tribe.
The Nez Perce still practice their traditional gathering cycle. Components of traditional dances and songs still survive; one contemporary expression of this is the intertribal gatherings and celebrations that are conducted by many tribes throughout the U.S. and Canada. During these gatherings, the Nez Perce take time to honor their ancient teachings and continue to reflect upon their contemporary existence in their own unique way. You may want to experience one of the tribal gatherings firsthand. The Nez Perce events are open to the public but it is very important to observe them with the utmost consideration and respect.
Nimiipuu Tourism Cultural tourism is a unique experience in North Central Idaho. Book an exclusive experience with Nez Perce Tourism. Learn their ancient and modern ways of life through stories, drums, song, and dance. Experience their connection with the Appaloosa horse with a riding session. Whether it’s for the day, or the entire weekend, this is an educational and transformational encounter that will awaken your soul.
Nez Perce National Historic Park Sites
A unit of the National Park Service, Nez Perce National Historical Park is comprised of 38 sites in four states, of which 24 are in North Central Idaho. A complete tour of the Idaho sites is about 400 miles, so you may want to select the segments that specifically interest you. Rangers can assist you in person at the main visitor center at Spalding. Free admission; 208.843.7009; nps.gov/nepe
Nez Perce National Historical Park Visitor Center A museum and film provide an orientation to the park. In the Center’s museum, view clothing and daily objects reflecting traditional Nez Perce lifeways, and a ribbon given to a tribal member by the Lewis and Clark Expedition. A picnic area, arboretum, and the historic Spalding townsite are a short distance from the Center. Spalding, 10 miles east of Lewiston
Heart of the Monster This Nez Perce National Historical Park site commemorates the creation of the Nimiipuu people. This site was a major prehistoric and historic Nez Perce crossing point of the Clearwater River. The nontreaty Nez Perce forded the Clearwater River at this location during the 1877 war.
An interpretive shelter with two exhibits offers an audio program to give background information on the role of legends in Nez Perce culture and tell a part of the “Coyote and the Monster” legend in Nez Perce and in English. A short trail leads to the Heart of the Monster formation, where a small semicircle of seating is available to listen to the audio program. Milepost 68.5 on Hwy 12 east of Kamiah
Canoe Camp At this site the Lewis and Clark Expedition, aided by the Nez Perce, built five canoes in September 1805.
Here the ill and hungry men of the Lewis and Clark expedition hewed and burned out the “Holler” of the five canoes which were to carry them on to the Pacific.
From September 26 to October 7, 1805, the explorers camped at this point. They had used packhorses in crossing the mountain trails from the upper Missouri; here they returned to river travel, caching their saddles and gear and leaving their horses to be wintered with the friendly Nez Perce. Nez Perce National Historical Park, 4 miles west of Orofino on Hwy 12; 208.843.7009
Buffalo Eddy Nez Perce National Historic Park On either side of an eddy formed by a series of sharp bends in the Snake River are densely grouped clusters of petroglyphs and a few pictographs. This rock art contains hundreds of distinct images associated with early Nez Perce people. These images date from as early as 4,500 years ago. Some potentially historic ranching features on the Idaho side of the Snake River set a scene of the rural West. These are only viewable from the river by boat. 20 miles south of Lewiston on Snake River Road
White Bird Battlefield, Nez Perce National Historical Park site, is located just north of White Bird. The first battle of the Nez Perce War was fought here June 17, 1877. When soldiers arrived in the area, they fired upon Nez Perce who were waving a white flag of peace, beginning the fight. Thirty-four soldiers were killed while the Nez Perce lost none.A self-guided walking tour booklet of the battlefield is available at the trailhead 1.2 miles through the town of White Bird on the Old Spiral Highway. There is an interpretive shelter along Hwy 95 that overlooks the battlefield and explains the sequence of events that day. 85 miles south of Lewiston on Hwy 95