Ancient Nez Perce spirits filled the Lake Cda room at North Idaho College with a mission to tell their real story Monday March 10.
“I’ve had enough!” Robbie Paul said, as she was referring to Chief Joseph’s mutual surrender. This was to be the last war fought by northwestern Native Americans.
In their native language of Niimmiiputimt- a dialect of Sahaptin- The Nez Perce name for themselves is Nimmiipuu, meaning, “The People.”
Paul was a fourth generation mother of the Nez Perce tribe, historically located in much of the northwest including North Idaho and south western parts of Canada today.
She recalled many of the first contact accounts such as Lewis and Clark and the Presbyterian leader Henry Spalding. Merriweather Clark brought new and technologically advanced tools such as gunpowder and magnifying glasses to the Nez Perce who saw them mostly as magic.
But as this was all new and groundbreaking times for both parties.
The Nez Perce quickly envisioned more white men would come and they did not see the future being bright for their people.
“Do them no Harm,” a Nez Perce women called out. Referring to the negotiations between Clark and the Nez Perce. The women- who had stayed with a white family in Canada most of her life- knew they were powerful but did not see them as the bloodthirsty, slave owning settlers we would all later learn to revile.
Presbyterian Henry Spalding on the other hand imposed a certain alien way of life to the Nez Perce.“ If you’re gonna be a Christian you have to cut your hair, wear white mans clothes, live in a house, cut the ground for farmland.” Paul discussed.
She also claimed that the Nez Perce knew of the “Book of Power,” or the Bible, and that this carried much spiritual power.
To the Nez Perce, spiritual power was like gold to the western settlers.
“The tribes competed for missionaries so they could be Christianized because they wanted more spiritual power.” said Paul. “This was before we (Nez Perce) knew the violence that would be taken out on us.”
The Nez Perce and other neighboring tribes were blissfully ignorant to the white mans true goals of conquering and converting them.
The spiritual power of the Bible was what the Nez perce were after and they did not truly reap the repercussions till sadly, it was too late.
The 1855 treaty in Walla Walla was headed by Paul’s great great grand father and this what really cemented relations between the settlers and the northwest Native American tribes.
“This was very important to us,” said Paul. “Cryers” or messengers from each tribe would relay the word of the treaty to each tribe. Since 8,000 people could not be spoken to at once in these days, this was how the word of the treaty was spread.
Even so, not all Nez Perce agreed to this treaty.
Some chiefs were not even invited to the treaty gathering.
All while, the treaty was not being upheld by the settlers once they learned of the yellow rock (Gold) and purposefully reduced the Nez Perce Reservation out of greed.
Eventually a battle broke out on June 15,1877 of the non-treaty Nez Perce by who vowed not to give up their fertile land and move into a reservation.
Chief Joesph, Looking Glass, White Bird and many other chiefs led over 2,000 men women and children. While battling over four states, trying to get to a peaceful sanctuary, 800 Nez Perce warriors including 1,000 women and children died.
The mutual surrender of the Nez Perce happened on Oct 5,1877, to General Oliver O. Howard at the Battle of Bear Paw Mountain, as both sides were worn out and troops withering away.
“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.” said Chief Joseph after the mutual surrender of the Nez Perce and U.S cavalry at the Battle of Bear Paw Mountain.
Paul’s storytelling reminded the way of great storytellers centuries old, with heart and conviction and true tears of common ancestors.
To not only be impressed by the rich history but the accuracy makes for a truly once in a lifetime story. Can you trace your ancestor’s roots with such emotion and validity? One must remember where America comes, and from the values we must bestow upon our own land from hundreds of years of states and presidents to more appropriately, tribes and chiefs.