Native Americans
Nez Perce Tribe

The Nez Perce Tribe has a history of many centuries in their ancestral homelands of the Snake, Salmon and Clearwater Rivers. They became expert horsemen noted for breeding Appaloosa horses long before non-native visitors arrived.

Young Nimiipuu Dancers keep old traditions alive in the modern world. Photo by Jack McNeel.

Their first contact with non-native people was the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805. The expedition would have perished were it not for the help of the Nez Perce. That expedition gave the name "Nez Perce" to the tribe, meaning pierced noses, actually a misnomer. They call themselves the Nimiipuu.

The Treaty of 1855 drastically reduced their homelands. That was reduced again by the Treaty of 1863 which allowed mining on tribal lands. Tensions grew as settlers arrived and the tribe had to flee in what is labeled the War of 1877. After a flight of 1700 miles and numerous skirmishes with U.S. soldiers, Chief Joseph was forced to surrender at the Bear Paw Battlefield to protect the youngsters and elderly from cold and starvation, their way of life changed forever.

The emotional wounds are slowly healing but a rift still exists between treaty and non-treaty factions. The loss of culture, land and language during decades of oppression was devastating but improvements are now evident everywhere.

Today they live a modern existence while honoring and maintaining ancestral customs. A native language program strives to preserve their language. The old ways are important as is sovereignty and restoration of the reservations.

They are led by an elected tribal board and a chairperson, Rebecca Miles, the first woman to be so recognized by the Tribe. They have large fisheries and forestry bureaus among others, including numerous education programs and many members have advanced degrees holding professional positions.

The official tribal website is and provides historical background plus organization, businesses, and tribal code.

The Nez Perce Tribe. PO Box 365, Lapwai, Idaho 83540. Phone: 208-843-2253.

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