Heritage & Culture

The Nimiipúu (Nez Perce) 

According to tribal legend, Nimiipúu, “the people,” were created in north central Idaho at the dawn of time. There is evidence dating back more than 11,000 years of Nez Perce inhabiting the regions surrounding the Clearwater and Snake River valleys. The Nez Perce people are credited for saving the lives of the Corps of Discovery explorers who entered their camp near starvation. Without the food and shelter provided by the Nimiipúu villagers, the Lewis & Clark expedition may have had a tragic ending.

The land and its waters define the Nez Perce way. Over the course of thousands of years, nature has taught us how to live with her.  This intimate and sacred relationship unifies us, stabilizes us, humbles us. It is what makes us a distinct people and what gives us our identity. We cannot be separated from the land or our rights without losing what makes us Nez Perce. We defend our rights to preserve who we are and what we hold sacred.

The Nimiipúu fished, hunted, gathered, pastured livestock and traded over an enormously broad area that includes what is today, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Montana and Wyoming. This land of rolling hills, towering peaks, prairies, clear mountain streams, and deep canyons has been the Nimiipúu’s homeland since time immemorial. Relative to this extensive area in which they have always lived, the Nimiipúu have accumulated a deep repository of ecological knowledge and wisdom concerning the land, water, and other natural resources. Spirituality and proper respect (in the form of prayer) were incorporated into every aspect of traditional Nimiipúu life: digging roots, hunting and fishing, weaving, teaching children, or taking sweat baths. All activities were conducted according to the Nimiipúu belief system (or Indian way of life). The love and respect for the gifts of the Creator and the Creation guided Nimiipúu activities to avoid acts of greed or selfishness such that the natural resources were not depleted. These traditional guidelines have been learned and passed down over the millennia through Nimiipúu oral traditions (myths and stories), songs, prayers, dances, rituals, and ceremonies.