SPALDING, Idaho – The Nez Perce Tribe was among just four tribes to host a Lewis and Clark Bicentennial National Signature Event, one of 15 such events. Activities in this event, dubbed “The Summer of Peace: Among the Nimiipuu,” took place June 5 – 17, with the official opening ceremonies held June 14 at Nez Perce National Historical Park in Spalding.
Opening ceremonies were conducted on a grassy field situated above the Clearwater River with the open hillside across the river and woods to either side providing a fitting setting. Heavy rains earlier in the morning ceased as the ceremonies began, and
continual birdsong added to the setting.
Emcee Allen Pinkham, Nez Perce, remarked how Lewis and Clark had most likely been on the same spot of ground where the opening was being held. He commented that there were many landmarks important to the Nez Perce people that Lewis and Clark didn’t see or ask about, important now for the historical content they contain and important to identify those things in common with both cultures because “we’re all neighbors.”
Pinkham continually stressed peace and friendship, such as was observed from the time of Lewis and Clark for 71 years until that relationship broke down with much misunderstanding and misinterpretation. “I believe we can overcome these difficulties by sharing not only our culture, but the knowledge we have so we can mesh together our history and your history as the United States. The Nez Perce Tribe has a great deal to contribute to this knowledge base and that is why it’s important for this bicentennial to occur,” Pinkham told the assembled crowd.
The presentation of colors was led by Wilfred Scott, with the Nez Perce Nation Drum singing the Flag Song. Horace Axtell, member of the tribal longhouse, asked others who worshipped as he did to join him in the invocation.
Rebecca Miles, chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Council, said, “Speaking for the tribal executive committee and our leaders past and present, and on behalf of the Nez Perce Tribe, it is my honor and pleasure to welcome each and every one of you here to our homeland.
“When Lewis and Clark came through this territory they not only acknowledged us as a sovereign nation, they depended on the Nez Perce for their survival coming and going. Many of us sitting here and many Nez Perce that you will hear and have heard throughout the past week are descended directly from people at the time Lewis and Clark came through.
“One of the descendents that I come from is Old Looking Glass, who was a young boy at the time of Lewis and Clark. You heard the Flag Song when we came in that was sung at the Treaty of 1855. That young boy, not quite 50 years later, would be negotiating a treaty with the U.S. government and our people ceded 13 million acres to the U.S. government. It is that experience that our people live by, our legal status today, based on that Treaty of 1855. I share those words with you because I am as anxious as anyone of what this week will unfold,” Miles commented.
“I gather that what you have been hearing in the past few weeks and what my people will be telling you this week is not a whole lot about Lewis and Clark, but rather telling you what Lewis and Clark saw and experienced during their stay and upon their return,” she continued.
This point was continually reinforced during the “Summer of Peace” events. The Nez Perce utilized this opportunity to educate and inform visitors about tribal history and ways. It was a forum to get the tribe’s word out, help build bridges of understanding and to stress the peace and friendship concept that was frequently mentioned.
Miles completed her comments by thanking all the entities and individuals involved in this National Signature Event, pointing to the many years of planning that had gone into the final production. “More importantly, when we planned this event we wanted to realize what we were going to say in this week, but more importantly my desire and my wish is what is to come when all is said and done. What this week will accomplish with our communities, so that we’ll be able to work together.”
Scott Ekberg, speaking on behalf of the National Park Service, told of the Nez Perce National Historical Park where the event was held and which today “stretches across four states from Old Chief Joseph’s grave site at Joseph, Oregon, to the Bear Paw Battlefield near Chinook, Montana,” he commented. “The Nez Perce have a tie to their land that spans scores, if not hundreds, of generations across thousands of years over time immemorial. The weight of their collective knowledge and wisdom informed and enriched members of the Corps of Discovery 200 years ago and today, in our increasingly multicultural society, it still retains the powers to captivate and inform and enrich all of us today if we but open our hearts and our minds and our ears to it.”
The crowd was entertained by a horse regalia parade and by a Welcome Dance presented by the Nimiipuu Dancers, a group of young women from the Nez Perce Tribe. Finally, a Circle Dance was held around the large grassy field with virtually the entire audience participating – more than 1,200 in all. Tribal leaders said it was the largest such event they’d ever held and hoped it symbolized Summer of Peace efforts to bring people of different cultural backgrounds together.