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Wallowa embrace heritage with gathering

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WALLOWA, Ore. - It was 1877 when the Nez Perce were forced to leave
Oregon's Wallowa Mountains, going through Idaho and into Montana before
finally trying to reach safety in Canada with Sitting Bull. The leaders
included White Bird, Looking Glass, and Chief Joseph and his younger
brother Ollokot, among others, all in search of peace and pursuing freedom
and safety from the military.

The flight began in late May; it was early October, in the Bear Paw
Mountains of Montana, when Looking Glass and Ollokot were killed and Chief
Joseph chose to surrender rather than leave the youngsters and elders, the
sick and dying, and attempt to reach Canada.

Chief Joseph always wanted to return to his homeland in the Wallowas but
was never allowed. He was finally sent to the Colville Reservation in
Washington, where 149 tribal members accompanied him. He died there in 1904
and is buried in Nespelem. The Wallowa Band of the Nez Perce is still one
of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

Today only one Nez Perce, Joe McCormack, owns land in Wallowa County. There
is a desire among many in the area to encourage more of a Nez Perce
presence here, perhaps to atone a little bit for the errors committed so
long ago.

In 1989 a nonprofit organization was originated to develop a place in the
Wallowa Valley as a ceremonial grounds for use by the Nez Perce and to
encourage better understanding between the races. That organization has now
been titled the "Homeland Project." McCormack has headed that group,
raising donations and eliciting grants to keep the vision alive of a Nez
Perce homecoming in the area.

Every July a friendship feast the Tamkaliks Celebration - is held, where
Nez Perce arrive from their homes in other locations and join with Wallowa
locals in a huge feast, pow wow and opportunity to meet and share.
Traditional and contest dancing takes place under a nylon roof covering the
arbor, and religious ceremonies are held on Sunday morning. A tipi
encampment and concessions ring the arbor. Prizes are given to winning
dancers but amounts are low relative to many pow wows, as the goal of
Tamkaliks is more of friendship than of money.

McCormack works in the Nez Perce tribe's fisheries division and arranged
for the salmon that were barbecued under his direction. A bison was donated
by a local ranch and venison was also provided. Townspeople were asked to
bring accompanying dishes, and the tables were loaded with a vast array of
food items for the roughly 500 visitors to feast upon.

With salmon grilling nearby, McCormack talked of the Homeland Project and
its accomplishments. The group has acquired 320 acres in a valley shadowed
by high rimrock bluffs and grassy uplands. A permanent arbor has been
erected to hold pow wows and other religious and cultural activities.
Trails to the rimrock have been constructed and an entry gate installed. A
long-house will be built in the near future. The project has been
designated as a Nez Perce National Historical Park site and trailhead for
the Nez Perce National Historic Trail.

McCormack stressed that a shower facility was the next major need to be
addressed. "A shower facility would be the last piece of the bridge to make
that happen," he said.

A primary use of the area is to facilitate cultural and educational
opportunities for American Indian youth and local kids to meet and
integrate early in life so then can continue with a good relationship.
Groups of Nez Perce youth would be brought here from the three reservations
where they presently live.

Interim interpretive centers are located in the towns of Joseph and
Wallowa, but a permanent interpretive center on the 320 acre site is
another goal. "The interpretive center would be built by us," McCormack
said. "The National Park Service will manage and man it. We are partners
with them now in a tentative agreement. We'll probably sign a final
agreement late this year or early next year."

The site is part of the Nez Perce Historic Trail. The Nez Perce Trail
Foundation is largely responsible for lobbying to have the trail extended.
After the Bear Paw Battle, those tribal members taken captive were sent to
Fort Leaven-worth, Kan., for a year, then sent by railroad to Baxter
Springs and marched to Oklahoma, where they spent seven years. The next
stop was Wallula, Wash. and then Nespelem, Wash. The Leaven-worth location
was added to the trail last year and the foundation is hoping to add other
extensions in the future, including a Canadian section for those tribal
members who avoided capture and settled in Canada.

Armand Minthorn, member of the Board of Trustees for the Confederated
Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, summarized the event by saying, "It's
for you to be proud that this celebration and this community and this food
have come together. All of you who are here are part of making history
today."