The Nee-me-poo Tribe


The Nez Perce, also known as the Nimi’ipuu (Nee-me-poo), is a Native American tribe indigenous to the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. The name Nimi’ipuu means “the people” or “we the people” while Nez Perce means “pierced nose” and is of French origin. The name was inspired by nose pendants, but was actually inaccurate as the Nez Perce didn’t wear nose piercings, but the Chinook did.

At the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Nez Perce covered approximately 17 million acres of land in Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Idaho. The Nez Perce tribe would travel with the seasons to find food. They owned a large herd of horses, the largest on the continent. They ate salmon and other fish, game such as deer, duck, geese, and elk, dried roots, berries, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, wild potatoes, and wild carrots. They lived in small villages, usually along a river or stream.

Probably the best known Nez Perce tribesman was Chief Joseph. In 1855, the Nez Perce signed a treaty with the United States government for 7.7 million acres of land to serve as a reservation for the tribe. However, the gold rush was on and in 1863, the government wanted to renegotiate that amount to less than a million acres. The Head Chief Lawyer and one of the allied chiefs signed the treaty, but Joseph the Elder (Chief Joseph’s father) refused to sign. This split the Nez Perce into the “treaty” and “non-treaty” bands.

In 1871, Joseph the Elder died, leaving Chief Joseph as the leader of the Wallowa band of the Nez Perce. Chief Joseph tried to negotiate with the government in a peaceful manner, but to no avail. He eventually led the Nez Perce towards the Canadian border, skillfully avoiding 2,000 soldiers in pursuit. However, after a five day battle, Chief Joseph, seeing his people suffering from hunger and freezing weather, surrendered in 1877, less than 40 miles from the Canadian border. This route is now known as the Nez Perce National Historic Trail. Chief Joseph is remembered as both a humanitarian and a peacemaker.

Today, the Nez Perce Reservation is located in North Central Idaho. The tribe is governed by a council of nine known as the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee (NPTEC). There are 3,363 people enrolled as members of the Nez Perce tribe. The Wallowa Lake Site, where Joseph the Elder is buried, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1985. The Nez Perce developed a breeding program in 1995 to reestablish their horsemanship tradition which was destroyed in the 19th century.

The Nez Perce tribe has lived in the Pacific Northwest for an estimated 10,000 years and when visiting modern day Idaho, it is obvious that the presence of this peaceful tribe still lives on.