Nez Perce Tribe

Mailing Address

P.O. Box 305
Lapwai, ID 83540



Cultural History

The Nez Perce Tribe call themselves the Nimi'ipuu which literally means the "real people" or "we the people". One of its tribal leaders, Cecil Carter once mentioned a name that they, the Nimi'i'puu used to call to themselves before they had horses, the name meant that they walked out of the woods or walked out of the mountains, Cuupn'itpel'uu. Cecil told the tribe that it was an old word before they started using the other one which is Nimi'i'puu.

Some of their neighboring tribes in the south like the Shoshone and the Bannock used to refer to the Nimi'ipuu as the "people under the tule" because of their homes. The tribe used to live in homes which were tule mat-covered, double lean-to long houses. This principal dwelling eventually switched from the tule-mat covered long house into a conical structure also known as tipi in the eighteenth century. Tule, on the other hand, is actually a long thin reed that when wet, slightly increases in size in order to make a tight seal on the tules. Tules were tied together in order to form walla. During the summer time, the tules allow the air to flow so it could circulate in the homes. Because of this, some of their other neighboring tribes from the south also referred to the Nimi'ipuu as the "Khouse eaters". The tribe did not only hunt for food, but also gathered roots and berries. One of the favorite root crops of the tribe is called the khouse, thus the name, Khouse eaters. Aside from food, khouse was also used for food and medicine.

An interpreter who joined the Lewis and Clark Expedition in the year 1805 gave them the name, Nez Perce. Soon enough, the French Canadians interpreted the meaning of their new name as "Pierced Horse". This cultural practice, of piercing the horse, is not, however, practiced by the tribe.

A treaty once extended the territory of the Nez Perce Tribe far to the extension of its reservation. The boundaries were established by a treaty while an extra-territorial jurisdiction which aims to protect the rights of the Nez Perce Tribe was guaranteed by the government of the United States as well as the acquisition of the other tribal lands by the Nez Perce Tribe. Most of these provisions, however, were not followed.

Prior to the White settlement in the northwestern portion of their land, the Nimi’ipuu used to live in peaceful groups while traveling occasionally in the deep canyon which is cut by the Snake, Clearwater and the Salmon Rivers. The tribe used to travel up to the states of Oregon, Washington and Idaho. Their homeland remains to be in Idaho, as well as some areas in the Southeastern Washington, Northeastern Oregon and some areas in Western Montana and Wyoming. Their ancestral territories reached up to 17 million acres but were soon diminished by treaties.

Nowadays, the tribe is engaged in several enterprises, like that of a Forest Products Enterprise and its own gaming enterprises. The tribe also owns the Nez Perce Express Store as well as the Aht’wy Plaza RV Park.

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