As a native of Kamiah, I have always felt that growing up in this valley that is the legendary birthplace of the Nez Perce people, with such a rich history and its tribal people was an honor and a unique experience.
Growing up in Kamiah you have many meaningful and long lasting friendships with native people of the valley that are distinct and unique. We played on the playground together, played sports together, got in trouble together and certainly laughed together, and shared tough times together. But when you grow up in the mix as a white kid, you look at those friends as kids, which is good, but personally, I never really had an appreciation for the tribe’s culture and history or realized the magnitude and gravity of the horrible destruction perpetrated on the Nez Perce that as white Americans we can’t begin to comprehend.
Like many, I always felt like I didn’t do it, and the Nez Perce I knew didn’t suffer it. As I grew older I began to realize that the generations I grew up alongside, actually have suffered it, if not indirectly. When you think about it, particularly when you read accounts from elders like Horace Axtel, you start to realize that tribal people that have been alive during our lifetimes, particularly those of my parents’ generation, had grandfathers and grandmothers who experienced the years leading up to 1877 and the subsequent tragedy the Nez Perce had to endure.
I haven’t entirely approved of some actions and attitudes of both those of us from different cultures and backgrounds other than the Nez Perce or the Nez Perce people themselves. I do not in anyway justify bitterness and backlash against those who were simply born into this time and place, like myself or my family, but I believe a contributing factor has been our collective dismissive regard for the people and their culture, and the fact that these historic turns of events only happened a few sets of grandparents ago.
In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t as long ago as we perceive it. The biggest problem in my estimation is how we have educated our youth, not due to any individuals in the school system, nor ill intent—I have known many fine teachers and administrators that have a tremendous amount of integrity, but the history of Kamiah is so rich and fascinating that you have to step away from it to realize the rich experience that could have been.
The kids in our schools should be well versed in the traditions, culture and language of this remarkable, innovative and hospitable collection of people, and the history of the early settlers as well. I should not have had to learn of it on my own decades later in life. We should be afforded the right to be recognized as people who did not inflict the atrocities, but the Nimiipuu should be afforded the right to expect to be recognized and understood.
I have seen a lot of back and forth for many decades predicated on the “us versus them” paradigm, and if respect and knowledge were ingrained in our youth in the school system, it could be a much needed fork in the road. It will take time but how has the 140 years since the war of 1877 worked for us? Much has worked well because people have overcome the self imposed obstacles, but mutual conflict and a lack of understandings between peoples is a roadblock to Kamiah being an even greater community than it already is.
Donald G. Frazier