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The Nez Perce Nation

For any student of the Native American, the name Nez Perce immediately brings to mind one name - Chief Joseph. His statement "I will fight no more, forever.", was the title of a book and movie about the gallant fight and flight of the Nez Perce across 1,700 miles through the far west (ENAT, 158-161). Their flight was in an attempt to escape the squalor and deprivation of an imposed relocation to the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho. Their goal was sanctuary in Canada. This phrase was uttered by a defeated Chief Joseph at the end of that valiant but failed effort to take his people to freedom. It reflects the despair that engulfed many Native American peoples when they came to accept the numerical superiority of the white man.

Today, the Nez Perce Tribe located on that very same Nez Perce Reservation honor the man who is considered one of the greatest Indian leaders of all times, and who died in 1904 without ever being allowed to return to his native lands. At the center of the flag of the Nez Perce nation is the tribal seal.

That seal is simply a black and white drawing of a bust of Chief Joseph ringed by the phrase "Nez Perce Tribe" above and "Treaty of 1855" marking the founding of the reservation, below. This seal rests in the center of a black map of the reservation located in north central Idaho. The map is edged in golden yellow and shows the rivers that cross the reservation, a salmon, a major source of food to the Nez Perce, and a deer, also a traditional food source.

Above the seal and edged in red is a golden outline of an eagle, the bird sacred to most Native American people and below the seal and extending beyond the map are four eagle feathers edged in red. All of these devices are placed in the center of a red field which recalls the suffering and death of many Nez Perce in their fight for freedom .


The colors of the central design combined with the field color bring together the four primary colors of the Native American (Arthur Taylor, Admin. Asst., Nez Perce Cultural Resources Center, letter date Dec. 19, 1994). These colors have been used by many tribes to symbolize the races of man and the four main directions of the compass.

It should be noted that the tribal name refers to nose pendants worn by some, but not many of the tribe when encountered by the French (ENAT, 158-161). The term literally translates to "pierced noses". The Nez Perce call themselves Nimipu, meaning the "people" and neighboring tribes referred to them as "Sahaptin", a term used today to refer to the native language of the Nez Perce.

The earliest attribution of a standard flag used by the Native American other than the Civil War flags of the Choctaw Nation was to a Nez Perce. The shaman Smohalla, who founded the Dreamer cult (ANAI, 133) during the 1860s has been associated with a particular flag. According to J. W. Powell ("The Ghost Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890, 14th Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Smithsonian Institutiion, part 2, 1892-1893) Smohalla flew a flag over his house and during ceremonies. That flag has been described as yellow, for the grasslands all around, edged in green for the salt water seas beyond. In the center was a red oval representing Smohalla's heart, the "heart" was edged in white for the home or place Smohalla dwelled. together they symbolized "...the center. I live there" (Ibid, 126)

Across the top of this flag was a blue stripe for the sky, centered upon it was a single white star. "...the star is the north star. That star never changes; it is always in the same place. I keep my heart on that star. I never change." (Ibid, 126).

Smohalla's Flag

 

Don Healy, Bisbee, Az 85603