A Celebration

I’m old enough to start measuring time in decades—Tamkaliks, the annual powwow and celebration on the Nez Perce Homeland grounds out of the town of Wallowa, just completed its third.

It was, in a word, stunning. There were over 150 dancers, and their regalia seemed bolder and sometimes more extravagant this year. There were 15 drums! My recollections are 10 drums, maybe 12. Even the number of drummers on a given drum seemed larger—six and seven drummers young and old reaching to get their sticks on the drum. The dance floor at the arbor was thick with old and young; it took long songs to get everyone onto and off the floor.

And the longhouse! On a very warm Sunday morning the seven drummers seemed to beat louder and the crowd sing stronger than I remember from previous services. Over 150, including a few soyapo, crowded the longhouse to worship and celebrate. And who knew there were that many Nimiipuu and close Plateau relatives who knew the old songs!

Leader Armand Minthorn asked for air-conditioning. There is none, but doors were opened and fans brought in, and people still crowded the sacred dirt floor at the longhouse’s center, where they danced and spoke. Newcomers—Tribal members from far-off reservations with old family ties to the walwa ma band—joined in the celebration. Walwa ma band drummers from Nespelem joined kinfolk from closer reservations.

Nimiipuu—Nez Perce—drums and dancers had been silent in the Wallowas for many decades—it is now more than 145 years since their forced removal and the ensuing War of 1877. There were 8 years—almost a decade—of war survivors living in the “hot country”—‘iyeq’iispe, (Ee Yak ish Pah)–in Indian Territory. In 1885 they were allowed to come West, but not to Oregon, and although some left the train near Wallula Junction and went to the Nez Perce Reservation at Lapwai in Idaho, those close to Chief Joseph—the walwa ma band, now often called Joseph band—could not go there. They were barred from the Wallowa, and there was still a warrant for Joseph’s arrest in Idaho!

Reaching back to a childhood friendship, Joseph and his people were welcomed by Chief Moses on the Colville Reservation in north-central Washington State. Descendants of the 149 that got off the train in 1885 still live on the Colville Reservation. Some who had escaped to Canada at Bears Paw found their ways back to Umatilla, and others who traced Nez Perce-Cayuse ancestry to the Wallowa were on the Umatilla before and after the War. To this day, the Nez Perce people are scattered on reservations in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.

This weekend Tamkaliks on the Nez Perce Wallowa Homeland marked 30 years of drumming and dancing. Nimiipuu and friends and relatives from all those places and many more gathered to drum, to sing, dance, worship and celebrate. Leaders at the dance arbor and in the longhouse reminded us that “the land has been waiting to hear these drums and songs.”

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