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Nez Percé - Idaho (U.S.)

Native American

Last modified: 2019-11-23 by rick wyatt
Keywords: nez perce | idaho | native american |
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[Nez Percé - Idaho flag] image by Valentin Poposki, 8 September 2019

See also:

The Band

[Nez Perce map]
map image by Peter Orenski based on input from Don Healy

Nez Percé - Idaho

To many, the name Nez Percé immediately recalls Chief Joseph, the brilliant military strategist and leader of the Nez Percé. His statement, "I will fight no more, forever", was the title of a book and movie about the gallant fight and flight of his people across 1,700 miles through the far west (ENAT, 158-161). They had attempted to escape the squalor and deprivation of an imposed relocation to the Nez Percé Reservation in Idaho and reach sanctuary in Canada.

Today, the Nez Percé, still located on that reservation in north-central Idaho, honors Chief Joseph, who died in 1904 without being allowed to return to his native lands.

© Donald Healy 2008

The Flag

At the center of the Nez Percé flag is the tribal seal, a black-and-white drawing of a bust of Chief Joseph ringed by "NEZ PERCÉ TRIBE" above and "TREATY OF 1855", marking the founding of the reservation, below, all in black. The seal appears in the center of a black map of the reservation, edged in golden yellow. On the map are the rivers that cross the reservation, a salmon - a major source of food to the Nez Percé, and a deer - also a traditional food source, all in golden yellow.

Above the seal, edged in red, is a golden silhouette of an eagle, the bird sacred to many Native American people. Below the seal, extending beyond the map, are four white-and-black eagle feathers edged in red. All these images are placed on a red field which recalls the suffering and death of many Nez Percé in their fight for freedom (photo provided by All Nations Flag Co.).

The colors of the central design and the field bring together the four primary Native American colors: white, black, red, and yellow (Letter, Arthur Taylor, Nez Percé Cultural Resources Center, 19 Dec. 1994). They symbolize the races of man and the directions of the compass [see Miccosukee].

The tribal name, literally "pierced noses" in French, alludes to nose pendants some wore when the French first encountered them (ENAT, 158-161). The Nez Percé call themselves Nimipu, meaning the "people", while neighboring tribes called them Sahaptin, a term which today refers to the native language of the Nez Percé.

The earliest attribution of a standard flag to any Native American (other than the Civil War flags designed for the "five civilized Nations" by the Confederacy) was to a Nez Percé. The shaman Smohalla, who founded the Dreamer cult (ANAI, 133) during the 1860s, flew a flag over his house and during ceremonies (J. W. Powell, "The Ghost Dance Religion and the Sioux Outbreak of 1890", 14th Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology to the Smithsonian Institution, part 2, 1892-1893). Smohalla's flag was 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, edged in white for the home or place Smohalla dwelled. Together they symbolized ". . . the center. I live there" (ibid.., 126). Across the top 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).

© Donald Healy 2008
information provided by Peter Orenski, 19 January 2008