Nez Perce
National Historical Park

Administrative History


A number of administrative and political developments in recent years strongly suggest that Nez Perce National Historical Park is evolving in new directions. In general, the park's major constituents have responded to these new developments with enthusiasm, as the ambitious park additions appear to be a catalyst for growth rather than disintegration. But recent political discourse on the possibility of scaling back the national park system creates a measure of doubt.

The park additions have had a profound effect on park relations with the Nez Perce people. From 1965 to 1985, park officials had virtually no contact with Nez Perces on the Umatilla and Colville Indian Reservations. Nez Perce participation in cultural events consisted solely of Nez Perces who lived on or near the Nez Perce Indian Reservation, with the Nez Perce community of Lapwai being particularly close to park affairs. This started to change when condominium development threatened the Old Chief Joseph Monument site in Oregon and Nez Perces on the Umatilla Reservation became concerned. Superintendent Roy Weaver established new contacts with the Nez Perce groups in Oregon and Washington, and Superintendent Walker cultivated them further. This process also stemmed from interagency meetings with diverse Nez Perce groups who were concerned with the Nez Perce (Nee-Me-Poo) National Historic Trail, established in 1986. In order to ensure closer cooperation between the park and the Nez Perce people, the Nez Perce National Park Additions Act of 1991 mandated that the NPS would consult Nez Perces on interpretation of the park sites.

Both the 1992 additions and the Nez Perce National Historic Trail focused greater attention on the War of 1877. For many years park officials and Lapwai area Nez Perces had tacitly agreed to minimize interpretation of this sorrowful event. Now, with so many park sites relating to the dispossession, flight, and exile of the non-treaty Nez Perces, the subject could no longer be muted. Increasingly, the public perceived the park and the trail as a single entity commemorating the war.

The 1992 additions and the trail have tended to bring Nez Perce groups together and foster a spirit of cooperation between them. There are differences of opinion about this. One reviewer commented that the NPS role in this process should not be overstated, and that the process has been occurring for some time. Another reviewer objected to the statement that the additions and the trial made the Chief Joseph Band more involved in the park. Following enactment of the Nez Perce National Park Additions Act of 1991, the Nez Perce Tribe organized a reception, hosted by the National Council of American Indians (NCAI) in Washington, D.C. This led to other ceremonies that year at Spalding, Joseph, Big Hole National Battlefield, and Bear Paw Battlefield. The Nez Perce held special pipe ceremonies at these gatherings, as well as at the Clearwater Battlefield, White Bird Battlefield, and at Tonkawa in Oklahoma. These ceremonies have attracted Nez Perces from Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, and have become annual events. [378]

Three years after passage of the additions bill, the Park Service appeared to be playing a critical and fruitful role in bringing the different Nez Perce groups into closer agreement on the significance and future direction of the park. The Nez Perce National Historical Park Additions Act of 1991 provides that the Park Service will consult with the Nez Perce people in interpreting the park story. Representatives from the Chief Joseph Band began to participate with representatives of the Nez Perce Tribe in planning for the new sites. By then it was evident that the new shape of the park was tending to soften the jealousies and resentments that had long divided the Nez Perce people. More recently, enactment of the Tribal Self-Governance Act of 1994 added other incentives for cooperation between the NPS and the Nez Perce people, while raising the possibility of a tribally administered park some time in the future. Still, the Nez Perces did not speak with one voice, even on such a fundamental issue as this.

An Interagency Coordinated Strategy workshop in October 1993 also appeared to be pointing the park in a new direction. The workshop brought together representatives of seven federal agencies and the Nez Perce Tribe. Its goal was to develop a coordinated strategy for federal land managers in the Nez Perce country of Idaho that would allow agencies to pool their resources and minimize conflict. At first the Coordinated Strategy was modeled on the so-called "Four Corners Strategy" of resource management being developed in the four corners region of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. But as the program developed, the focus shifted to interpretation, documentation, and consultation relating to Nez Perce history and culture. The Park Service, Forest Service, and Nez Perce Tribe were the major partners in the Coordinated Strategy; the Bureau of Reclamation, Army Corps of Engineers, Fish and Wildlife Service, Soil Conservation Service, and Idaho SHPO were involved too. Following the workshop, designated participants took six months to prepare an action plan. Among the promised actions was a Nez Perce Trail symposium. The symposium took place in Lewiston in October 1995. [379]

Currently the park is embarked on its first general management planning process. The purpose of the General Management Plan (GMP) is to provide management philosophy and direction for the park during the next ten to fifteen years. During the GMP process, NPS officials, Nez Perce representatives, and interested citizens are refining the park's purpose and significance, interpretive themes, and management objectives. [380] It is perhaps the most open forum for public debate on the meaning of the park since the creation of the Nez Perce Tribal Development Advisory Committee in 1961. Government officials and citizens are choosing among an array of desired futures. Whatever decisions are made concerning the need for site boundaries and land protection, interpretation of the Nez Perce story, and staffing of the various units or functions, it is likely that this unique park will evolve toward co-management by the Park Service and the Nez Perce people.

Last Updated: 01-Jun-2000