• Nez Perce National Historical Park. Front Page banner photograph is of Heart of the Monster, an ancient place where the Nez Perce creation story originates. The secondary page photograph is of Nez Perce beadwork.

    Nez Perce

    National Historical Park ID,MT,OR,WA

Fish

Coho salmon

The Nez Perce Tribe has been restoring and collecting data on coho salmon in Lapwai Creek at the park's Spalding site.

NPS Photo

The western portion of the park area is bisected by the Snake and Clearwater rivers and many of their reaches. Many of these drainages have been declared critical habitat for the Snake River sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka)and the Snake River fall chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tschawytscha), in addition to being important habitat for the West Coast steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and brown trout (Salmo trutta).

Historically, in late May and early June, the rivers filled with eels, steelhead, and chinook salmon. The aboriginal Nez Perce villagers crowded to communal fishing sites to trap the fish, or haul in fish with large dip nets. The first fishing of the season was accompanied by prescribed rituals and a ceremonial feast known as kooyit. Thanksgiving was offered to the Creator and to the fish for having returned and given themselves to the people as food. In this way, it was hoped that the fish would return the next year.

 
Nez Perce Tribal fisheries technicians with salmon

Nez Perce Tribal Fisheries technicians have been collecting data on salmon in Lapwai Creek, ID every fall for the past 3 years.

NPS Photo

Fishing took place throughout the summer and fall, first on the lower streams and then on the higher tributaries and catches also included salmon (Oncorhynchus sp.), sturgeon (Acipenser sp.), whitefish (Prosopium williamsoni), suckers (Catostomus sp.), and varieties of trout (brook trout, bull trout, and cutthroat). Most of the supplies for winter use came from a second run in the fall, when large numbers of sockeye, silver (Oncorhynchus kisutch), and dog (Oncorhynchus keta) salmon appeared in the rivers.

 
Fisherman at Celilo Falls

Celilo Falls, a series of falls and rapids on the Columbia River in Oregon/Washington, was a culturally important site to the Nez Perce and other tribes.

NPS photo

Salmon have long been an important part of Nez Perce culture. As non-Indians began to move into the northwestern United States in the 1800s, the lives of the indigenous people were changed forever. The building of dams for hydroelectric power had a particularly detrimental impact on the Nez Perce people. Water level fluctuations changed landscapes, and blocked the migration of salmon, especially the smolts (young salmon). Celilo Falls, a series of falls and rapids on the Columbia River, was a culturally important site to the Nez Perce and many other tribes, who gathered there annually to fish, trade and socialize. The opening of The Dalles Dam in 1957 destroyed Celilo forever.

In modern times, the Nez Perce Tribe has established a Fisheries Department and a Department of Natural Resources which provides for "the conservation, enhancement and management of the tribes' fish and wildlife resources for future generations." Nearly all of Idaho's naturally-produced anadromous (ocean-going) salmon and steelhead are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. They are protected to conserve their critically low populations. Numbers of salmon and steelhead returning to Idaho vary in response to conditions in freshwater and the ocean.

 
 

Fishes

English Name

Nez Perce Name

brook trout

bull trout

cutthroat trout

dog salmon

white sucker

silver salmon

Snake R. chinook

West coast steelhead

pi'ckatyo

i'slam

wawa'lam

ka'llay

mu'quc

ka'llay

nacoox

heyey

whitefish

ci'mey

brook trout

pi'ckatyo



 

Did You Know?

In June 2005, this buffalo hide tipi was put up for the first time in fifty years.

In the museum collection of Nez Perce National Historical Park is a magnificent buffalo hide tipi made of eighteen separate hides. This tipi is one of only a few that are know to survive from the mid-nineteenth century. It was donated by the Lawyer family.