Horse Culture, Rosa Yearout & Kelen Lewis, Nez Perce Tribe

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Kelen Lewis: Ta'c léeheyn 'íin we'nikise Kelen Lewis, 'íin wees Nimiipuu kaa ci'camox. Good day. My name is Kelen Lewis. I'm a member of the Nez Perce Tribe and a man of Black American descent. And I'm here with na'qaac, my maternal grandmother, who I will let introduce for herself as well. Rosa Yearout: 'íinim we’níkt hiiwes Rosa Yearout, kaa titooqantimki we’ceese, born and reborn. ‘íinim wees Nimiipuu, I am Nez Perce. I was born and raised on the Nez Perce reservation at Kamiah, by my grandmother and my mother. Lived all of my life on the reservation, moving here to Lapwai when I was a teenager. And my husband is 'íinim háama. He was Jon Yearout. My first husband was Larry McFarland, and his family had horses and we had horses. And then we lost him in a car accident, and then that's when I married Jon Yearout and same thing, his family had horses and we had horses, but as far as our legal family, we've always had horses. Kelen Lewis: Very similar to my grandmother horses have been in my life throughout the entire course of my life. And of course I owe a lot of that to my grandmother, because that is the reason why I have had it in my world, because this is something that has been established. And so it's been great being able to grow up around horses, especially here on the Nez Perce reservation. Rosa Yearout: But there's so much to learn about horses, and everybody in the old days, everybody had horses. And then now with the people moving to town, people just don't have enough space to keep a horse, but we've continued on not only with our own family and providing horses for our family to ride, but we've developed and been very involved with what we call the Nez Perce Appaloosa horse club, because so many of our people don't have their own horses. Rosa Yearout: But also I can remember when our children were young, we had a four H a group because they have a lot of learning, teaching rather, about horses. We've had input from people like veterinarians who come to talk to you about horses or anything along that line. But also we learn from our elders and they'll talk about, "This is what we used to do with horses." Rosa Yearout: And the Nimiipuu were recognized by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805 and 1806 as having superior horses to any they had seen anywhere and comparable to those from Kentucky. But basically there's no one way that I recall in my awareness knowledge that horses came... Once they came here, they really make made a difference in all of our whole culture and then in our family as well. Kelen Lewis: I'm very grateful to have grown up around horses my entire life. My grandparents and the rest of my extended family are so amazing in helping to share our traditions and our celebrations. And especially in teaching the portions of our ceremonies. And one of the great things about that, and one of the hugest nods of effort and love and dedication that I had seen in a physical form is actually through the work of na’qaac, my maternal grandmother. Kelen Lewis: She put in such great work and establishing a huge archive of pieces of regalia for both people, as well as our horses. And it's through that exposure that I have both been inspired to become an artist, as well as learned much as an artist. Going through the family's archive of different regalia pieces. I'm able to study the work of artists that came before me, especially in the moments when I'm helping Gram to collect pieces or organize them or put them away. Kelen Lewis: I oftentimes am lucky to receive the indigenous oral tradition where I can ask a question about a certain bag or a certain piece, and na'qaac, my grandma, she can tell me the story of where those things come from or who put the work into it. I use plenty of materials in a lot of the work, specifically with the horse trappings. Kelen Lewis: I studied the different materials that were used in the trappings that our family owns, as well as studying trappings of other people, and the collection that they have at the museum here on the Nez Perce reservation. Many of the pieces that I have for our trapping set include beads with this, examples specifically, these are size 11 beads, and their seed beads. There's also horse hair included on this. The coolest thing about all of this is that all of this horse hair actually comes from one of the horses in our herd. Kelen Lewis: This comes from Prairie Dancer. And when I... So one of our beloved horses within our herd, after he passed away and the tail was kept, and that's what is made into this key hole, this is the first key hole that I've ever made. So along with it, materials wise, there's sinew, horse hair, string, steel needles, for all of my threading and sewing. There's also various types of buckskin and leathers that help hold a lot of this together. Kelen Lewis: This is a horse collar sometimes called the Martingale. And as I mentioned, this also has beads. It has a blue wall. There's leather that I back and is also used for the ties of it. This horse hair is actually a commercial horse hair that I've purchased. So the stuff on the keyholes from our actual horse, and then this additional set is commercial. Then I also used ribbons and I beaded the tassels. My main goal with this piece was for it to be as exaggerated and extravagant as I could make it. Rosa Yearout: But here with this collection, it was good that this was done if for whatever reason, way back when Reverend Spalding was gathering these and they were sent back east. Now you did have an intact collection, which we as a tribe, had to raise money and did buy back. The people realize the importance of that to have that somewhere here. And like I mentioned before, about the Nez Perce National Historical Park, the only one that I'm aware of named after a tribe that will house these and keep them for our future generations. Rosa Yearout: Just amazing that we did do this and it's coming back. And that there's a need to rename this to a name more suitable to the area. And so I think it's really huge. It's very, the importance of this whole thing. And probably maybe others will be inspired and they'd come across some things, maybe they'll be inspired to return them to their final resting place so to speak. Kelen Lewis: Why is it important is such a great question, at the same time though, I'm like, why not give it back? Why hold onto our stuff? To me, it's such a simple acknowledgement. It actually kind of angers me. So that's how I feel like I don't know if can say this because it angers me that we have to pay for it. That we had to buy it back. Things that were taken from us, down to human remains. Kelen Lewis: My hands are literally shaking because as my grandma was saying, so much of this holds greater significance than it being of physical product. It's not just a shoe. It's not just a shirt. There's so much more in the creation of it, in the story of it, and the significance of it. And in the pure understanding that we're human people. Who else raids a home and takes a lot of things? And of course, I don't want to say take, as in a lot of it's been stolen yet these things were gathered and sent away from their home. They were taken away from this land and from this people, and now for them to make their return, monetary transactions had to take place. We had to give more of ourself just to get a piece back.

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9 minutes, 48 seconds

Rosa Yearout & Kelen Lewis discuss horse culture.

Last updated: June 22, 2021