A 50th birthday calls for a party. For the Nez Perce National Historical Park, which turns 50 Friday, that celebration includes a horse parade, pow wow, tepee races and, of course, cake.It was May 15, 1965, that the Nez Perce National Historical Park was established to tell the story of the Nez Perce (Nimiipuu) people. Part of its stated purpose is to “facilitate protection and provide interpretation” of significant sites in Nez Perce history, which it does in a unique way.
The park is nontraditional in the sense that it doesn’t encompass one large piece of land, in the way that Yosemite or Glacier national parks do. Instead, the park includes 38 historical sites spread out over four states — Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Montana.
“This is pretty unique among the 404 parks in the National Park System,” said Scott Eckberg, Idaho unit manager for the park.
From the beginning, the Nez Perce Tribe has worked closely with the park and as a result, Eckberg said, instead of the traditional pioneer perspective of the West, the park tells the story from the perspective of the Nez Perce homeland looking out.
“The park could not have existed without the support of the Nez Perce Tribe,” Eckberg said.
Key sites in the park system include Spalding, with its visitor center, and Big Hole Battlefield, located in Montana, which also has a visitor center. People often begin at these centers and go on to discover additional sites. Other key locations include the petroglyphs at Buffalo Eddy, the Nez Perce creation story at Heart of the Monster, the Lewis and Clark Expedition camp at Canoe Camp and the White Bird and Bear Paw battlefield sites. All of these are on land owned by the Nez Perce National Historical Site.
Of the remaining 31 sites, some belong to the park, but many have different land owners who work in conjunction with the park to preserve and interpret the sites. A key park partner includes the Idaho Transportation Department, Eckberg said, which maintains the highway pullouts that comprise several of the historic sites. Signs at these sites provide interpretation and are managed by the Idaho State Historical Society.
“It’s a park that many people experience by accident,” Eckberg said, explaining that it isn’t a “destination park” for most people, like Yellowstone National Park might be. But because it’s spread out, it is accessible to wide numbers of people who encounter it in their travels.
The Spalding location was preserved by the state of Idaho in 1935 and was added to the national park in 1965. It’s open every day and free of charge. Last October, the park visitor center premiered a new film, shown daily, which tells the story of the Nez Perce people. The new film was a three-year project done in collaboration with the Nez Perce and replaced a previous, dated film. Updates to museum exhibits are scheduled to debut in late 2017.
50th Celebration Events
3 p.m. — Speeches by tribal and park service representatives, cake and refreshments to follow
9 a.m. — Tribal blessing followed by reminiscences by current and former tribal officials, park cooperators and employees
12:15 p.m. — Horse parade featuring tribal members and their horses
1 p.m. — Pow wow featuring intertribal, men’s and women’s traditional and fancy dancing
3 p.m. — Stick games and tepee races
If you go:
What: 50 year anniversary celebration at Nez Perce National Historical Park
When: 3 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. Saturday
Where: Nez Perce National Park Visitor Center at Spalding