Many visitors have a specific question about a headdress on display at the Nez Perce National Historical Park headquarters in Spalding.
Why does it have a beaded swastika?
“Most people know this symbol in its modern context,” said Park Ranger Kate Kunkel-Patterson. “Unfortunately, that’s a negative context.”
The symbol, which the rangers call a “whirlwind,” is much older than Nazism and has a number of meanings. In Nez Perce culture, it can represent how the Big Dipper changes position in the sky throughout the year, said Kunkel-Patterson. It also was a symbol of protection, often found on objects owned by men who traveled far away to hunt or fight. “Almost a reminder of home in relation to that star formation in the sky,” she said.
The symbol is one of several visual representations of the stars in Nez Perce culture, a topic to be explored at a night sky event Saturday at the park.
The program begins at 8 p.m. in the visitor’s center auditorium with a program about how the stars relate to Nez Perce culture. Kunkel-Patterson also will discuss how Big Hole National Battlefield in Montana, one of the park’s 38 sites, is under consideration to be named a dark sky park. Dark sky parks and preserves are designated places where light pollution does not impede one’s view of the night sky.
After 9 p.m., the program will move outside for viewing the Perseid Meteor Shower. In one Nez Perce story, a boy shoots an arrow into the sky and a shooting star returns, bringing his people fire. It’s one way meteors and comets are woven into the fabric of the culture, Kunkel-Patterson said.
Saturday night marks the peak of this year’s meteor shower. David Eberle, a NASA Solar System Ambassador and Clarkston elementary school teacher, will present a brief program about astronomy and meteors.
The meteor shower will be visible to the naked eye after dark, but people also can bring binoculars and telescopes, along with blankets and lawn chairs for seating. In addition to the programs, the park will offer a special “Night Sky” Junior Ranger activity for kids. The museum and gift shop will remain open for the event.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: The night sky and Nez Perce culture
WHEN: 8 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11
WHERE: Nez Perce National Historical Park Spalding Visitor Center, Spalding
OF NOTE: The visitor center is located 12 miles east of Lewiston at 39063 U.S. Highway 95.