Over the decades, Nez Perce people have fought to protect and preserve the land and rivers we all share.At a panel discussion Thursday, April 25 at Lewis-Clark State College, a group of Nez Perce activists will offer a more specific perspective: “Nez Perce Women Protecting Mother Earth.”
For thousands of years, the Nez Perce traveled seasonally around what is now Idaho, Oregon and Washington, their lives intricately woven into the cycles of the land and rivers. The lessons from that way of life continue to be passed on, said Paulette Smith of Lapwai, one of three panelists scheduled to appear.
“Some of these places are so sacred and have such deep meaning. I hope to share enough to get others to think about their surroundings, be conscious of their actions and how it affects those things, and educate themselves,” she said.
Smith graduated from Lewiston High School in 1988 and describes herself first as a mother and grandmother, a traditional role for a native woman, she notes. She also works as an administrative specialist in the research division of the Nez Perce Tribe’s Department of Fisheries Resources Management and helps in the community where she can.
“The Lapwai community, the whole Nez Perce Tribe comes together in crisis and celebration. Traditionally, we take care of each other when we need to, and I love that part of my community.”
In an email interview with Inland 360, she shared some of her personal perspectives about Nez Perce traditions on caring for the Earth.
How are Nez Perce women working to protect the Earth?
Nez Perce women work to protect their environment everyday. We have women who are involved with grassroots organizations; water protectors, educators, organizers, networking with other groups and getting the word out to people. We teach at home; our children are taught to respect the land, water, animals that we are blessed to have. Nothing is considered a material object that we own. These things: Land, water, life are given to us to care for. We protect Mother Earth and all the beauty she holds for the next seven generations.
Can you speak about Nez Perce traditions or teachings about the importance of protecting the Earth? What inspires your concern?
Traditionally, we are taught to take what we need in regards to hunting, fishing, gathering. We don’t hunt for sport; we don’t over-harvest game or traditional foods. We have ceremonies and give thanks to what we are blessed to receive. Our elders teach about taking care of the land. When we harvest traditional medicines, foods we do it in a respectful manner, and we are gentle with the plants we pick from. This has to happen so we will see a return in the next year.
My concerns are the environmental impacts on our game, fish, traditional foods. Many factors come into play — climate, human activity, no protection for traditional foods that grow in specific areas. The lack of respect for the land and water is evident. When vehicles are going into the river, that impacts a very important piece to our culture, our salmon. When we allow our scenic corridor to be used as an industrial transport, we put that in jeopardy.
In your opinion, what are some critical areas of concern in our region?
My opinion would be our rivers. Mining should not be allowed; poison from mining is hazardous to our fisheries. Megaloads don’t need to ruin our beautiful scenic corridor for a corporation who doesn’t care or appreciate what we have.
Are there ways that other people can become involved in your work?
Research, education, reaching out to organizations with the drive to want to take part, take action. Anyone can be a part of change.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Nez Perce Women Protecting Mother Earth” panel discussion
WHEN: Noon to 1:30 p.m. Thursday, April 25
WHERE: Sacajawea Hall 112, Lewis-Clark State College, Lewiston
Speakers will include activists Paulette Smith, Lucinda Simpson and LCSC student Wetalu Henry, with LCSC alumnus renée holt as moderator.