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Nez PercÚ

Nez PercÚ, Native American group that formerly occupied a
large territory in southeastern Washington, northeastern
Oregon, and central Idaho. The Nez PercÚ are the most
numerous group of related tribes that speak Sahaptian
languages (see Native American languages). The name Nez
PercÚ (French for "pierced nose") was mistakenly given to the
tribe by French explorers. The French encountered people in the
region who wore nose pendants, but these people actually
belonged to another tribe. The Nez PercÚ did not pierce their
noses or wear ornaments.

The Nez PercÚ followed an economy based on fishing, especially
salmon, and on vegetable staples such as the bulbs of the
camas plant, wild roots, and berries. After about 1700 they also
kept horses and hunted buffalo. In winter they lived along
riverbanks in villages of long houses built of bark, mats, and
skins; in summer they camped in the mountains and in the great
upland camas meadows. They practiced some weaving and the
decorating of buffalo skins with paint and porcupine quills. Their
principal religious ceremony was a dance in honor of the
Guardian Spirit, their presiding deity. War dances were also
performed. The entire tribe was divided into more than 40
bands, each led by a popularly selected chief. Marriage was
generally outside the band, or group. In response to the tribe's
request for instruction in Christianity, a Protestant mission was
established at Lapwai, Idaho, in 1837.

In 1855 the Nez PercÚ made a treaty with the United States,
ceding the greater portion of their territory to the U.S.
government and receiving a reservation that included the
Wallowa Valley in Oregon. When gold was discovered in the
region, the tribe was forced to agree to surrender all its lands
and to return to a reservation at Lapwai. A band led by Chief
Joseph refused to accept the agreement, and in 1877 he was
victorious in a battle with federal troops. Joseph then led his
band, which included women and children, on a retreat of about
1600 km (about 1000 mi), and although pursued by federal
troops that greatly outnumbered them, the Native Americans
won several battles. About 50 km (about 30 mi) from the safety
of the Canadian border, however, Joseph and his band were
captured. They were sent to the Indian Territory of Oklahoma
where many died. Some of the survivors were later permitted to
return to Idaho, where the majority of the tribe now lives on the
Nez PercÚ reservation. Joseph and the remainder were sent to
Colville reservation in northern Washington. By 1990 only 4113
people claimed to be descendants of the tribe. The Nez PercÚ
National Historical Park commemorates sites in Idaho, Montana,
Oregon, and Washington associated with the group's culture
and history.