Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Iwetemlaykin: Safe and Welcoming Home

Iwetemlaykin:  Safe and Welcoming Home

This is the location of the summer home of the Wallowa Nez Perce  or Nimiipuu (nee-nee-poo) people.

They moved between semi-permanent encampments or villages.  Their fall home was by the Columbia River where they traded for dried salmon.  Their winter home lay in the mild climes along the Imnaha River Canyon.  Their summer hone was here, at the North end of Wallowa Lake, close to where Old Chief Joseph is buried.  Old Chief Joseph is the father of Young Chief Joseph, who led his people on their legendary fighting retreat from pursuing US soldiers in 1877.  The US government gave the Nimiipuu no choice but to leave their home and go to the reservation in Idaho.  Some young Nimiipuu men, frustrated with the unfairness of the situation, attacked some white settlers.  The US Army was ordered to pursue and subdue the Indians.  The Nimiipuu amazed all with their stamina: 750 Indians including warriors but also women and children and elders, fought 2,000 US soldiers as they fled towards Canada from early June to October, 1877, when the winter winds began to blow cold and snow.

In October 1877, Young Chief Joseph surrendered saying the famous words, "I will fight no more forever."

He never saw his home again.

The name of Chief Joseph's summer home, the Nimiipuu summer village, is Iwetemlaykin (eee-weh-temm-lye-kin).

The definition of "at home" is:

1:  relaxed and comfortable  
2: in harmony with surroundings
3:  on familiar ground

April 22, 2014

Survivors often do not feel at home anywhere:

Not among friends and family.
Not in Church.
Not in the community.

Our stories make other people uncomfortable.  They want us to be silent and stop reminding them of what they don't want to face -- the fractured history of our lives, the imperfection in others we know and love: the priest, the mother, the husband, the grandfather, the cousin, the Sunday School teacher….

Sometimes the wounds of rejection and loss of belonging are even more painful than the abuse itself.

The Nimiipuu people of Wallowa Valley offer us a parallel experience we can access for understanding.
Their story makes us uncomfortable as the only way to create true justice for the Nimiipuu people would be to return the Wallowa Mountains and Wallowa Valley our ancestors took from their ancestors.  But no one ever mentions this.  The price of atonement is simply too high.  We prefer to dedicate statues, create parks, and name streets in honor of those our ancestors abused.

Our ancestors abused the Nimiipuu in many ways.  We imposed our religion in cruel ways Jesus would condemn as he condemned the money changers in the temple.  We took away their way of life: Salmon fishing, hunting for game, gathering grains and nuts and fruits and roots, moving from village to village with the season, and creating baskets and clothing and tools by hand.  Our ancestors took their beautiful valley and lake and mountains.  When their young men boiled over with anger, instead of being patient, our soldiers pursued them until the warriors lay dying and the children went hungry and the elders were freezing and the women were alone.  But that was not enough.  Our ancestors imprisoned their survivors in a fort in distant Oklahoma.  Even when they left Oklahoma seven years later and returned to the Pacific Northwest, they were not allowed to return to any of the land where they had once lived.  Even the white soldiers who pursued the Nez Perce importuned the US government to allow Young Chief Joseph the opportunity to visit Wallowa Valley.  It was never to be.  After 7 years in prison, he was allowed to go to live with some of his people in Washington State, but the closest he ever came to Wallowa Valley was to sit on his horse hundreds of miles to the north looking south across the Columbia River in the general direction of the Wallowas.

Princess, the survivor of Wallowa County pioneer and Indian stock, commented that the US government behaved in ways that were just like an abuser.  The government was not content with the Nez Perce leaving Wallowa Valley.  They had to control them even after they left.  

As we contemplate what happened to the Nimiipuu here, we can access what happened to our loved ones who were abused.  Or maybe it was us, you and me, who lost our sense of safety and belonging.

This home by Wallowa Lake is safe and beautiful and peaceful.

The season in these pictures is late winter.  The Nimiipuu would not be here in winter.

They would be sheltering in the warmer climes of the Imnaha River Canyon 30 miles to the east.

On this late winter day, the snow capped Wallowa Mountains stand above us, winter squalls brewing.

Snow falls on mountain peaks, stopping short of the valley where we are.

A small stand of trees breaks the wind blowing across the grassy moraine.

A trail leads us to the trees and beyond.

We find a pond still enough to reflect mountains and sky.

Sit still and contemplate the scene.

What do you feel when you sit still here?

Thinks of the ancestors who lived here.

What did they feel?  What did they experience?

Close your eyes and imagine.

….camp fires, long houses, women carrying babies on their backs and baskets in their arms filled with food or water from this pond, dogs dashing along the path, children playing. … men arriving on Appaloosa horses with game….

Walk beyond the pond up the slopes of the moraine.  The sun peaks through the clouds.

Beyond, rain falls on the prairie.

Turn again to see the Wallowas.


What do you feel when you look at the Wallowas?

What is the definition of "at home" given in the beginning of this post?

What does "at home" mean to you?

Do you have a home?

What is "homey" about the place where you live?

Have you ever lost a place that felt like home to you?  If you did, what did the loss feel like to you?

What did the Nimiipuu people feel when they lost their home?

What happens to some abuse survivors when they come forward?

What can we do to heal the wounds?


Head into Wallowa Valley from LaGrande on Highway 82 and proceed to Joseph.

Or head into Wallowa Valley from Milton Freewater, Oregon.  Go south from Milton Freewater on Highway 11.  Take Highway 204 -- the Weston Elgin Highway -- to Elgin where it merges with Highway 82.

Follow Highway 82 to Joseph.

Head south from Joseph on the Wallowa Lake Highway.  To your right you will find a small parking lot with informational signs about Iwetemlaykin and outhouses.

© 2014 Virginia Pickles Jones


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