Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Memorial for Old Chief Joseph: Coping with Painful Memories Through Rituals

Many people have heard of Young Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce (Nimiipuu) Indian people who said, "I will Fight No More Forever."

Statue of Young Chief Joseph in Joseph, Oregon

He said this after leading his people on an 1,800 mile trek through Idaho, Oregon, Montana and Wyoming after they were ordered to leave their home in the Wallowa Valley of Oregon and become permanent residents on a small reservation in Idaho.  Eventually Chief Joseph had to surrender because the Nimiipuu warriors were dead, the elderly were freezing, the children were starving, and the women were alone.

Old Chief Joseph was the father and namesake of Young Chief Joseph.  He converted to Christianity in 1839, and tried to live in peace with white settlers who kept coming and coming from the East.  He signed the treaty in 1855, that gave much land to the white people but protected Wallowa Valley as a sacred homeland for his people.  After gold was found nearby, white miners and settlers pushed the US government to break the 1855 treaty and force a new one on the Nimiipuu that took away 90 percent of their traditional lands.  Chief Joseph renounced Christianity and refused to recognize the treaty.  He died in 1871, and was buried by the forks of the Wallowa and Lostine Rivers north and west of Wallowa Lake.  In 1886, white settlers desecrated his grave and took his skull as a souvenir.

By 1926, the hearts and minds of the children and grandchildren of the original settlers had changed.  Or perhaps the farmer who plowed the land where Chief Joseph was buried was tired of plowing around the grave.  Local whites dug up Old Chief Joseph's skeleton, identifying it by the lack of a skull, and reburied it at the north end of Wallowa Lake.  Some say 2,000 people attended the reburial.  Some say that 6,000 attended the ceremony.  The grave has become a holy site for the Nimiipuu.  It is also a site visited and contemplated by many non-Indians.  Many people leave mementos -- feathers, plastic toy horses, bead jewelry and much more.

This grave site sits at the terminus of the glacial moraine that dams Wallowa Lake.  Sitting by the memorial, you can see the lake and the Wallowa Mountains beyond.

Mementos left by visitors and pilgrims.

Sit a while and contemplate.

What does this place mean to you?

What do you feel when you sit here?

Why do people bring mementos or offerings to this place?

What do these mementos mean to you?

What would you feel if you were Nimiipuu?

What would you do if you were Nimiipuu?

Is there anything in your life that is extremely painful to remember?

How do you cope with your pain?

What else can you do to cope with your painful memories?

Do you practice any rituals that help you express your pain safely?

©2014 Virginia Pickles Jones


The Nez Perce long for the return of Chief Old Joseph's stolen skull By RICHARD COCKLE, May 14, 2006, The Oregonian

April, 22, 2014 Old Chief Joseph Gravesite

To learn about the Nimiipuu today, read a series of excellent articles carried by the Idaho Statesman newspaper in 2005.  I don't have permission to link the articles, but you can cut and past this reference to learn more.

Soul wounds, Idaho Statesmen Journal, September 20, 2005 http://www.idahostatesman.com/2005/09/20/58354/soul-wounds.html

On the right hand side of the page you will find links to more articles:

No comments:

Post a Comment