Nez Perce Tribe

Department of Fisheries Resources Management


Nez Perce Tribal Salmon Culture

Fisheries Management with a Nez Perce Point of View

The Nimiipúu fished, hunted, gathered, pastured livestock and traded over an enormously broad area in what is today, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Montana and Wyoming. This land of rolling hills, towering peaks, prairies, clear mountain streams, and deep canyons has been the Nimiipúu’s homeland since time immemorial. Relative to this extensive area in which they have always lived, the Nimiipúu have accumulated a deep repository of ecological knowledge and wisdom concerning the land, water, and other natural resources. Spirituality and proper respect (in the form of prayer) were incorporated into every aspect of traditional Nimiipúu life: digging roots, hunting and fishing, weaving, teaching children, or taking sweat baths. All activities were conducted according to the Nimiipúu belief system (or Indian way of life). The love and respect for the gifts of the Creator and the Creation guided Nimiipúu activities to avoid acts of greed or selfishness such that the natural resources were not depleted. These traditional guidelines have been learned and passed down over the millennia through Nimiipúu oral traditions (myths and stories), songs, prayers, dances, rituals, and ceremonies. 

Oral Traditions

Oral traditions are stories that teach many of the central concepts used in contemporary natural resource management. These oral traditions remind us that we have a responsibility to the animals, just as they have a responsibility to us. (Carla HighEagle, from Salmon and His People. Landeen and Pinkham, 1999). And they are stories about change; some things are always changing and we must then deal with or react to the change.

We set the tone of this document with the oral tradition: “A Meeting between Creator and the Animals” and “Coyote Breaks the Fish Dam at Celilo1”.  These stories provide two central themes. First, is the idea that animals and humans are fully integrated and connected within the ecosystem; humans do not exist independent of the world and animals around them. Second, Coyote is a focal character in many oral traditions and can be viewed in a sense as analogous to humans; always messing things up and having to fix problems created by himself or others.  Our role in caring for animals is demonstrated in many ways by Coyote.

Nez Perce Story

Cultural Ethic to Restore and Care for Fish - Duty & Obligation

The Creator placed the Nimiipúu here in this land and instructed them on how to use, honor, respect, and be humbled by it. Because the earth and its natural resources have always provided for the Nimiipúu well-being with physical and spiritual sustenance, the Nimiipúu owe an obligation to the earth and its resources to protect and preserve them forever. Future generations will only be able to enjoy the land and resources if the decisions and actions that the present-day people, both Indian and non-Indian, are made with sustainability and stewardship in mind.

To use the land and its resources wisely, one must know of the important intrinsic values that emanate from them. If people recognize and understand the interconnectedness of the land, its resources, and themselves as human users, then it is possible that a respect and humbleness may transcend from this ecological wisdom. Therefore, our role is to not just use and maintain this land and its resources, but to ensure that the ecological cycles are self-perpetuating. 

The concept that it is our commitment to care for the Creator’s gifts so that they are ‘usable’ for the present and more importantly, for future generations, is captured in the following statement:

“We did not inherit this earth or its natural resources
from our ancestors, we are only borrowing
them from our children’s children; therefore, we are
duty bound and obligated to protect them and use
them wisely until such time that they get here, and
then they will have the same obligations.”

~Eugene Greene, Sr. quote from Columbia River Inter-Tribal
Fish Commission (1995).

This underlying ethical philosophy provides a foundation for all fishery managers to shape comprehensive salmon restoration programs in the Columbia Columbia River Basin.

Consistent with this stewardship theme, the Nez Perce Tribe has voluntarily reduced fishing on salmon and steelhead that were in decline; it has supported the breaching of the dams so that fish may migrate up and down the river unimpeded; and it has instituted scientifically and biologically sound recovery actions for fish. These actions are all taken to benefit the fishery resources and the surrounding ecosystem into the future.

A theme central to the Department's programs will be the inclusion of a salmon restoration ethic that encompasses the following elements:

  • An appreciation of the earth and its natural resources;
  • The duties and obligations in fisheries management;
  • The concept of future generations; and
  • Guidance on how to use the land and resources wisely.

All are basic ethical elements that should be shared by any fishery manager to help protect and restore fishery resources for broader social and ecological benefits.

Nez Perce Story


First Foods

Grilled Salmon
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Salmon are one of the traditional “First Foods” that are honored at tribal ceremonies. The other First Foods are wild game, roots, berries, and pure water.

Video: Elmer Crow, Nez Perce elder and lamprey advocate, talks about the importance of salmon to the tribe

NPT Calendar of Natural Resources
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Nimiipúu timpt (Nez Perce spelling) & pronunciation guide to common words used in Nez Perce Tribe fisheries

Nez Perce Spelling & Pronunciation Guide

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