Nakia Williamson-Cloud Interprets group of roots from an 1877 War era wikées (cache)

Cultural Narrative: 

So in 1877, just after the Clearwater battle had occurred, many of the, the village sites that our people occupied, those bands that were connected in that effort to maintain their connection to the land, but also just their freedom, their freedom of thought and expression, and ability to travel across the land and connect with it, the way that they had. This was truly in flux at that time, and it was truly endangered by the actions and military actions that was rendered against our people. And when our people with the idea that they would return back to their homeland at some point in the future, they had cached many of these traditional foods as well as other goods and finery and things that they had collected, heirlooms that had been passed down for generations. And there was a surgeon that was named Sternberg that was associated with Howard's column that had made the military action against our people at the Clearwater Battle. And many of these, wikées, or caches, that were underground, were opened. And even though that they had intended to be put there in place for Nez Perce people once, whenever the conflict was over, they could come back and they could access these caches. And with the idea that those resources, those foodstuffs that were there, as well as some of the heirlooms that were also placed in those caches would be there. And because they didn't have the opportunity to pack many of those things up, not knowing specifically where they would go. And that was really the full intent at that time.

At that time, the US Army was following a certain perspective in terms of how they would place their selves in relationship in terms of that military action against the Nez Perce people. We were considered a foreign enemy at that time. And so they were practicing under different military rules that our people didn't...had no, uh, concept of at that particular time, which, in their eyes, gave them the ability to take many of these items that were considered war booty under the rules of warfare that they were operating under. So food stuffs would be considered plunder and, and those things under war booty that they, in their minds, they had the legal right to take from us. But there were other items that were in there as well that ended up in many institutions, you know, throughout the United States. And those were ceremonial objects, beaded ceremonial dresses and other things that, that were not a part of the war effort and were...that fell outside of the definition of war booty. And so I think that's a really important distinction.

Fortunately, these particular roots were in a private collection that they, I guess, had no value specifically on the market in terms of monetary value that could be sold at an auction or to a private collector. And so, fortunately, these were being able to be recovered back to our people, but they again, represent that kind of ongoing life of the Nez Perce people and represent the fortitude of our ancestors and represent the life in these traditional foods.

So those caches that were opened up in 1877, the intent was that at some point our people would return to, uh, to access and open those caches and utilize those things for their life. And also, indeed that had happened in…There was several documented cases where other caches, I think those caches were down in the Whitebird area when some of our people were returning back from Canada. They had come across the Bitterroot Mountains and they actually accessed those caches and opened them and whatever contents that were in there, dried foods or other…maybe perhaps weapons, they were able to access and they were able to use in their lives that they had had post the 1877 war time period. So we know in other instances, those caches were reopened and were used and some, perhaps stayed hidden and buried in the ground, never to be opened again, because the individuals that had made and cached those items perhaps died or were sent to Indian territory and maybe have died in route there, or died in one of the subsequent battles that had happened after the Clearwater Battle.