Nakia Williamson-Cloud on Spalding's missionary work with the Nez Perce and his collecting

Cultural Narrative: 

"And for a lot of tribal people, the knowledge about Spalding where people, just historically where the Nez Perce people initially were fairly responsive to his coming to this area. Not necessarily just for the fact that we were somehow we didn’t know who God was or didn’t know, didn’t have any religion and we were waiting for religion. That’s how sometimes the history books sort of characterize it. But the fact that it was providing us, because if you think back a long time ago, our people were always people that sought knowledge. Nez Perce people always sought knowledge wherever it came. So when you had different items that begin to affect our lives, you know, it was important to the Nez Perce to try to find the source of that knowledge, and a way to access that knowledge. And what that really was was technology, such as firearms and other things that had a tremendous impact on our lives at that time. And so. And also if you remember at that time, the academics and those people that taught were, and missionaries were one and the same, basically. Especially out in the west. And so I think a lot of that was not so much that we were looking for religion or spirituality, because we already had that. But that we were looking for that type of knowledge and ways to access that.

So when Spalding came, I think many of our people were receptive. And to compare it to what we already knew about our creator, it seemed like it was consistent with what they were saying. But over time, I think, there was some, the people became dissatisfied with Spalding because they seen him, for us, somebody who takes upon the role of being a spiritual type leader, you know, they’re held to a certain standard. And they kind of felt like after a while that well Spalding’s just here, he’s just a trader.

You know, not a traitor in terms of, a trader in terms of somebody who was like operating a trading post. He’s no spiritual man. He’s just here, you know, buying and selling things, you know. Which was probably part of what he had to do to survive. But I think a lot of our people kind of did not take to that very well. And become somewhat disillusioned in his teachings and what he was espousing as a Presbyterian minister.

And of course there’s all the stories and knowledge about, he did some probably what would be considered very underhanded things to fool Nez Perce people. And I think, so part of the collection, I think, was part of that effort for him, you see reference in various manuscripts, reference these as curiosities. So there was somewhat of a monetary value attached to them. And I think he realized that and tried to capitalize on that.

You know, I think there’s a lot of suspicion amongst people now, knowing some of that history from what we know from the written history, but also from our elders, that find it hard to believe that he was actually purchasing those items from Nez Perce people. Because we know the stories of how he would try to shame our people into thinking that those ways were backward, and those ways were somehow associated with the devil and things like that. And so he encouraged them to basically rid themselves of a lot of these type of items that came from our way of life. And so, you know, a lot of us kind of, a lot of Nez Perce people kind of feel that, you know, that’s probably how he got them. Rather than actually paying hard dollars for them."