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Nez Perce Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Nez Perce Indian tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our Nez Perce Indian homepage for more in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Nez Perce pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.




   Nez Perce Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Nez Perce"? What does it mean?
Nez Perce is is pronounced "nezz purse" in English. It comes from the French name for the tribe, Nez Percé (pronounced nay per-say.) Nobody knows why the French called them this. It means "pierced nose," but the Nez Perce people say that unlike some neighboring tribes, they have never had a tribal tradition of pierced noses. Maybe the French confused the Nez Perce with another tribe, or maybe there was once a Nez Perce band or individual who had nose piercings. The Nez Perce name for themselves is Nimipu, which means "the people."

Where do the Nez Perces live?
The Nez Perce Indians are original people of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington state. Most Nez Perce people live in Idaho today.

How is the Nez Perce Indian nation organized?
The Nez Perces live on a reservation, which is land that belongs to them and is under their control. The Nez Perce nation has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Nez Perces are also US citizens and must obey American law. In the past, each Nez Perce band was ruled by a chief, who was elected by a tribal council of important men from each village. Today, the Nez Perce are ruled by a tribal council which is elected by all the people.

What language do the Nez Perces speak?
Most Nez Perce people speak English today. Some of them, especially older people, also speak their native Nez Perce language. Nez Perce is a very difficult language for English speakers, because of its long words and consonant sounds that don't exist in English. But if you'd like to know an easy Nez Perce word, "hóó" (pronounced similar to "hoh") is a friendly greeting. You can also read a Nez Perce picture glossary here.

Today Nez Perce is an endangered language because most children aren't learning it anymore. However, some Nez Perce people are working to keep their language alive.

What was Nez Perce culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the homepage of the Nez Perce tribe. On their site you can find information about the Nez Perce people in the past and today.

How do Nez Perce Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Nez Perce children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play in their daily lives, just like colonial children. But they did have dolls, toys, and games to play. Here is some information about a pinecone game enjoyed by Nez Perce kids. A Nez Perce mother traditionally carried a young child in a cradleboard on her back. Here is a website with pictures of cradleboards and other Indian baby carriers. now.

What were Nez Perce men and women's roles?
Nez Perce women were in charge of the home. Besides cooking and cleaning, a Nez Perce woman made most of the clothing and tools her family needed. Nez Perce men were hunters and warriors, responsible for feeding and defending their families. Only men became Nez Perce chiefs, but both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.

What were Nez Perce homes like in the past?
Originally, the Nez Perce lived in settled villages of earth houses. They made these homes by digging an underground room, then building a wooden frame over it and covering the frame with earth, cedar bark, and tule mats. There were two styles of Nez Perce earth houses: oval-shaped longhouses, which could be as long as 150 feet, and smaller round houses. Dozens of families lived together in a longhouse, while only one family lived in a round house. Once the Nez Perce began hunting the buffalo, they began to use tipis like the Plains tribes. Tipis, or teepees, are tall, cone-shaped buffalo-hide houses. Since Nez Perce hunters moved frequently to follow the buffalo, a tipi was carefully designed to set up and break down quickly, like a modern tent. Here are some pictures of tepees, earth houses, and other Native American homes.

Nez Perce people do not live in old-fashioned earth houses anymore, any more than you live in a log cabin. Native Americans sometimes use a tepee for a camping trip or to connect with their heritage, but not for permanent shelter. Nez Perce people today live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Nez Perce clothing like? Did the Nez Perces wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Nez Perce women wore long deerskin dresses. Nez Perce men wore breechcloths with leather leggings and buckskin shirts. Both men and women wore moccasins on their feet. A Nez Perce lady's dress or warrior's shirt was fringed and often decorated with beadwork, shells, and painted designs. Later, Nez Perce people adapted European costume such as cloth dresses and vests, which they also decorated with beading and traditional ornaments. Here is a site about the symbolism of Nez Perce clothes, and some photos and links about Indian clothing in general.

Nez Perce Indian leaders did sometimes wear feather headdresses, but they weren't long and trailing like Sioux warbonnets. Nez Perce headdresses were made of a ring of feathers that stood up from a headband, as in this photo of Chief Joseph and Red Cloud. Nez Perce women usually wore fez-shaped basket hats woven from beargrass and cornhusks. Nez Perce women and men both wore their hair long, either leaving it loose or putting it into two braids Nez Perce men often styled the front of their hair into pompadours or other styles, and sometimes wrapped their braids in fur. The Nez Perces also painted their faces for special occasions. They used different patterns for war paint, religious ceremonies, and festive decoration.

Today, some Nez Perce people still have moccasins or a buckskin dress, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear traditional regalia on special occasions like a wedding or a dance.

What was Nez Perce transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes, the Nez Perce Indians made dugout canoes by hollowing out tree trunks. Here is a website with pictures of American Indian boats. Over land, the Nez Perces used dogs pulling travois (a kind of drag sled) to help them carry their belongings. Once Europeans introduced horses to North America, the Nez Perces could travel quicker and further.

What was Nez Perce food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Nez Perce were fishing and hunting people. Nez Perce men caught salmon and other fish, and also hunted in the forests for deer, elk, and other game. Once they acquired horses, the Nez Perce tribe began to follow the buffalo herds like their Plains Indian neighbors. Nez Perce women also gathered roots, fruits, nuts and seeds to add to their diet. Here is a website with more information about American Indian hunting and fishing.

What were Nez Perce weapons and tools like in the past?
Nez Perce fishermen used spears and nets to catch fish. Hunters used bows and arrows. In war, Nez Perce men fired their bows and arrows or fought with war spears and leather shields. Here is a website with pictures and information about Indian weapons and tools.

What other Native Americans did the Nez Perce tribe interact with?
The Nez Perce were allies of the Coeur d'Alene, Yakima, and Salish tribes. These allies often fought together against the Shoshone and Crow tribes. They also traded goods with each other. The Nez Perce were especially friendly with the Flathead Salish, and these two tribes often hunted buffalo together.

What are Nez Perce arts and crafts like?
Nez Perce artists are famous for their quillwork, painting, and basketry. Here is an article with pictures of different Nez Perce art forms.

What kinds of stories do the Nez Perces tell?
There are lots of traditional Nez Perce legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Nez Perce Indian culture. Here is one humorous story about the origin of moccasins.

What about Nez Perce religion?
Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about Nez Perce rituals or this site about Native American religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
You may enjoy reading a book about the famous Nez Perce leader Chief Joseph, such as Chief Joseph: Nez Perce Peacekeeper. If you'd like to learn more about Nez Perce culture and history, two good sources are The Nez Perce (for younger readers) and Nez Perce Lifeways (for older readers.) You can also browse through our reading list of recommended Native American books in general.

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2013.

Thanks for your interest in the Nez Perce Indian people and their language!

Learn More About The Nez Perces

Nez Perce Indian Tribe
An overview of the Nez Perce people, their language and history.

Nez Perce Language Resources
Nez Perce language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Nez Perce Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Nez Perce tribe past and present.

Nez Perce Words
Nez Perce Indian vocabulary lists.



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