When the Nimiipuu launched the canoe they’d built on the Snake River in 2017, it was the first tribal canoe on their ancestral waters in 113 years.
More widely known as the Nez Perce Tribe of Lapwai, Idaho, the Nimiipuu have long been active stewards of their traditional homelands, working to protect the health of the environment by sponsoring educational summits and workshops, partnering with other environmental organizations, and advocating for the removal of the four lower Snake River dams.
Building and launching a tribal canoe was a natural continuation of this mission, entwined with the vision of a free-flowing river and access to traditional lands for fishing, hunting and gathering food, according to Julian Matthews, coordinator for Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment’s Canoe Project.
Traveling by water was a vital part of the Nimiipuu’s culture and lifestyle—and something that was lost with the construction of the dams. Canoes connect the Nimiipuu to their roles as stewards of the rivers that sustain not only the tribe but the environment around them as well.
“We want to be able to go on that river with our canoes and be unimpeded, but right now with those four dams, we can’t,” Matthews says.
The project involved multiple generations. Parents shaped and carved the canoe alongside their children. Elders shared skills and brought nutritious food for the groups of children who eagerly showed up each day to help.
Each youth and adult was given the tools and instruction to carve their own paddles to be used on the Canoe Journey.
Building the first canoe in more than 100 years was just the beginning of the Nimiipuu’s healing journey.
Potlatch Fund is honored to support the work of Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment VISIT THEIR WEBSITE
Grants Received from Potlatch Fund: 2016 Native Arts, 2018 Community Building, 2020 Critical Response
Hear more about what this tribe has planned in the future to protect Mother Earth by joining us Thursday, April 22, 12pm-1pm PST on Zoom/Facebook Live for an Earth Day Panel Discussion hosted by Potlatch Fund.
Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe
Nimiipuu Protecting the Environment: Julian Matthews (Nez Perce) and Lucinda Simpson (Nooksack/Nez Perce).
Na’ah Illahee Fund: Susan Balbas (Cherokee/Yaqui)
Yellow Bird Lifeways: Lynette Two Bulls (Oglala Lakota)