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Tribal Voices: Reflections on Lewis & Clark

The Columbian (Clark County, Washington) , September 5, 2004


As a boy growing up here 60 years ago in the Clearwater River basin, an area the Nez Perce call the "land of the butterflies," Allen Pinkham fished for trout by day and listened at night by lantern light to his aging father's tales of Lewis and Clark.

Now a Nez Perce elder himself and a national leader of the Lewis and Clark exploration commemoration, Pinkham, 66, is bringing this unwritten Nez Perce history out of the shadows. He wants tribal children and the world to know the Nez Perce heritage.

Some Nez Perce oral history rocks modern preconceptions, he said. For example, the Nez Perce had horses by 1730, and some rode horses to the East Coast and the South by the late 1700s, years before Meriwether Lewis and William Clark came West.

In the early 1940s, his aging father, Alex Pinkham, told him stories he had heard from his elders around 1900.

"These three old men were talking to my father about events 100 years before," Allen Pinkham said. "Otherwise we'd have an anthropologist with a Ph.D. behind his name telling us what the Nez Perce did, and how they are today."

Instead, Pinkham himself has become a recognized authority. He has served on the board of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian and is the founding chairman of the Chief Joseph Foundation, which strives to bring back the Nez Perce horse culture and explain its traditions.

Subjects Covered: education

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