The Nez Perce (The History & Culture of Native Americans) by Nancy Bonvillain

By Nancy Bonvillain

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They roasted the meat in ovens made of earth situated either inside or outside their dwellings. Women might also broil meat by attaching it to sticks suspended over an open fire. According to the journals of Lewis and Clark, the Nez Perce occasionally resorted to eating horses if they had no other foods available, but this happened only in cases of extreme hunger. They refused, however, to eat dogs, no matter what the situation. American explorers, on the other hand, preferred to eat dogs rather than horsemeat when faced with dire circumstances.

They could make rapid attacks and retreat quickly to their own lands. Prowess in warfare became an important ingredient in a man’s social prestige. Especially daring and successful warriors could become leaders in their villages and bands. Finally, within Nez Perce communities, the number of horses that an individual or family owned became a significant measure of wealth and status. As a group, the Nez Perce owned more horses than any other peoples in the Plateau region. They were known as skilled horsemen and horsewomen.

The ceremony itself was directed by one or more shamans who were allies of the sponsoring headman. At the end of the winter dance, the host gave gifts to all of the participants. These gifts included food, tools and utensils, clothing, and ornaments. The host amassed the necessary gifts through his own labor and that of his relatives. Their generosity helped to enhance their collective prestige. ILLNESS AND HEALING Nez Perce concepts of illness and healing center on notions of harmony and balance.

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