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Coming Home to Nez Perce Country: The Nimíipuu Campaign to Repatriate Their Exploited Heritage, by Trevor J. Bond, Washington State University Press, Pullman, 2021, $24.95

When missionary Henry Spalding settled with wife Eliza among the Nez Perces, or Nimíipuu (“the people”), on the Columbia Plateau (near present-day Lewiston, Idaho) in 1836, he believed it his divinely appointed duty to not only convert the “heathens” to Christianity but also encourage them to embrace sedentary farming and abandon every vestige of their traditionally nomadic culture. Over the course of his stay through 1847 Spalding accumulated a sizable trove of saddles, clothing and other artifacts, which he shipped east to friend and supporter Dr. Dudley Allen in Ohio. The artifacts went into storage at Oberlin College, where they might go on display as quaint remnants of a vanished culture whose practitioners had been remade as “good Indians” by the march of American progress and Manifest Destiny.

Over the next century and a half the Nez Perces faced war and betrayal at the hands of the soyapo (whites), notably in the Nez Perce War of 1877, but their culture survived. Moreover, they made it clear that their conversion to Christianity and the retention of their traditions were not mutually exclusive. Equally important, they resolved to reclaim the culturally integral artifacts collectors like Spalding had gathered.

In Coming Home to Nez Perce Country author Trevor Bond—co-director of the Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation and associate dean for digital initiatives and special collections at the Washington State University Libraries—tracks one of the longest campaigns launched by American Indians, one involving not warriors and horse soldiers, but historians, lawyers, park officials, anthropologists and all manner of other experts in a quest to rediscover and settle the ultimate fate of the Spalding-Allen Collection. Though in time the attitudes of most Americans turned in the Nimíipuu’s favor, by 1992 it had approached a curious climax. As Richard Ellenwood of the Nez Perce Heritage Quest Alliance described the offer as it then stood: “We have to buy our land back. Now we have to buy our regalia back.” Undaunted, the NPHQA launched a fund-raising campaign that met the appraised value of $608,100 within six months and successfully won custodianship of the tribe’s artifacts. “This belongs to us,” said Ellenwood “and it belongs to the future of our grandchildren.”

Bond presents the multiple aspects of this unusual “culture war” along with a hoard of photos showing and describing the artifacts in question. Some may find the book a mite on the “Mild West” side, but those with an interest in the continuity of American Indian heritage may find Coming Home to Nez Perce Country an intriguing drama.

—Jon Guttman

Nez Perce Book Cover

coming home to nez perce country

The Nimíipuu Campaign to Repatriate Their Exploited Heritage

By Trevor J. Bond

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