Sandi McFarland is a Clearwater National Forest Interpretive Specialist. She grew up learning the cultural ways of the Nez Perce. In her teenage years she lost interest in the Nez Perce ways. But as she grew older, and as she watched the elders of her tribe passing away, she rekindled her interest in the Nez Perce tradition.
What's the biggest misconception about the Lewis and Clark Expedition?
I think the biggest misconception we read in history or see on television is the idea that Lewis and Clark discovered this area. Of course, the Nez Perce had been here since time immemorial. They knew this country quite well.
Lewis and Clark...saw this as a formidable country, with rugged terrain. They were half starving to death when they arrived at the Weippe prairie. The Nez Perce took them in and fed them and took care of their horses.
The Nez Perce point of view is that this is their homeland. Just in this setting alone there are probably 75 to 100 different plants and trees that the Nez Perce used as food supplements, as medicinal plants, what we call hardware plants. Anything that we have available today was available then in what could be called Nature's supermarket...
They knew what was available, what time of year to access the areas, what time of year to harvest the various plants and trees, and how to use them. So they had a very good working knowledge of their backyard... that is what sustained them.
Why did the Nez Perce befriend Lewis and Clark?
The Nez Perce, from the beginning of time, were created to be a noble people, with good heart and to be a friendly people. And part of them taking them in had to do with that.
Of course, the confrontation at Weippe was that the Nez Perce there were hesitant to take them under their wing, so to speak, and if it wasn't for the one woman who encouraged them to not kill them on the spot, that might very well have taken place.
But overall, their willingness to take them in and care for them in the manner that they did, in saving their very lives, shows the characteristic of the Nez Perce people as being an honorable people and a peace loving people.
What Role did the Nez Perce play in the success of the Expedition?
I believe if it wouldn't have been for the Nez Perce, the Lewis and Clark expedition probably would have failed.... They not only fed them and cared for their horses, but they also administered medicine to them, and they were able to create a map for them to show them an easier way to get them to the Columbia River...
What would you like to see happen with the Bi-Centennial of the Expedition?
With the upcoming Lewis and Clark Bi-Centennial, it gives us an opportunity to reflect on how the history has been presented in the past. As we go along the trail today and view the auto tour route, we see the signs of Lewis and Clark pointing the way, when in actuality, Lewis and Clark didn't know the way.
They were lost, and were near starving. It was the Nez Perce who took them in, saved the Expedition and made it a success by showing them a way, drawing them a map so that they could get to the Columbia river and finish the Expedition in a successful manner..
Maybe the time is now that we revisit those signs and we have, not Lewis and Clark pointing the way, but the Nez Perce guides... who drew them the map showing them the way to the Columbia river.
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