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Nez Perce Request for Support

The Nez Perce Tribe needs your immediate support. Below is a recent article on a "trophy-home" subdivision being approved for development on land next to the grave of Old Chief Joseph near Wallowa Lake in Northeast Oregon. This land is of significant cultural importance to the Nez Perce Tribe, and is known to contain two archaeological sites, the only known sites near Wallowa Lake. This Thursday, February 12, the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners is likely to approve this subdivision development over the objections of three Indian tribes, the City of Joseph and numerous local residents.
September 21st, 2004, is the centennial of the death of Chief Joseph, the son of Old Chief Joseph and one of the leaders of the Wallowa Nez Perce during the 1877 War when they were forced from their home in the Wallowa Valley. Beyond the special relationship of the Nez Perce to this land, and the archaeological and cultural values it contains that may be destroyed by the subdivision, the Nez Perce see this development as a disgrace to the memory of Chief Joseph, who died in exile on the Colville Reservation in Washington wanting nothing more in his final years than to be allowed to return to the Wallowa Valley of his ancestors.

Below is contact information for the Governor of Oregon, the Oregon State Historic Preservation Officer, and the Wallowa County Commissioners; for federal representatives in Oregon, Washington and Idaho; and for Senate Indian Affairs Committee leaders. If you agree with Nez Perce opposition to this development, please send your opinion as soon as possible to as many of these individuals as you can. If you do, please copy the Nez Perce Tribe at  ricke@nezperce.org so that a list of supporters can be compiled for what will be an on-going effort. Even if you receive this email after February 12, it is still important that you communicate your opinion to these individuals. Anyone wishing to provide financial support for efforts to permanently protect this land through purchase may contact the Tribe at  ricke@nezperce.org or The Conservation Fund at  melsbree@mindspring.com.

Thank you very much for your timely support.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski // 254 State Capitol, Salem OR 97310 // Fax 503.378.4863 // Ph. 503.378.3111

Michael Carrier, State Historic Preservation Officer // 725 Summer St. NE, Suite C, Salem OR 97301 // Fax 503.986.0794 // Ph. 503.986.0681

Wallowa County Board of Commissioners // 101 S. River St., Enterprise OR 97828 // Fax 541.426.0582 // Ph. 541.426.4543 ext.11

Sen. Gordon Smith (OR) // 404 Russell Building, Washington D.C. 20510 // Fax 202.228.3997 // Phone 202.224.3753

Sen. Ron Wyden (OR) // 516 Hart Building, Washington D.C. 20510 // Phone 202.224.5244

Rep. Greg Walden (OR) // 1404 Longworth Building, Washington D.C. 20515 // Fax 202.225.5774 // Phone 202.225.6730

Sen. Patty Murray (WA) // 173 Russell Building, Washington D.C. 20510 // Fax 202.224.0238 // Ph. 202.224.2621

Sen. Maria Cantwell (WA) // 717 Hart Building, Washington D.C. 20510 // Fax 202.228.0514 // Ph. 202.224.3441

Sen. Larry Craig (ID) // 520 Hart Building, Washington D.C. 20510 // Fax 202.228.1067 // Ph. 202.224.2752

Sen. Mike Crapo (ID) // 239 Dirksen Building, Washington D.C. 20510 // Fax 202.228.1375 // Ph. 202.224.6142

Sen. Ben Campbell (Indian Affairs Chair) // 380 Russell Building, Washington D.C. 20510 // Fax 202.228.4609 // Ph. 202.224.5852

Sen. Daniel Inouye (Indian Affairs Vice-Chair) // 722 Hart Building, Washington D.C. 20510 // Fax 202.224.6747 // Ph. 202.224.3934

Tribe Battling to Block Housing Near Gravesite
More than 100 years after being forced from an Oregon valley, the Nez Perce fight to keep upscale development off the sacred land.
By Andrew Kramer
Associated Press Writer

February 1, 2004

JOSEPH, Ore. - In 1877, Chief Joseph and his band of Nez Perce Indians were forced to abandon their beloved Wallowa Valley in a trek that turned into a war with the U.S. Cavalry and ended with their surrender 1,500 miles away, near the Canadian border.

Delivering one of the most heartbreaking surrender speeches in history, Chief Joseph said: "I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever."

Joseph's band was exiled to reservations in Oklahoma, Washington and Idaho.

More than a century later, the Nez Perce are again engaged in a fight - this time a legal dispute over building 11 upscale homes on 62 acres on a grassy ridge near a Nez Perce cemetery that includes the grave of Chief Joseph's father, Old Chief Joseph.

The grave is on a 5-acre site that serves as the trailhead for a National Historic Trail that follows the route taken by Joseph's band of Nez Perce during their running battles with the Cavalry.

Because the subdivision is on a site closely tied to the tribe's history, fighting the development is a top priority for the Nez Perce, said tribal secretary Jake Whiteplume.
"Remembering what our ancestors went through will help keep us going" in the legal fight, he said. "That was our homeland. We have that teaching in us today. We still remember."

The Nez Perce and two other Northwest tribes have filed a legal challenge to the proposed housing development with the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners. The tribes argue the whole ridge is a site of cultural significance and a national historic treasure.

The commissioners are scheduled to decide the issue at a hearing on Monday.

Developers of the proposed project reject Nez Perce assertions that some of their ancestors may be buried beneath the site. The developers point out there is already a 7-acre buffer zone separating the privately held 62 acres and the cemetery.

The developers also say the construction project would bring much-needed jobs to this corner of eastern Oregon, hard-hit by the demise of the timber industry.

"This is a simple land-use issue, and to compare this site to the war in 1877, and the atrocities that took place, is not fair to the owners," said Rahn Hostetter, an attorney for developer K & B Limited Family Partnership.

The land was appraised at $1.8 million if it can be subdivided; if not, it is worth about $1 million, Hostetter said.

The city of Joseph and Wallowa County are at odds over the housing development. In December, the county planning commission approved a tentative plan for the development. But the city has supported the tribes' appeal, arguing that an archeological study contracted out by the developers is insufficient.

The subdivision and the Nez Perce cemetery are on a ridge overlooking Wallowa Lake, in the shadow of the snow-draped Wallowa Mountains. Nez Perce bands caught sockeye salmon in the 6-mile lake and hunted in the Wallowa Mountains. Young Chief Joseph was camped on the ridge in 1877 when his band of Nez Perce was expelled from the region.

The band had retained the Wallowa Valley as a reservation under an 1855 treaty signed by Old Chief Joseph but later renegotiated by the U.S. government and Nez Perce tribal leaders in Idaho without the consent of the Wallowa band of the tribe. The new treaty of 1863 ceded the entire valley to settlers.

On his deathbed in 1871, Old Chief Joseph reminded his son that he had not signed the revised treaty, according to Alvin M. Josephy's 1965 history of the Nez Perce war and exile, "The Nez Perce Indians and the Opening of the Northwest."

The old chief told his son, according to Josephy: "Never forget my dying words. This country holds your father's body."

But the band abandoned the valley when U.S. Gen. Oliver O. Howard threatened to attack. They fled through Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, fighting Howard's troops along the way. Chief Joseph surrendered at Bear Paw, Mont., 40 miles short of the Canadian border.

Over the last decade, retirees and tourists have been discovering the scenic Wallowa Valley. And the city of Joseph - named after the young Chief Joseph - has succeeded in reinventing itself as an artists' colony and retirement destination.

As Joseph has flourished, new homes and housing developments have begun popping up in and outside the city.

The fight over the gravesite comes as the Nez Perce reassert their ties to the valley. For decades, they were not welcome: Around the turn of the century, local residents unsuccessfully petitioned Congress to prohibit Nez Perce Indians from living in the valley after some had returned to hunt and work in hay fields.

Today, only two Nez Perce live in the Wallowa Valley. One is Joe McCormack, a tall, strapping man sporting a black pony tail and cowboy boots.

McCormack moved to the valley six years ago to work in a native fish restoration effort and as president of the Wallowa Band Nez Perce Trail Interpretive Center Inc.

One of his jobs is for the nonprofit center to buy land for the tribes' use. He has already purchased 320 acres near an abandoned Indian campsite.

The tribes may bid for the proposed development, called Marr Ranch, to preserve the site if legal efforts to block the subdivision fail, McCormack said.

"There have been other developments that built over gravesites," McCormack said. "I would rather not see it happen again here."