Whip Man

(Note: This blog is not posted in a consecutive timeline; but rather by concept. Meaning some posts further down in the blog may actually be from more recent times.)

 The “whip man” takes to the arbor floor during final ceremonies of the Tamkaliks Celebration and Friendship Feast of 2009. This celebration, which takes place in the historic Wallowa Valley of Eastern Oregon, is the annual homecoming dance and feast hosted by descendants of Chief Joseph’s family and the Wal-lam-wat-kain (Wallowa) Band members of the Nez Perce Tribe (Nimiipuu). Tamkaliks and the Nez Perce Interpretive Center and Homeland Project Campgrounds, the Nez Perce Fisheries' instrumental involvement in re-building healthy salmon populations in Wallowa County, local land grants given to the Nez Perce Tribe, and state park developments involving Nez Perce historical sites all represent a long-awaited homecoming and the dying wish of Chief Joseph for his people to return to their homeland. Until the end of his days Joseph worked tirelessly and pleaded with the U.S. government and the citizens of Wallowa County to allow his people to return to their beloved Wallowa (Land of Winding Waters) beneath the mountains. Finally, they have begun to come home. There is yet a long way to go however. Mostly the Nez Perce are still visitors in their own land. But now after 135 years they have a piece of that land to call their own once again. A place they can always return to and embrace the spirits of their ancestors.

(Note: For me personally these Nez Perce photos represent a beautiful homecoming in the making. They are not so much about the pain of the past or the present, but more about the beauty of the past, the present, and most of all the future for Native cultures of this continent. The homecoming of the Nimiipuu to the Wallowa represents for me a larger homecoming that needs to begin for all Native Peoples, not just in a presence on the land, but the reclamation of lost culture and heritage.)

Click Here For The Nez Perce Tribal History

Honoring The Veterans

A dancer in his regalia watches the elder veterans take to the arbor floor during the Veteran’s Dance on opening night of Tamkaliks.

Honored Veterans

As the sun drops veterans take to the arbor floor and the Veteran’s Dance begins on opening night of Tamkaliks, 2009. Veterans are an important and respected part of Native communities. Native Americans have the highest percentage of military enrollment per capita out of any ethnic group in the United States. This may seem ironic. But when you think about it, who better to defend this beautiful land? Native warriors have been fighting for this land longer than anyone. I once read something a Native veteran said in an interview, and he characterized the reason many Natives serve as "a sense of duty to the land, not the government". I'm sure every person who serves has their own reasons for joining the military, but I can see how thousands of years of ancestry connected to the land could motivate one with a deep desire to protect it.

Thanks to recent books, films, and documentaries many people are now aware of the Navajo Code Talkers, who were instrumental in the South Pacific during WWII. There is a long tradition of Native American warriors fighting to defend this nation, beginning with the American Revolution when my own ancestors the Lenni Lenape (Delaware) were the first tribe to sign a treaty with the American government (Continental Congress), supplying scouts, warriors, and food to the Continental Army. King George himself was attributed as saying that the Americans would not have won the war without the allegiance of the Lenape Nation, commenting on his regret at not convincing them to side with the British. In return for assistance in winning the Revolutionary War they and their allies were promised statehood in the new country. The Lenape Nation was supposed to be the 14th state in the union. After the war however, Chief White Eyes who negotiated the treaty with the Americans, was murdered by militia men, and the treaty was considered nullified. This of course began a long string of failed treaties with the U.S. government for the Delaware, which eventually after much hardship left them scattered to the 4 winds of the United States and Canada. The main political body of the tribe ended up exiled in Oklahoma and mixed with my other tribe the Caddo, among others. (Interestingly, a Delaware man named Tom Hill lived among the Nez Perce and gave them war council during the War of 1877, as well as interpreted for Chief Joseph during the Nez Perce surrender.)

Native men and women continue to serve in the United States military with honor to this day, at a percentage that is higher than any other ethnicity living here. This is not purely an economic driven phenomenon, although that certainly plays a role. It can also come from a deep sense of pride in place and homeland, in people, community, and culture. And the desire and duty to bring home safely the men and women who fight beside them. Native warriors fight today with the same honor their ancestors fought, to defend the idea of the same sacred homelands the warriors of their people have defended for millennia. This is why they are honored in flag ceremonies and veteran's dances today, and still dance to the same drums their ancestor warriors did; to show their sense of duty to the land and its people, and for the people to recognize it.

Mens Traditional Dancer

Nez Perce dancer Alex Broncheau performs on the closing night of Tamkaliks.

Eagle Chief

Nimiipuu Eagle Chief Steve Reuben takes to the arbor floor during the Tamkaliks 2009.

Veteran's Dance

A Nez Perce elder participates in the Veteran's Dance. Tamkaliks 2009.

Prairie Chicken Dancers

Prairie Chicken Dancers, Tamkaliks.

Fancy Dancer

Fancy Dancer, Tamkaliks, Wallowa, OR.

Girls Fancy Dancing

Girls Fancy Dance at Tamkaliks Nez Perce Homecoming Pow Wow.

Nez Perce Girls

Nez Perce girls, Tamkaliks Pow Wow and Friendship Feast.

Elders And Honored Guests

The elders and honored guests greet at the Tamkaliks Pow Wow and Friendship Feast.

Eagle Chief

Nez Perce Eagle Chief Steve Reuben, Tamkaliks Pow Wow and Friendship Feast, 2001.

The Future of The Nimiipuu

Even the youngest of the Nimiipuu enjoy their people's homecoming in the lands of their ancestors. What place does the traditional home of the Wallowa Band Nimiipuu hold for their future generations?

Ancient Pathways

Levi Carson, Nez Perce Tribe, fishes the way his ancestors have fished for thousands of years. This is on the Upper Imnaha River, near a long used fishing encampment site. Accessing the underwater highways that spring Chinook Salmon follow can be a dangerous job. The knowledge of how to do so in this very river has been passed down for thousands of years among the Nez Perce people.

The River Brings Life

Nez Perce Fisheries Technician and traditional net fisherman Levi Carson pulls a Chinook salmon from the Imnaha River, while his trusty sidekick Hootie looks on eagerly waiting to "help". Levi's family have fished this river in this way for a millennia, (well, minus the Blue Heeler, but with many a native mutt I'm sure).

Returning Life To The River

Nez Perce fisherman Levi Carson cleans a fresh Imnaha Chinook salmon and returns its blood to the river from which it came, fertilizing the riverside trees and grasses that provide shade to these waters, which in turn helps to sustain the life of the Imnaha River salmon. 

Riverside Company

When "traditional methods" take their toll on the arms and shoulders, sometimes a nice fiberglass pole, a loyal riverside companion, and some 50lb. test are the way to go! 

Gray Wolf Spirit

Nez Perce fisherman Levi Carson stands in the moonlight along the banks of the Imnaha River where he fishes every year as his family and people have done for millennia.

I took these photos while I was working on a magazine story about the return of wolves to Oregon, (via migration from Idaho, where the Nez Perce Tribe has been involved with reintroduction efforts of the endangered Gray Wolf). When I asked Levi about wolves and what he knew of them in the area before their eradication in the early 20th century, he simply replied "They were everywhere." Later on after prodding him again for any stories of wolves he could remember hearing, he was quiet for a moment, and then told me the story of how Gray Wolf Spirit came to be his grandfather's spirit guide (weyakin). He spoke of how his grandfather encountered the Gray Wolf Spirit as a young man hunting and trapping on Gray Wolf Mountain in the far Northern part of Nez Perce country. Levi's grandfather told his grandchildren how Gray Wolf Spirit taught him how to make wise decisions regarding his life and his people and culture and family. He strove to live by the wisdom he received that day from Gray Wolf Spirit his entire life.

Wolves and Salmon

Levi also told me about the role wolves play with salmon. In illustrating the concept that wolves have a rightful place in the natural order and balance of life, he explained how the Nez Perce have long known that predators like wolves help protect the salmon. By hunting at watering holes, wolves teach the grazing ungulate population like bison, moose, elk, and deer not to bed down or lounge around and graze near the river banks. This keeps them from eating all the lush riverbank shade foliage and defecating in the water, which raises water temperatures making those rivers and streams uninhabitable for spawning steelhead and salmon. ODFW builds miles of fence to protect salmon by keeping cattle from doing this, but those fences do not stop deer and elk. Hunting and hazing can help to keep ungulates out of riparian areas, and have taken the place of the wolf in the ecosystem to some extent. Some people believe this new balance should be kept intact. Others believe that the old one should be restored, and that it allows for humans to enjoy nature's resources along with the wolves.

Horace Speaks of Wolves

Venerated 86 year old Nez Perce elder Horace Axtell served in the South Pacific in World War II, and is the spiritual long house leader of the Seven Drum Religion. The Nez Perce feel connected physically and spiritually to the wolf, and it is painful to see them hunted he says.

He tells about stories he heard from his elders, like one of wolves howling near encampments at night and going out to the location of the howls in the morning and finding deer or elk there to kill. In exchange for what they viewed as a gift from the wolf the hunters would leave gut piles and scraps for them in cases like this, an easy and tasty meal for the wolves. Horace tells how wolves would also howl outside their encampments and warn them when cougars or bears were nearby. Wolves helped the Nez Perce find food as well as protected them according to traditional beliefs, and were viewed as good omens for a successful hunt. He explains how wolves were so revered in Nez Perce traditional culture that his people would not kill a wolf for its pelt or decorate themselves with wolf furs and totems unless blessed by the wolf as their "weyekin" (spirit guide).

Horace went to visit the wolves that were reintroduced into the wild in Idaho while they were still in captivity in Montana to give a traditional blessing for them. He did the same thing for the captive-bred wolves that the Nez Perce agreed to take into their land and build a sanctuary for as they had nowhere else to go when their original owner no longer could care for them. The Seven Drum Religion involves the ringing of hand bells during prayers. He told how all the wolves at the sanctuary began to howl in unison as he sang his prayer for them and rang the bell, and how everyone seemed moved by the event as well as he himself. He had to focus and continue his blessing however, joined by the song of an animal the Nez Perce have long considered an ancient brother.

It would appear his blessings for the reintroduced wolves worked, as according to federal, tribal, and state wildlife agencies wolves in Idaho created a population healthy enough to expand their ranges back to other areas where wolves once roamed but were not reintroduced, like Wallowa County, Oregon, the heart of the Nez Perce homeland.

Visiting Chiefs

Visiting chiefs from the Omaha, Ute, and Saletz tribes pose with their friend Nez Perce Eagle Chief Steve Reuben (left). 


The Nimiipuu generations of tomorrow spend some quality time in their homeland.

Greetings Among Friends

A happy homecoming for the Nimiipuu (Wallowa Band Nez Perce).

Faces of The Nimiipu

The Nimiipuu dance in their homeland once again.


Nimiipuu traditional dancer Alex Broncheau stands with Paul Howard and friend at the Tamkaliks Homecoming Pow Wow and Friendship Feast. Paul is the great grandson of General O.O. Howard, the general tasked with evicting Chief Joseph's people from their beloved Wallowa. Years ago Paul showed up at the Tamkaliks Homecoming Pow Wow with long hair just like this, and asked to have it cut off as a sign of his remorse for the tragic eviction his ancestor executed. (The cutting of hair is considered a thing of sacrifice and grief in many tribal cultures.) A hair cutting ceremony was performed, and he has been returning to Tamkaliks ever since.

Stolen History

This is a site in the Imnaha canyon country of Wallowa County where about 35 years ago or so a pictograph was chiseled off of this cave wall. It was a well used ceremonial site for the Niimipu, even within the last hundred years. Allegedly the pictograph was stolen by an old local rancher who used to live nearby and has since passed away. (The color has been digitally enhanced to make the scar in the rock more visible in this image. The monotone nature of the stone made it difficult to make out the chipped and chiseled area.)


I found this pictograph while exploring near the Nez Perce cave site that had it's pictograph chiseled off and stolen. This one appears to be a bird or winged spirit of some sort. It does seem to have sustained minor damage, although I am not sure if it is natural or intentional.

Nimiipuu Generations

Three generations of Nimiipuu (Nez Perce), descended from Looking Glass and White Bird's families, visit the Wallowa Valley and the Wallowa Band Nez Perce Homeland Project grounds for the first time. Chief Joseph, Looking Glass, and White Bird's people were all "non-treaty" Nez Perce. Joseph and his people refused to give up their ancestral homelands here in the Land of Winding Waters (Wallowa), and were forced into war with the United States because of it. Chief Looking Glass and Chief White Bird's people aided and joined with Joseph's people in their epic 1,400 mile fighting retreat. Both White Bird and Looking Glass were highly respected by their own people and the United States Army as skilled war leaders and strategists, and succeeded in foiling the Army again and again until one fatal mistake 30 miles from safety across the Canadian border. White Bird and his people managed to escape death and capture and joined Sitting Bull and his people in Canada.

Nimiipuu Children Play In The Homeland

Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) brothers Kyan and Orion, descended from the families of Chief White Bird and Chief Looking Glass, enjoy their first time at the site of the Tamkaliks (meaning "from where you can see the mountains") Wallowa Band Homeland Project and the ancestral Wallowa ("Land of Winding Waters") Valley of Eastern Oregon.

Nimiipuu Brothers

Nez Perce/Salish brothers Amaru and Kyan strategize some play time at the Tamkaliks and Wallowa Band Nez Perce Homeland Project grounds in the Wallowa Valley. It brings to mind thoughts of their ancestors Chiefs White Bird and Looking Glass, and how they must have strategized the survival of their people and culture when the Nimiipuu were forced from here so many years ago.

Alberta Oil Sands and The Lubicon Cree First Nation (Work In Progress)

A full tanker pulls out of the Edmonton, Alberta, Imperial Oil refinery. One of many oil refineries and processing plants in the Edmonton area. A vast amount of the oil processed in Edmonton comes from indigenous lands. And much of that, from tar sands. This area is the central shipping point from which tar sands oil will flow via the planned Keystone Pipeline through the United States to the Gulf of Mexico. There have already been many spills (over 800) from these pipelines in Canada and in the ones already operating in the United States.

Plains Midstream is responsible for one of Alberta's largest oil spills that poisoned the local ecosystem and Lubicon Cree community of Little Buffalo. One of Enbridge's refineries belches flames in the background. Enbridge is responsible for the Kalamazoo, MI, tar sands pipeline spill of 2009, which is yet to be cleaned up entirely. That oil came from this refinery.

Enbridge's Edmonton refinery belches flames into the air behind power lines that provide the energy to run massive oil and tar sand processing plants. Enbridge is responsible for the devastating tar sands pipeline spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan; which is still under clean up 2 years later. (Coal provides 59% of Alberta's electrical power.)

Note the black sludge pulled from the water at this pond at the Plains Midstream Little Buffalo spill site. It smelled almost like diesel and stained anything black it touched. The company says the site has been entirely rehabilitated and removed of oil. They say wildlife and plant life are ready to return.

Black oil flows with the slow currents in this muskeg pond. The entire site reeked of a strong petroleum/diesel type smell. Plains Midstream claims this is a rehabilitated site and is ready for wildlife to return.

Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a local Lubicon Cree human and environmental rights activist, looks at a sample of the black foul smelling sludge that comes out of this spill site.

Melina holds a bottle full of oily water taken from the pond behind her. This muskeg once ran hundreds of yards long. It was completely drained, and according to Plains Midstream removed of oil and rehabilitated. The water that seeped back in is full of black oily residue. No independent studies have been done on the effects to the groundwater, the primary water resource for the village of Little Buffalo nearby, or as to the overall environmental and health impacts.

Dwight, a Lubicon Cree elder collects black oily water from a once healthy muskeg pond that fell victim to a massive pipeline oil spill, to have tests run on it to see how much oil still exists in it. No independent studies have been done as to the environmental impacts and effects on groundwater at this spill site. This elder and his family have hunted moose at this location for generations to feed their family. Now it lies almost barren of wildlife, which seems to only pass through occasionally now but not linger.

This is a pond at the Plains Midstream Little Buffalo spill site that the company says has been entirely rehabilitated and removed of oil. They say it is ready for wildlife and plant life to return.When you disturb the water black fluid and bubbles float to the surface.

Melina Laboucan-Massimo, points to oily residue seeping up through the water and mud near the Little Buffalo Plains Midstream oil spill site.

Oily residue seeping up through discolored muskeg in a pond nearby to the main spill site.

Melina looks at a black sludge-like substance that hides just under the surface of the mud at this muskeg oil spill site. Fresh wolf tracks pass right over the mud, picking up some of the sludge under the surface.

"The Shape Shifter". Lubicon Cree Canadian First Nations rights activist Melina Laboucan-Massimo takes water samples at an oil spill site that destroyed muskeg habitat and traditional moose hunting grounds, and contaminated her local village and a nearby school, making many people sick including elders and children. They were not notified of the spill until after many had already become ill from it. Observing fresh wolf tracks walking right through the site and leading to her, I was reminded of an ancient story among my own people the Caddo Nation, which tells of Wolf People who would arrive in time of need to protect our people from cannibals who threatened us. Melina has worked long and hard to protect her people from the 'cannibalism' that consumes the Earth and its people in an insatiable and unending quest for fossil fuels and the riches they bring. Much like the legends of Spotted Wolf and his clan who protected the ancient Caddos from all-consuming cannibals. To this day the same word for friend ("teysha") in our language is also the word for wolf. Melina has certainly been a "teysha" to her people and all people who struggle to keep from being cannibalized by the quest for profitable resource extraction.

Melina's aunt was kind enough to provide a place for us to sleep on our trip out to investigate the oil spill site. She lives just about 20 miles from the spill, which caused an evacuation of the school not far from her house due to toxic fumes that released from the pipeline.

Children at the Lubicon Cree First Nation village of Little Buffalo play in the school yard at a summer community function. This school had to be evacuated and closed for a week after the nearby oil spill (one of Alberta's largest). Many children fell ill with various symptoms. They were not notified that the spill had happened until long after children and teachers began noticing the effects.

Children at the Lubicon Cree First Nation village of Little Buffalo play in the school yard at a summer community function. This school had to be evacuated and closed for a week after the nearby oil spill. Many children fell ill with various symptoms. They were not notified that the spill had happened until long after children and teachers began noticing the effects. 

After a long day of play at the Little Buffalo school during a summertime community event held there for games and food and community spirit, these Cree children are still full of energy and having a blast taking part in my photography efforts. The three in the front kept jumping in the frame to try and mess up the photo the three in the back were directing me to take. This school was evacuated due to poisonous fumes from the pipeline when the Little Buffalo Plains Midstream pipeline spill happened after many children fell ill. (You may notice the little dots in the air all around them? Mosquitos. Thousands of them everywhere. I don't know how they seem to just ignore them up there. A minor annoyance to the Lubicon Cree, was a major unlivable pestilence to me.)

Gitz Crazyboy, a Dine/Blackfoot hunter and outdoorsman who joined us to assist in the moose hunt, scans the boreal forest and the open meadows and muskeg we pass on the way out to the moose hunting grounds. He was on the lookout for moose, which often step out of the forest or even cross the road around dusk time. Native hunting has always been about the most efficient way to find the game you seek and getting it back to feed your people. On the way out, on the way in, always on the lookout for what Mother Earth may provide to sustain you.

Melina keeps an eye out for moose as we head out to the moose hunting grounds. Sometimes they will walk out behind you after you pass by this time of evening, far out in the "bush" of Alberta's Boreal Forest.

Billy Joe, Melina's father, tells us traditional Cree stories of the old days when animals were people, around the campfire. These stories contain great humor and wit, but also wisdom that can continue to sink in even after years of hearing them told over and over. I couldn't think of a better way to spend the evening in moose hunting camp.

Billy Joe uses his hands and gestures to tell an entertaining story also hidden with bits of wisdom about Wolverine, and the old days at the beginning of time, to an enraptured fireside audience in moose camp that night. This was a Lubicon Cree family story that has been passed down through Billy Joe's family for generations. 

Moose hunt sunrise in the Boreal Forest, taken from a remote "cut line" far out in the forest. "Cut lines" are roads that were cut into the forest by oil development companies to access wells.

Wolf and moose tracks found together during our moose hunt. The Alberta government in response to dramatic caribou decline which has affected First Nations communities badly in oil sands development areas, last year paid 1 million dollars to have 500 wolves killed via poison, aerial gunning, and trapping, blaming the wolves for the dramatic caribou population decline. Local hunters and First Nations tribal members as well as many scientists and biologists blame the oil development and tar sands strip mining for disturbing the caribou migration patterns and disrupting grazing/forage ecosystems for caribou and other ungulate animals like moose and elk. Often game killed in tar sand development areas is found to have strange infections and puss pockets and nodules under the skin. Subsistence hunting and fishing is still a primary source of food and survival for most First Nations tribal members in these remote areas.

This is what healthy Boreal Forest muskeg looks like.

Oil development at the end of a cutline far, far out in the Boreal Forest.

Billy Joe returns from the bush after hunting an elk we spotted to try and get a shot at some meat for the freezer. He was unable to unfortunately.

We did find a grouse on the unsuccessful moose/elk hunt though. Another "tradition of necessity" in indigenous hunting; you take what is given. Food is food. Billy Joe shows me the simple way he dresses a grouse and removes the breast meat, which is the main edible part. He leaves the small amount of meat on the legs for the other creatures of the forest.

Billy Joe shows me how to make a "grouse balloon" as we began calling it. It is the inflated stomach of a grouse, which in this case contained 3 red berries. (Wild strawberries which we had feasted on ourselves that morning.) An old Lubicon Cree tradition was to tie and hang one of these in a lodge somewhere, and when a person was caught standing under it, they had to tell a story. Stories are the binders of family, tradition, and culture among the Cree and all Native tribes. We cannot let the traditions tied to these stories such as harvesting the gifts of Mother Earth to her people to provide for their sustenance like grouse or moose, be lost in the name of profit and "civilized progress", in my humble opinion.  Human culture and history is the true golden treasure humanity possesses. We must protect it.

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In June of 2000 I graduated with a B.A. in Advertising Photography from Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, CA. Since then I have been working as a freelance advertising and editorial photographer. My clients have ranged from local to international, and my fine art prints have been displayed in galleries throughout the West Coast, as well as the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington DC. I live in the remote Wallowa Valley of Northeastern Oregon, spending time in the wilderness, taking pictures that make me happy, and raising my wonderful daughter Mia. For assignments, print sales, and stock photo information please email photojoe29@gmail.com or call 541-263-0085.