Late Nez Perce elder Pete Hayes on the tribe's ongoing conservation efforts

click to enlarge Lewiston Tribune photo
Lewiston Tribune photo

Nez Perce elder Pete Hayes in a 1990 interview in Lapwai with Jane Fritz in which he discussed the tribe’s conservation efforts. At the time, Hayes was chairman of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee.

This is one of dozens of oral interviews with Nez Perce elders the nonprofit group the Idaho Mythweaver is working to preserve digitally.

Fritz: How do you think that harmony is going to be achieved, Pete, from where you sit here in this office for the Nez Perce Tribe?

I’m not really sure at this point. There have been several interpretations of some of the legends that have been taught. One that I heard recently was that that monster is preying upon the creatures of the Earth yet, and the individual that was telling the story was stating that that monster is civilization, and it is devouring the people and other creatures of the Earth. And as we look out and see the things that are occurring with our land and our waters and all the natural resources that were here, some of them gone forever…I think that there was some credibility to that statement. That civilization may be that monster that is devouring all the creations right now, we feel that there's always a way to survive. And we hear lots of stories being told about the threatened and endangered species that are being considered throughout the country. The loss of jobs and the loss of the products and everything — all these kinds of doomsayers. We feel that these things can continue in a more conservative way, and more consideration for their resources that they can be used for generations to come.

There was recently a meeting that was held for the people, non-Indians in Idaho came out with a strong statement that Indians are trying to stop logging in Idaho, and this is not the fact. In fact much of our budget that we use to operate the tribe comes from (the) logging industry on the reservation. The thing that we want to do is to do that logging in a proper manner. That would take into consideration the quality of the land, and the water quality, and thereby providing for habitat that would be suitable not only for the man, but also for the animals, for their fish and for other things. 

Like I mentioned before, the roots and the herbs that grow along these forest lands we need to consider also. And that we do not in any way hinder that, or do away with those roots and herbs because there are many times people have asked about them, and the things that we are concerned about is that probably, if we were to make these fruits and herbs public, and what they were used for and the various uses that they had — some of them had three or four uses that they could be used for — some individual would probably commercialize on that, and we'd see the same thing happen to these as has happened to our fishery, which a lot of people don't realize; but, it was commercial fisheries that occurred within the last century that decimated those anadromous fish runs and played a major role in that. We realized that there was habitat that was lost to logging and mining and agriculture, and other things that hindered the fishery. But I think one of the major roles is the commercial harvest that is allowed on those fisheries. That's accurate. 

There are so many instances where people discover that there is something, some value to — well, ... even a tree now. But now they're being valued very highly, and yet our people, as was handed down through the oral history, cannot place a value on those trees because …even from the trees that we get a lot of our foodstuff out of there, not counting the birds that we have in those trees. But some other parts of the tree that were used also, and when they learn of this, now that's just an example, there are other things also that people are learning about that are being commercialized. I think one significant one that you can find on the market throughout the country now is the huckleberry. And they have been commercialized so much that they have invented ways to pick those huckleberries that are detrimental to the plant and where they use a comb-like machine to comb the berries right off the bush. But it takes the leaves also, and sometimes it would destroy the whole bush. So all these things, and the new developments that are coming in, I think (they) impact natural resources very much.

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