Preserve America Community:
The community of Kamiah (population 1,160) in north central Idaho is young by recorded history standards but steeped in the history of the Nez Perce (or Nimiipuu) Indian tribe. Only one square mile, Kamiah is located within the Nez Perce Reservation. Before recorded history, Kamiah and its surroundings were the winter home of the Nez Perce tribe. They came to fish for steelhead, a staple in their diet, and to manufacture ropes, hence the name Kamiah, meaning the place of “many rope litters.” The Appaloosa horse was first bred here, primarily for use as a war animal. Lewis and Clark camped with the Nez Perce near Kamiah for 29 days in 1806. White settlers came later, such as Kate and Sue McBeth, Christian missionaries who came to Kamiah in the 1870s. The town was officially incorporated in 1906.
Kamiah has a number of cultural and natural resources. The First Presbyterian Indian Church is the oldest church in Idaho still conducting weekly services. The Lewis County Historical Society, located in Kamiah’s distinct Victorian/western themed downtown, has a large collection of local history items showcased in their exhibition hall.
The Heart of the Monster is a good example of a site that is both a natural and cultural resource. It is a Nez Perce National Historic Site that features prominently in the creation story of the Nez Perce tribe. Interpretations at the site tell the story of the creation of the Nez Perce.
The history and culture of the Nez Perce is clearly intertwined with that of Kamiah. As such, a curriculum of Nez Perce tribal culture has been incorporated into the local school. Eighth graders learn about Nez Perce culture and language. Students also participate in an overnight outdoor classroom experience at Musselshell, a Nez Perce historic site.
In 2006, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the journey of Lewis and Clark, Kamiah hosted a Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Corps of Discovery II celebration at River Front Park. Sponsored by the National Park Service, this educational and interpretive exhibit featured a “Tent of Many Voices,” which included historical presentations on Clark’s slave York and Sacajawea’s brother Cameahwait. Several groups came together in Kamiah to bring the celebration to the town, and also worked to build a riverfront stage that was later used by the Nez Perce tribe for a presentation in conjunction with another Lewis and Clark event, “Summer of Peace.”
In 2007 the Kamiah Museum and Exhibit Hall compiled and digitized their local history photograph collection of more than 1,000 photographs. Murals painted 20 years ago depicting Kamiah history are now being restored, many by the original artists.
For more information
Kamiah Chamber of Commerce: www.kamiahchamber.com
North Central Idaho Travel Association: www.northcentralidaho.info
Nez Perce National Historic Park: www.nps.gov/nep
The Lewis and Clark Expedition: Documenting the Uncharted Northwest - Teaching With Historic Places lesson plan: www.nps.gov/history/nr/twhp/wwwlps/
Posted April 21, 2009