SANDPOINT — Many years ago, the Nez Perce — the Nimi’ipuu people — spoke to the animals, and the birds. They held council and they all spoke and listened to one another.
And so begins a legend told by the late Clifford Allen, Nez Perce elder, to Idaho Mythweather’s Jane Fritz in August 2001.
It is one of the many legends and tales captured by Fritz and Idaho Mythweather as part of an effort with Idaho’s seven tribes to preserve their tribal stories and histories — some told directly to her by now deceased tribal elders. The stories now reside on 100 cassette tape, many in fragile condition.
The project is in its final months of audio work, and Mythweather is working to raise the last $3,500 of the estimated $15,990 cost of the project.
It’s important work, Fritz has said, because the contents touch on the heart and spirit of seven different tribes — the Nez Perce, Coeur d’Alene, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, Shoshone-Bannock, Shoshone-Paiute, Swinomith and the Kalispel Tribe of Indians. At a deeper level, the conversations hold a treasure Fritz wants to pass on to future tribal generations.
Once complete, the Idaho Mythweaver will give the digital files to the Nez Perce Tribal Radio Station in Kamiah — KIYE 88.7 and 105.5 — as will the Nez Perce National Historical Park Archives, and the tribe’s cultural resource department.
Digitized and the respective original tapes will be given to the other five tribes, as well.
Fritz said the final phase will cost $15,990. They have raised $10,715 to date from the following large donors — Idaho Forest Group, Idaho Humanities Council, Waterfront Property Management, and John and Jeri Sahlin, and several individual donors.
Idaho Mythweaver is working to raise the remaining $3,500 of its $15,990 goal to complete the final phase of a project to digitize 100 cassette tapes of the original recordings of oral histories and traditional stories.
And now for the story, shared with permission by the family of Clifford Allen, whose, Sylvia Allen, was on Mythweather’s board of directors in the early 2000s. It was recorded in Yellowstone National Park as some of the Nez Perce elders were retracing the 1877 flight of the Nimi’ipuu trying to get to Canada and freedom, Fritz said.
“It was the perfect place to hear a story about the animals instead of the war.”
“Many years ago, centuries and centuries ago; maybe as far back as ten, 15,000 years ago, our People, they spoke to the Animals — the Birds and the Bees. They held Council; they all spoke … the Elk, the Deer … they all got up to speak. The Bee even; it spoke. We all listened to each other.
“Years, centuries went by after the first Council. Then they seen smoke; last night there was thunder. They could smell smoke. Our People wondered what happened. Then we realized … the Creator sent thunder to build a fire. We sent our warriors out after the fire had died down, and nothing but blackness remained in the mountain. Our warriors went out to see. One of our warriors smelled something. As he sat there getting the scent, the scent made his stomach rumble. ‘Why?’ he asked himself. ‘What is that scent that makes my stomach rumble like this?’
“He followed the scent and he found it. ‘My brother, my brother!’ One of the Deer got caught in the fire and he burned to death. And the scent come from the Deer. He cut off the hide, the hair burned on it. And he sniffed at the hide: ‘No, it’s not this.’ He tasted it; it didn’t taste very good. He looked at the meat, and then he sniffed at it. This was it! He cut off a piece of the meat, and he tasted it. The craving was so strong! He cut off another piece, and he kept eating, he kept eating. His stomach stopped rumbling; and, he knew that it was a sign. He knew it was a gift from the Creator that he must eat his brother. He took off a large chunk of the meat, and brought it home to the Council members. And the Council members, after they got scent of it, their stomachs started rumbling also. The only cure that they had for it was the burned meat.
“Since that time, our People — the Indian so called — ate meat. The Animals objected: ‘Why do you eat us?’ they said at Council. ‘And now you have a whole new habit!’
“And you’re taking our feathers, too!’ said the Eagle. ‘Why do you do this to us? You never did this before.’
“The Deer and the Elk objected: ‘Don’t eat us anymore! If you continue to eat us, we will no longer speak to you. We will no longer talk to any one of you. Maybe we will speak to a spirited few of you, but not to all of you.’
“The Council was over. The Indians continued to eat the Deer over the objections. It has been thousands of years since all animals spoke to each other.
“Today, we know the legend is true in our People. The only problem we have had is the location has never been found, where all the Animals, all the People once sat in peace. Is this (Yellowstone National Park) the place? (Jane: ‘It would be a good place.’) You got it. You see that’s kind of why I’m here. “
To donate, go to Idaho Mythweaver Facebook page or by mail — PO Box 2418, Sandpoint, ID 83864. For more information on the project, call 208-597-6123.
Caroline Lobsinger can be reached by email at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @CarolDailyBee.