In the summer of 2017, the Alvin M. & Betty Josephy Library of Western History and Culture, decided to pursue the creation of a bibliographic project using the library’s resources. There is a rapidly growing body of work surrounding the Nez Perce, especially the Nez Perce War, and due to its importance, it was deemed a worthy topic of which to pursue further bibliographic research. As a result of our numerous discussions and consultations with other librarians and researchers, head librarian of the Josephy Library, Rich Wandschneider, and I eventually decided on a bibliography of works by or about the Nez Perce and the language arts, including oral traditions, literature, and literary criticism from the year 1990 forward. Overall, this bibliography aims to create a broad base of knowledge about modern pieces of language arts having to do with the Nez Perce.
This bibliography focuses on the idea of ‘language arts.’ We use the term ‘language arts’ to refer to both written and oral traditions. This term often refers to the written tradition, encompassing things like literature and poetry. Often excluded are the traditions of oral tradition , seen incorrectly by many in Eurocentric cultures to be less trustworthy than things set in type or handwriting due to a perceived lack of permanence. However, this mistrust of the oral tradition neglects the importance of the spoken word in cultures the world over, including that of the Nez Perce. Consider oral traditions such as the Coyote cycles and other pieces of spoken folklore used to explain the world around us. Thus, this project includes both written and oral traditions.
The focus on language arts appears in many cultures through storytelling and other forms of expression. In a world where ‘history’ is often taken as fact, the language arts offer a space for individual and cultural identity outside of the dominant historical narratives. Are these dominant narratives not, after all, more about who is telling them than about fact? This being said, some works of fiction having to do with the Nez Perce may fall into a trap of factual inaccuracy or reliance on stereotypes of Native American peoples. Books such as these are still included in the bibliography for the sake of being exhaustive, but inaccuracy or inappropriateness have been noted in the annotation where known and applicable.
While fiction may assist in challenging historical narratives, this is not to say that the Nez Perce story is contained solely in the past. It is true that many write of this tribe from a historical perspective, often from the Nez Perce War of 1877, and this story remains alive and well to this day. However, the idea that Native American cultures are unable to adapt to modern times is an old and common idea. According to Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio Whitaker in their book “All The Real Indians Died Off” and 20 Other Myths About Native Americans, “indeed all US Indian policy has been based on [a similar] philosophy.” This bibliography works to challenge that idea through its documentation of works published post-1990. As such, it stands to say that the language arts can not only challenge dominant historical narratives, but the narratives being written around us every day.
As mentioned, this bibliography aims to create a broad base of knowledge about modern pieces of language arts having to do with the Nez Perce. New works by or about the Nez Perce are released almost monthly, contributing to that aforementioned rapidly growing and already abundant body of work under the same subject. Gathering all of these works together has proved challenging thus far, so while it is our overall goal, it is a work in progress. Therefore, we acknowledge that this bibliography is in no way complete.There is always more to be discovered.
The project comes in three main sections and a fourth minor section:
- Oral Traditions
- Pieces Noted.
The former two sections represent two of the major pillars of language arts, while the section on criticism pays tribute to understanding, deciphering, and criticizing works within these traditions, an art and field of study within itself. The final section notes important works that do not apply directly to this bibliography but are related in some regard.
Within the section Oral Traditions, are two subsections: Audio Recordings and Transcriptions. The first section includes published audio recordings of Nez Perce oral traditions, like speeches or recordings of religious stories in Nez Perce or otherwise, though most often in English. The section on transcriptions includes, of course, published direct transcriptions of oral traditions, but it also includes written works based off of oral traditions rather than directly recorded. Songs and song transcriptions have been excluded from this bibliography, as such titles would be better placed under a category and study of musicology or ethnomusicology.
The Literature section contains four subsections: Novels, Plays, Poetry, and Short Stories. The first subsection, Novels, contains longer published works of fiction or creative nonfiction written by a member of the Nez Perce tribe or otherwise about or including Nez Perce history or characters. Plays, Poetry, and Short Stories are restricted by the same guidelines, though plays may also fall under the category of ‘nonfiction’, as they are inherently fictionalized. Chapters or excerpts from full novels have been placed in the Short Stories section regardless of whether they function as stand-alone stories.
The third section, Criticism, includes full books and shorter works of criticism regarding either books or oral traditions by a member of the Nez Perce tribe, works about the Nez Perce, or including character(s) that are or are otherwise affiliated with the Nez Perce. Once again, however, the pure volume of these criticisms makes creating an exhaustive bibliography impossible, and this section does not aim to be exhaustive, though it does represent as many critiques and reviews as reasonably possible. Shorter book reviews of individual books and oral traditions are included in the former two sections with the books which they are reviewing.
The final section, Pieces Noted, contains works that do not apply to the bibliography but are worth noting for their topics of cultural or literary significance. For example, a major well-recognized work of poetry that was, say, written before 1990, would fall under this category. Also included in this section are works about arts other than language arts. Examples include works of visual art (painting, photography, crafts, sculpture, art reviews), music, film, music and film critiques, and works otherwise about the arts. This section is not exhaustive, nor does it aim to be, and includes works that the contributors came across while researching the topics included in the bibliography.
The subject of linguistics, while technically falling under the umbrella of language arts, has been excluded from this bibliography. The aim of this bibliography is to collect works that exemplify the creative side of language arts versus the technical. However, we do recognize the struggle behind maintaining native languages in the United States, and sources related to Nimipuutímt are readily accessible. Perhaps the most well-known is the Nez Perce Dictionary by Haruo Aoki, first published in 1994. One looking to learn Nimipuutímt might find helpful the 9-volume collection of language-learning CD’s and accompanying packets by Angel Sobotta (and Vera Sonneck), published through the years 2002-2012. The Nez Perce Language Program developed a phone application in 2015 with a similar purpose. Prominent linguists researching Nimipuutímt include Phillip Cash Cash of Arizona State University, Noel Rude of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Beth Piatote of University of California, Berkley, and George Crook.
Our hope for this project is that not only will it aid those researching language arts and the Nez Perce but that it will also encourage the public to seek and grow in knowledge of the Nez Perce and their place within the realm of the language arts, whether through oral or written tradition.
Aoki, Haruo. Nez Perce Dictionary. Berkely, California: University of California Berkely Press, 1994.
Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne and Gilio-Whitaker, Dina. “All the Real Indians Died Off” and 20 Other Myths About Native Americans. Boston: Beacon Press, 2016.
“Learn Nez Perce for Free: Download the App Today.” Indian Country Today (2015): accessed July 26, 2017. https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/education/native-education/learn-nez-perce-for-free-download-the-app-today/
Sobotta, Angel and Sonneck, Vera. Nimipuutímt. Lapwai, ID: Nez Perce Tribe, 2002-2012.
Footnotes: 1. Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne and Gilio-Whitaker, Dina, “All the Real Indians Died Off” and 20 Other Myths About Native Americans [Boston: Beacon Press, 2016], 47.
2. See Usage Notes
3. “Learn Nez Perce for Free: Download the App Today,” Indian Country Today (2015): accessed July 26, 2017, https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/education/native-education/learn-nez-perce-for-free-download-the-app-today/