SPALDING — Nez Perce riders dressed in full regalia and sitting astride their beautiful Appaloosa horses rode into the Nez Perce National Historic Park Saturday morning.

The dappled sunshine flooding through the trees at the park matched the distinctive spots for which the horses are known as the riders circled an event tent at Culture Day.

Joe Lewis, of Spokane and vice president of the Nez Perce Appaloosa Horse Club, said the breed that was developed by the Nez Perce Tribe in the 1700s is known for its endurance and strength. Lewis is a great-great grandson of Ollokot, a Nez Perce leader and key figure in the War of 1877, and brother of Chief Joseph.

“They are really strong and narrow, so they have a lot of endurance and they can go a lot of miles,” he said of the animals. “They are pretty amazing horses.”

Their stamina is one reason the Nez Perce were able to keep well ahead of the U.S. calvary during the rolling war that had its origins in a northeastern Oregon land dispute, then progressed across north central Idaho and much of Montana.

The horse Lewis rode, and others ridden by members of the club, are bred from horses descended from an Appaloosa herd from Wallowa County, Oregon, that has since been crossed with the Akhal-Teke breed from Turkmenistan. Lewis is training his horse for the Happy Canyon Show at the Pendleton Round-Up, which depicts the settling of the western United States.

Saturday’s parade was one facet of Culture Day, a program put on by the Nez Perce National Historic Park featuring Nez Perce culture and history. Mike Gauthier, superintendent of the park, said the Culture Day was an annual event in the 1980s and 1990s, but sort of faded away. The National Park Service and tribe began a reboot of the event last year. It offers one way for tribal members to showcase their culture and history, and to make the resources of the park more accessible to visitors.

“Really, it’s about making this resource available and letting the tribe take pride and a sense of ownership,” Gauthier said. “This is the heart of Nez Perce Country.”

Agnes Weaskus was honored at the event as one of the elders of the year. She said the recognition was an honor, and the day was a way to celebrate both the tribe’s history, continued existence and the passing on of traditions and practices such as horsemanship, the Nez Perce language and traditional artwork from generation to generation.

“Culture to me is the celebration of the survival of our culture and our ways,” she said. “It’s part of our culture to appreciate one another and sometimes we forget to do that. We need to compliment our accomplishments.”

The day included a choir performance, tours of an old Indian agent cabin, ranger guided walks, a program where a ranger showed visitors how to set up a tipi, and a pow wow featuring Nez Perce dancers and drummers.

Nez Perce elder Leroy Seth said the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley and surrounding area are filled with Nez Perce culture and history, with plenty of opportunities for people to experience it.

“There is all kinds of art and history right in front of you and it’s free,” he said. “Come and enjoy it.”

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.

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