Breeders of the NEZ PERCE HORSE
Equine Impact
By Brad W Gary (Lewiston Tribune) 07-09

SPALDING - The Nez Perce Tribe's tradition as horsemen harkens back centuries.

But it was the relatively new program to breed horses and encourage youth to learn the responsibilities of tending to the animals that drew the eye of a documentary crew from the Smithsonian Institution.

Filmmakers have been conducting interviews in the Lapwai Valley this week as part of an exhibit scheduled to open this fall through the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.

The exhibit is set to feature artifacts and information relating to the effects the horse had on American Indian tribes, said Emil Her Many Horses, a curator of the project.

"It impacted hunting, travel, warfare, it had an impact on art," Her Many Horses said. "It even had an impact on the size of the tepee."

The film and accompanying exhibit is designed as a companion piece to the 2006 book "A song for the horse nation, horses in Native American culture."

Her Many Horses said the Nez Perce Tribe's work on a horse breeding program, and a program to encourage youth to learn the responsibilities of horses, is one aspect that drew the attention of exhibitors.

The Nez Perce Tribe has bred Appaloosas with Akhal-tekes in an attempt to create a horse similar to one Nez Perce rode two centuries ago. The program has not only taught youth about horses, Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee Chairman Samuel N. Penney said, but about the work ethic they require.

"I think there's a lot of fun for the kids that participate, but there's a lot of work involved," he said.

Penney was surrounded by cameras and documentary-style lighting Wednesday in an interview for the film at the Nez Perce National Historical Park. The film crew spent the last several days speaking to tribal horsemen on the history of the tribe's traditional horse culture, and its contemporary horse programs.

A crew of four filmmakers and sound editors negotiated sprinklers and noise from tractor-trailer mufflers in an attempt to get Penney's words on tape.

A horse culture within the tribe and the use of horses in cultural traditions are practices that continue, Penney said. The 5- to 7-minute film, featuring the past and present of the Nez Perce Tribe's horses, will be one portion of the exhibit.

As a whole, the Smithsonian exhibit explores the effect of horses on American Indian tribes beginning with their reintroduction by the Spanish circa the 1700s.

"We're trying to get some of the historical context," Her Many Horses said. "We're very interested in any of the historical aspects."

Her Many Horses said how American Indian warriors used horses, and the decline of horses after reservations, will be explored in the exhibit. It will include clothing, tools, weapons and other items connected to the horse from tribes throughout the United States.

The exhibit opens November at the George Gustav Heye Center in New York, part of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. The display moves to Washington, D.C., in 2011, where it will stay until a traveling exhibition begins in 2013.

Penney said the credibility of the Smithsonian and its projects helped lend to the tribe's support of the film.

"I think it's just a great opportunity for the Nez Perce Tribe to take part in the production," he said.


National Museum of the American Indian

 NMAI homepage

 A Song for the Horse Nation Exhibition
November 14, 2009–July 7, 2011
George Gustav Heye Center, New York

A Song for the Horse Nation presents the epic story of the horse's influence on American Indian tribes from the 1600s to the present.
AA Song for the Horse Nation

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