‘We cannot go backwards in time’

#iamthewest: Giving voice to the people that make up communities in the region.

 

STELLA SAMMARIPA
Nez Perce language program technician and recent NASA Minority University Research and Education Project fellow
Kamiah, Idaho

My immersion in language and the histories of Nez Perce words steered my education, and my research, into the natural sciences. As a NASA fellow, I created a transdisciplinary habitat suitability model for Indian dogbane. The plant is culturally important to my tribe, and it once thrived on our homelands, but it is now actively eradicated because it is toxic to livestock. 

Kamiah is a town on the Nez Perce reservation. The name Kamiah comes from the Nez Perce word QemyeXpe (pronounced Kem-yehk-pa), which means “the gathering place of Qéemu (pronounced kam-oo)” — our word for Indian dogbane. My ancestors utilized Qéemu to make twine, rope, basketry and nets, but in recent decades, the distribution of Indian dogbane has been reduced by half, and the cultural activities dependent upon the plant are threatened as well.

I hope that the model I’ve created will help my tribe identify culturally appropriate and ecologically feasible locations to begin replenishing Qéemu on Nez Perce lands. This type of activity is frequently referred to as restoration, but I insist that we call it mitigation. We cannot go backwards in time, and I doubt that we will fully restore Qéemu to its historical distribution. I can, however, work to mitigate past harm by increasing Qéemu populations and bringing back cultural activities that are dependent upon the plant. I understand my Qéemu habitat-modeling efforts as an exercise in tribal sovereignty — as my way of building a plan to reconnect our language with our landscapes, and to regrow both of them. 

One of my elders who taught me the Nez Perce language used to say: “When you teach the language, the culture will follow. When you teach the culture, the language will follow.” Well, we had names for every living thing in our environment, and these names allowed us to acknowledge plants for giving us our livelihoods and our culture. But our language and our Qéemu populations receded in parallel. The plants knew the name we gave them, but unfortunately, we forgot those names — and so we have forgotten that relationship. Through this loss, we have started to have less respect for these plants. I hope that my research on Qéemu habitat, as well as my work to teach and preserve the Nimiipuu language, helps me to fulfill my responsibility to heal the relationships my people once had with our homelands, our culture and our language.

Rebecca Stumpf is an editorial photographer based in western Montana, where she enjoys immersing herself in all that the west has to offer. She is a member of Women Photograph, and photographs for other clients such as Smithsonian Magazine, Time, and The GuardianFollow her on Instagram.

We welcome reader letters. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor. See our letters to the editor policy.

 

High Country News Classifieds
  • PUBLIC LANDS PROGRAM MANAGER
    Conserve Southwest Utah is seeking a candidate with excellent communication skills and a commitment to environmental conservation for the position of Public Lands Program Manager....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Western Slope Conservation Center in Paonia, CO, seeks a dynamic leader who is mission-driven, hardworking, and a creative problem-solver. WSCC is committed to creating...
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    Seeking qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating, implementing and managing land conservation activities,...
  • REGIONAL TRAIL STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Are you passionate about connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with trail maintenance and volunteer engagement...
  • TRAIL CREW MEMBER
    Position Title: Trail Crew Member Position Type: 6 month seasonal position, April 17-October 15, 2023 Location: Field-based; The RFOV office is in Carbondale, CO, and...
  • CEO BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE
    Chief Executive Officer, Remote Exempt position for Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance is responsible for the planning and organization of BNGA's day-to-day operations
  • IDAHO DIRECTOR - WESTERN WATERSHEDS PROJECT
    Western Watersheds Project seeks an Idaho Director to continue and expand upon WWP's campaign to protect and restore public lands and wildlife in Idaho, with...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Development Director to join our team in supporting and furthering our mission. This position will create...
  • DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, NA'AH ILLAHEE FUND
    Na'ah Illahee Fund (NIF) is seeking a highly qualified Operations Director to join our team. This position will provide critical organizational and systems support to...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) is seeking a leader to join our dynamic team in the long-term protection of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM). We...
  • GRASSLAND RESEARCH COORDINATOR
    The Grassland Research Coordinator is a cooperative position with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that performs and participates in and coordinates data collection for...
  • HYDROELECTRIC PLANT
    1.3 MW FERC licensed hydroelectric station near Taylorsville CA. Property is 184 deeded acres surrounded by National Forrest.
  • "PROFILES IN COURAGE: STANDING AGAINST THE WYOMING WIND"
    13 stories of extraordinary courage including HCN founder Tom Bell, PRBRC director Lynn Dickey, Liz Cheney, People of Heart Mountain, the Wind River Indian Reservation...
  • GRANT WRITER
    JOB DESCRIPTION: This Work involves the responsibility of conducting research in the procurement of Federal, State, County, and private grant funding. Additional responsibilities include identifying...
  • MATADOR RANCH STEWARD
    The Matador Ranch Steward conducts annual stewardship projects at the Matador Ranch Preserve and occasionally supports stewardship projects elsewhere in Montana's Northern Great Plains. The...
  • COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT ASSISTANT
    The Idaho Conservation League is seeking a motivated individual to help build public support for key strategic initiatives in northern Idaho through public outreach and...
  • ASPIRE COLORADO SUSTAINABLE BODY AND HOME CARE PRODUCTS
    Go Bulk! Go Natural! Our products are better for you and better for the environment. Say no to single-use plastic. Made in U.S.A., by a...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field seminars for adults in the natural and human history of the Colorado Plateau, with lodge and base camp options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.