|While many of the missionaries who worked among the Nimíipuu maintained that these were a people without "religion," a spiritual way of life was and continues to pervade all aspects of Nimíipuu life and is of central importance. When the camas is dug, a powwow begins, a meal is eaten, a tribal council meeting commences, a state basketball championship is honored, all are occasions that begin with prayer to the Creator. The acknowledgment of their spiritual origins and the continued nurturance that comes from their spiritual path is so integrated into the way the Nimíipuu make a living, structure their families and communities, that "religion," per se, is indistinguishable from being Nimíipuu.
An important dimension of a traditional Nimíipuu life revolves around acquiring and properly caring for one's weyekin, one's spirit guide or tutelary spirit. As a young person and following proper instructions and ritual cleansing, individual Nimíipuu would go to the high mountains and other sacred places to seek his weyekin. Coming in the form of an Animal Spirit, for instance, Eagle, Elk or Bear, the individual would be instructed and taught his weyekin song. In addition, weyekin can also be passed down from generation to generation, through the family members, inherited from a great grandfather from the distant past. Once received and if respected and properly cared for, one's personal guardian spirit would be with that youth for the rest of his life, helping protect and nurture. Each year with the coming of the important Winter Dances, individuals would sing their weyekin songs and dance in honor of their weyekin spirit guardian. For the healers, and hunting and salmon leaders, for example, their particular weyekin songs would also be used in curing ceremonies and to ask for a successful deer hunt or salmon catch.
|| Listen as Leroy Seth discusses the nature of the prayers offered in the Sweat House and explains the importance of "throwing bad feelings into the red hot rocks." (Interviewed by Josiah Pinkham in November 2001)
The Sweat House ceremony is a ritual of prayer, of spiritual cleansing and renewal, of healing, and of just plain enjoyment. Held throughout the year in domed-shaped canvas-covered structures, a Sweat House may be located in the backyard of someone's home in Lapwai, or along a valley creek outside of town. After the rocks are heated red hot and placed in the pit within the lodge, the ritual begins. Men and women will generally sweat separate from each other. With the pouring of the water in prescribed ways, songs are sung and prayers are given in the intense heat. Sweats may be taken weekly, for a birthday celebration, before an important trip, prior to a major ceremony, such as the Washat, for example. A very special and spiritually powerful form of ritual bathing is known as the "Mud Bath," or Teméeyenwees.
|| Leroy Seth on the Teméeyenwees - Mud Bath. (Interviewed by Josiah Pinkham, February 2002)
The Washat, sometimes referred to as the Seven Drum or "Longhouse" way of the Nimíipuu, a spiritual path shared by many other tribes throughout the region, emphasizes, among many vital teachings that the salmon will return annual to help nourish both the bodies and spirits of the people. During April of each year the First Salmon Feast is held to celebrate the salmon's return and to help renew the life of all the peoples.
The families that make up the Nimíipuu communities today are a rich tapestry of those who follow the Seven Drum and traditional ways, and those who are devout Presbyterians, Methodist or Catholic. All are deeply spiritual Nimíipuu.
© Nez Perce Tribe 2002
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