A Reunion of Tradition, Pride, and Friendship

The Nez Perce Encampment Pavilion

Every year in July, the Nez Perce Homeland becomes a place of reunion for descendants of the original inhabitants of Wal’waama, also known as Wallowa County. 

the Nez Perce gather in Joseph to continue to share their culture and traditions with locals and visitors alike during the week of Chief Joseph Days. Natives as much as non-natives are welcome to come to the Encampment Pavilion east of the rodeo arena for the Annual Friendship Feast and Traditional Indian Dance Contests. 

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Each dance session begins with a Grand Entry, including a procession of dancers. The Flag Bearers lead the procession carrying the Eagle Staff, American Flag, The Canadian Flag, and frequently, the MIA-POW Flag. Being a Flag Bearer is an honor usually given to a veteran, a respected traditional dancer, or a traditional elder. Everyone is asked to stand during the Grand Entry and men should remove their head coverings unless it has an eagle feather. After all the dancers are in the Arbor, a flag song is sung to honor the Eagle Staff and flags. Then a respected person, usually an elder, offers a prayer. This is followed by a victory song during which the Eagle Staff and flags are placed in their stands.

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While the dancers are competing

with one another during the dance contests, they are also in contest with the drummers and singers. 

Judges look for dancers to reflect their own personal style as well as their ability to carry on traditions that go with specific songs or dances. The dancers will be evaluated for footwork, rhythm, agility, and demeanor. Dancers follow directions from the Whipman & Whipwoman.

Dance Competition Highlights

There are many different dance categories each with its individual meaning and interpretation. Following is an abridged description of various Native dances that are demonstrated during the festivities.

Eagle Feather Pick Up – Eagles and eagle feathers are revered by many tribes of this continent because of the bird’s characteristics, abilities, and closeness to the Creator. The feather symbolizes a fallen warrior.

The Circle Dance – A dance of friendship where everyone can join in. The circle of dancers moves to the left in the clockwise direction and three circle dance songs will be sung in succession.

Men & Boys Traditional – Dancers typically wear a breechcloth, moccasins, feather bustle, a porcupine and deer hair roach with a spreader in the middle made of bone, rawhide, or leather in which roach feathers are mounted.

Men’s Fast & Fancy – Extremely colorful beadwork, elaborate feather bustles, ribbons, scarves, horsehair tips, angora bands, sheep bells, a roach headdress, and dance sticks all punctuate the most spectacular display of dance stunts and movements in this very fast-paced contest that began in the 1950s.

Women & Girls Traditional – Dances feature Plateau Women’s dresses that may be made of buckskin, wool, velvet, or dresses are adorned with dentalia, cowry, or abalone shells, elk teeth, ribbon, seed and bugle beads as well as fringe on the sleeves and hem. Handwoven hats, headbands, or beaded hair ornaments with feathers may be worn. In this category, two songs are typically sung in contests so that the females demonstrate both a slow and graceful straight style war dance and a circle dance.

Women’s Jingle Dress – In 1920, after a medicine man’s granddaughter became ill, his spirit guides told him in a dream to make her a dress that would please the ear and have her dance in it to heal her. The dress is decorated with rolled up snuff can lids or baking powder lids hanging from the ribbon. There are two styles of jingle dance – a slide step and straight.

Women & Girls Traditional – In this category, two songs are typically sung in contests so that the females demonstrate both a slow and graceful straight style war dance and a circle dance.

Grass Dance – Wearing lots of fringe (representing tall blades of prairie grass), a porcupine and deer hair roach, and no bustle, this dance was popularized by Northern Plains peoples where tall prairie grasses needed to be flattened for encampments or gatherings. Moves show how they would gracefully bend, fold, and weave greases to an even surface, and dancers’ ribbons and yarn sway as grasses would.


Encampment Highlights

Scroll down to view the picture gallery from the 2019 Encampment Pavilion

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DON’T MISS the 2021 Nez Perce Encampment Pavilion, July 31, east of the Chief Joseph Days Grand Stand on West Wallowa Ave in Joseph! 

      • 12:00 PM – Friendship Feast at the Encampment Pavilion
      • 3:00 PM – Traditional Indian Dance Contest at the Pavilion

Thank you for your interest in my photography. ~ Angelika Ursula Dietrich – Wild Horses Thunder

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ANGELIKA URSULA DIETRICH, owner and publisher of Wild Horses Thunder and Wild Horses Media Productions, is a professional Freelance Photographer, Videographer, Publisher, Writer, Social Media Consultant, and Website Developer.

Angelika's photography work has been displayed on the front cover of Idaho Magazine (2022), the Nimiipuu Tribal Tribune, Cowboy Lifestyle Network (2021), Cowboys & Indians (2016 & 2018), and in various Oregon and Washington entertainment and vacation publications, Chief Joseph Days Rodeo Program and website (2012-2020), at Art Gallery Festivals, private businesses, as well as for display advertisement for many clients in and out of Wallowa County including the Wallowa County Chieftain (2003-2007).

Between 2007 and 2009, Angelika worked in radio as the news and sports director for owners Lee and Carol Lee Perkins at KWVR Radio in Enterprise, Oregon. After the station was sold, she created Wallowa Valley Online, an independent online news magazine publishing and writing news and engaging in photojournalism.

After ten years of Wallowa Valley Online, Angelika decided to concentrate more on her photography & video productions, and cover and write human interest stories on Wild Horses Thunder - The studio & journal, and volunteer at the Nez Perce Wallowa Homeland.

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