The Nimiipuu tell their own story

“My name is One Who Takes Care of Water,” says Stacia Morfin, dressed in regalia that reflects her Native American heritage. She is leading a “Hear the Echoes of Our Ancestors” jet boat tour of the Snake River. A member of the Nimiipuu (Nez Perce), who are known for their expertise in horse breeding and fishing. 

Numbering 6,000 at the beginning of the 19th century, they once roamed 17 million acres spread across four states. For years the tribe has watched as tour operators built a $4 million riverboat business through their ancestral lands. Morfin is forcing the tourism industry to take the Nez Perce into account. Now the owner of Nez Perce Tourism, it’s a business that offers dinner tours, powwows, Appaloosa-riding experiences, white-water rafting and river tours. 

She has hired more than 55 drummers, singers, historians, presenters, storytellers and artists from the tribe to contribute to the company. She sees Indigenous tourism going mainstream, “I know people are really hungry for it,” she said.

Morfin makes sure her listeners understand the losses her tribe has suffered. “This was a Nimiipuu village site,” she says as they pass Asotin, a small town on the west bank. “But no Nimiipuu live here today.”

Their reservation is now confined to a patch of high desert less than one-tenth the original size of their lands. She can tell the story of the area, tying the native people to their homeland.

American Cruise Lines, which sails the Columbia and Snake rivers, said that Morfins “carefully curated” tours offer and exceptional experience for its guests who go on the excursions.  NDN Collective, a South Dakota-based philanthropic organization that supports Native projects awarded Morfin $200000 in a community self-determination grant in April. Her work is seen as “regenerative” and a way to support an economy that allows Natives to stay on their homelands. 

She hopes to use earnings to provide scholarships for Nez Perce children to better learn their culture.