Why can’t the Nez Perce Indians get over it? Some in the community are saying: Just shut up. They lost the war, so how can they claim to have rights we whites don’t have? How can a defeated people assert legal authority when it comes to the passage of mega-loads over US Highway 12?
A little history: The first treaty between the U.S. and the Nez Perce people was signed in 1855. Even though the Nez Perce population had been significantly reduced by “white man diseases” which had traveled up the Columbia well before Lewis and Clark stumbled onto the Weippe Prairie, in 1855, the regional population consisted of around 10,000 Nez Perce and their allies and fewer than 2000 non-Indians.
Though the Nez Perce considered eliminating the whites, a fairly easy task estimated to take less than a month, they chose instead to keep the peace, not from a position of weakness but from one of power and consent. Their chiefs signed the treaty. This treaty, with the full backing of the United States Constitution, assured the Nez Perce people they would retain and control approximately 90% of their existing land holdings. Non-Natives were not allowed to reside within the 1855 reservation boundaries.
With the discovery of gold near the present town of Pierce came a surge of miners from the played-out California gold fields. Rag Town, a tent city appeared “overnight” without legal authorization where Lewiston now sits. —part of the Nez Perce reservation. Nez Perce pleas to remove the trespassers went unanswered. Soon thousands of miners flooded the reservation.
The U.S. government’s solution: force a new treaty on the Nez Perce with trickery and deceit mainly so their gold could help finance the Civil War. The Treaty of 1863 further reduced Nez Perce holdings by 90%, while leaving most of the other language of the 1855 treaty intact and control in the hands of the Nez Perce.
The Nez Perce War of 1877 hardly qualifies as a war. Only some of the Nez Perce participated and most of the non-combatants continued to live on the reservation. As easterners learned of the mistreatment of the Indians, many became critical and the U.S. Army hoped the truth of how the Nez Perce had been provoked into battle would just go away. And it did, unless you were Nez Perce.
There had been no declaration of war in 1877 and there were no peace accords or new treaties at its conclusion. Nez Perce sovereignty remained as the U.S. Government soon violated even the terms of surrender. So, please tell me again why the Nez Perce should be silent?
Current mega-load mover, Omega Morgan, probably doesn’t know or care about the long history of broken promises to the Nez Perce Nation. Omega Morgan probably doesn’t know or care that, if the Nez Perce had not generously assisted the starving early 19th century Corps of Discovery, all lands north of the Columbia River (most of Washington) would likely have been claimed by England and would be part of Canada today.
Omega Morgan probably doesn’t know or care that the Nez Perce people have always attempted to get along with non-Natives, providing assistance that saved many early day travelers. Omega Morgan probably doesn’t know or care that it was the Nez Perce’ gold that helped support the Union during the Civil War but cost the Nez Perce their homeland.
Omega Morgan probably doesn’t know or care about all that ancient but relevant history or the ongoing tribal contributions to area schools, youth programs and infrastructure projects of today.
Omega Morgan probably doesn’t know or care about the ignorance with which they are equated in view of the damage they have inflicted upon the effort to build better relationships between non-native residents and the Nez Perce Tribe where there is common ground, bridge building, respect, and decisions are shared that affect all local people.
Omega Morgan has the might and money of GE, Exxon, and other mega-corporations behind them. This proved irresistible to Idaho officials and local business interests. Omega Morgan executives must be puzzled that the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Council was not similarly persuaded, so it simply swept aside their treaty rights while thumbing their noses at a U.S. federal agency and federal law.
Omega Morgan is yet another outsider whose motives are profit and exploitation of the earth’s riches, and like Lewis and Clark over 200 years ago and the miners in 1860, have imposed upon the hospitality of our Nez Perce neighbors.
The next time a mega-load tries to pass through their reservation without so much as tribal consultation and federal due process, the Nez Perce will likely protest. If they do it is their right, an acknowledgement of a painful history and an exercise of their legacy as the first stewards of this land. If there are those who cannot be respectful and understand, perhaps it is they who would do well to take their own advice.
America achieved greatness because the principles upon which it was founded released the creativeness to develop ideas which resulted in products and services we all enjoy. As people started farms and businesses which produce products which we all need and enjoy it became necessary to develop transportation systems to move these goods from producers to users. As a result we the people supported the creation of road systems, waterways, and airways to enhance the commerce which is the source of the jobs we all need to support our families.
U. S. Highway 12 was built to facilitate the movement of products from this region and the east of the mountains areas of Montana and Dakotas. Those products then economically could interface with westbound water traffic to the Far East, either at Lewiston or other West Coast ports. The use of the Highway by residents and tourists is a by-product of the basic purpose, which is to promote job related, job essential commerce.
I drive Highway 12 almost daily and after numerous megaload shipments cannot see any evidence of damage to road or environment. The risk of environmental damage is a carefully created myth designed to create unwarranted fears. The megaload trucks carry no more fuel than standard trucks and have a lower tire loading than standard rigs.
If we cannot support the use of highways for commerce we are killing jobs and increasing our cost of living. More oil anywhere in the world, available to the world's users, will lower prices everywhere. More oil in North America will create North American jobs and lower energy prices. If we oppose megaloads we are guaranteeing we shall have fewer jobs and higher prices for all goods, as energy is a key cost factor in all products and services.
I, for one, support safe utilization of our highways for all users and entrust the regulation to the Idaho Department of Transportation. If the anti-Megaload faction have their way the American economy will continue its decline and jobs will be destroyed.