Nez Perce Tribe
When she was three years old, Lucy Samuels got her first pair of boots and her first Appaloosa. Her grandmother, Bonnie Ewing, said she’s been riding ever since. Lucy grew up in the horse culture of her Nez Perce people. Alongside her grandmother, she rode the 1500-mile Chief Joseph Annual Trail thirteen years in a row. Lucy serves as a riding instructor for youth to help maintain her nation’s horse culture. She is passionate that her people’s history, heritage, and culture is passed on to younger generations.
Lucy identifies her homelands as Simiinikem—the Place Where Two Rivers Meet, referring to the Clearwater River flowing into the Snake River in Idaho. Traditional Nez Perce homelands covered approximately 17 million acres throughout parts of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Today, the Nez Perce Reservation comprises 770,000 acres in north-central Idaho, less than 5% of their traditional land base. However, the tribe maintains spiritual connections and obligations to all their homeland. This is evidenced in the tribe’s recent purchase of 148 acres in Joseph, Oregon—the homelands that Chief Joseph and his band were forced out of and a home they were never allowed to return to. The land will hear the voices of the people that have always belonged there.
Standing with her people in these preservation efforts, Lucy works for the Nez Perce Tribe’s Cultural Resource Program. The program fulfills its mission by assisting Tribal leadership in treaty rights protection; documenting traditional and ancestral knowledge; integrating nimíipuutimpt within the Tribal community and infrastructure; and protecting sites, landscapes, and associated knowledge integral to the perpetuation of nimíipu’neewit through meaningful consultation. Lucy consults with the Department of Energy, Hanford Nuclear Site, making sure traditional sites and artifacts are not disturbed or destroyed.
Lucy tells us that she was raised to know the importance of her culture and homeland. That knowledge motivates her work “to protect my homeland for my boys and future Nez Perce generations.” She describes not only protecting cultural places, but also understanding and learning from the “deep-time knowledge they possess.” She believes that reconnecting and reestablishing relationships with these places can affect profound change.
Much of Lucy’s life has been involved promoting social and cultural change through tribal identity. She sees her people’s knowledge as a well spring for today’s generation and those beyond. Her love and respect for her people, their language, and culture guide her actions. She remarked that language is about more than preservation, it is about growing new speakers. Lucy is doing that. She is teaching the language to her sons Katrell and Julian. They will have the opportunity to pass their mother’s teachings on to the next generation of the Nez Perce nation.