When we talk with leaders of Native communities and organizations, they frequently express concern that their Native culture and language are slipping away. They share that arts and culture are a critical way today’s youth can stay connected to their heritage, and for this reason a number of organizations in the Pacific Northwest are working tirelessly to preserve Native arts and culture in creative and sustainable ways. The Murdock Trust is proud to support a number of them, including Sealaska Heritage, Native Arts & Culture Foundation, Alaska Native Heritage Center, and Mending Wings.
Yet each Native community has a unique story to tell and diverse ways to tell it, so cultural preservation and revitalization looks different for each. For the Nez Perce tribe in Idaho, the story would be incomplete without the Appaloosa horse. It is for this reason that the Chief Joseph Foundation (CJF) exists.
Established in 1991, CJF empowers Nez Perce students and underserved youth in the region through activities and education related to the tribe’s most culturally significant animal: the Appaloosa horse. This beautiful spotted horse was a central part of the tribe’s history, and these days, it’s once again becoming a cherished animal to many youth in the Nez Perce and surrounding communities.
Though CJF programs are open to all underserved youth in the region, most participants are Nez Perce youth, people with disabilities, veterans, and underserved students of color. In addition to cultural workshops, they operate several regular programs:
- The CJF Riding Program teaches youth ages 6-18 everything from basic horse handling safety to advanced riding techniques, accompanied by culturally relevant history and art activities.
- The Mounted Scholars Program partners with underperforming middle and high school students, incentivizing them to attend school by spending a portion of their classroom time learning about the Appaloosa horse and Nez Perce culture, and eventually riding the horse.
- The National Chief Joseph Trail Ride is a special opportunity for 4-5 riders each year. Tracing the path the Nez Perce people took during their flight in 1877, this is one of the most historic trail rides in the U.S. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Nez Perce youth to connect to their heritage in an unforgettable way.
“What we’re doing is exposing them to the horse culture,” says Allen Pinkham, executive committee board member. “We’re getting horsemanship back into the tribe, as well as helping the students overcome some difficulties they may have in the schools.”
The Murdock Trust has been grateful to partner with CJF in the construction of an Indoor Horse Arena in 2018 and, more recently, in hiring a facility manager for this arena. With an indoor space, CJF can offer a safe place for riding in any weather, as well as welcome more participants into their programs.
When Native cultures are preserved and passed on, all communities benefit and our entire region is enriched. Thank you, CJF, for telling the unique Nez Perce story through the Appaloosa horse, and thank you to all the organizations across the Pacific Northwest who are serving the common good through serving Native communities.