Every year in the spring, the Nez Perce people gather on the lower parade grounds at Fort Vancouver National Historical Site to participate in a memorial ceremony honoring their ancestors. The Chief Redheart Memorial Ceremony is free and open to the public (although donations are welcome) and anyone who wishes to participate is welcome. There will be speeches, tribal announcements and news, singing and remembrances, a riderless horse or “empty saddle” ceremony, the passing of the peace pipe, and recognition of armed forces veterans. This year marks the event’s 20th anniversary.
During the Nez Perce War of 1877, as the U.S. Army was attempting to remove tribal members from their lands, 33 members of Chief Redheart’s band were captured under the direction of General O.O. Howard. Even though the band neither fought in Indian Wars nor committed any crimes, they were held prisoner at Fort Vancouver through the winter of 1877-78, where a Nez Perce infant died. The Chief Redheart event honors the tribe’s suffering while reaffirming the peaceable relations between the Nez Perce and those who have settled in their native lands.
This is a lengthy event—usually about five hours, give or take—and it will happen, rain or shine, from about 10 a.m. to about 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 22. Visitors should bring their own blankets and chairs. Light refreshments will be served by Meals on Wheels during the ceremony. Parking is available on Fifth St. For a map and directions, click here. After the ceremony, the public is encouraged to attend a free traditional Native American feast, prepared and served by the Northwest Indian Veterans Association in the Artillery Barracks at 600 E. Hatheway Rd. For more information about the event, call 360-487-8630.