Tamkaliks dances into Wallowa this weekend.
Dancing, ceremonies, and a friendship feast are all part of this year’s Tamkaliks reunion of the Wallowa Band Nez Perce at the 320-acre Tamkaliks grounds just north of Wallowa. The festivities begin at 7 p.m. on Friday, July 19th, conclude on Sunday afternoon July 21, and everyone is welcome.
Tamkaliks celebrates the reunion, remembrance, and resilience of the people of Chief Joseph’s band of Nez Perce, most of whom were exiled to the Colville Reservation in northern Washington following the Nez Perce conflict of 1877. It also is a powwow where Indian dancers from across the nation compete for honors and prizes in many traditional dances, including the Grass Dance, Men’s Traditional, Women’s Jingle Dress and other dances. Drums from across the nation participate and compete as well.
Tamkaliks gets underway on Friday evening around 7 p.m. with an entry ceremony, and a non-competitive social dance, accompanied by singing and drumming. Those Indians participating in this dance will generally wear tribal dancing regalia.
On Saturday morning, the Nez Perce will hold a Memorial Horse Procession in remembrance of those lost in the conflict of 1877, and also in honor of the reunion and continuance of the Nez Perce people. The tradition of the memorial procession originated in 1885 when the Wallowa Band was returned to the “northwest” as promised, but exiled to the Colville Reservation at Nespelem Washington, 300 miles from Wallowa County.
“A rider comes calling out the names of Indians,” Nez Perce elder Albert Redstar said, explaining the origin of the Memorial Horse Procession and it’s use at Tamkaliks. “You could hear the weeping. He rode three times all the way around the encampment to trigger that sorrow. He called out the names of everyone that was killed and was left out there on the trail. It was those names he was saying. On the third time around, he picked up the pace, and began to move, began to gallop. And you could hear him saying ‘Now we are rejoicing. Look around you… We are together yet. Now stand up and shake each other’s hand. We’re here today.’
“That was our memorial. That is what we teach our children today,” Redstar said. “Take care of the pain that’s inside and bring it out. But also teach them how to take care of that pain in the days ahead.”
At 1 p.m. on Saturday the dance competitions begin with the Grand Entry. This entry parade is led by veterans who will carry the U.S. flag, as well as the Nez Perce’s eagle staff. Dancers and elders follow. The ceremony includes prayers, songs and drumming. Competitive dancing follows.
Dances include categories for senior men and senior women, and dances for children. Dances to watch include the Men’s Traditional, Men’s Fancy Dance, Men’s Grass Dance, Women’s Shawl Dance and Women’s Jingle Dress Dance. The Grass Dance has its origins with Great Plains peoples, and also would have served the Nez Perce well. It may have originated as a ceremony or exercise to trample down high grasses for a campsite. Plains tribes also say that it originated as a way for a handicapped boy to learn to dance by imitating the swaying grasses on the prairie.
The men’s fancy dance became popular in the 1920s. Loosely based upon a number of war dances, the fancy dance was first performed at “Wild West” shows. Men wear brightly-colored regalia, usually including feathers, bustles and a variety of head-pieces. It is an athletic and energetic dance, and the Drum may try to fool the dancers with unexpected final beats.
The women’s fancy shawl dance is one of the most graceful – and newest — of all the dances, originating in the 1920’s and performed at most Indian gatherings beginning in the 1950’s. Dancers employ spinning moves, may run, jump, and use their shawls as props. It is as close to ballet as any dance you will find at Powwows.
Saturday evening there are two newly-added special dances: Slick Style and Short Fringe. The short fringe is a women’s dance performed long ago in the Northwest. Dancers wear traditional buckskins with very short fringes.
On Sunday, the Washat Service at the Long House begins at 9 a.m. This spiritual tradition is also known as the Seven Drums service. It includes prayers and drumming. Photography and audio recording during the ceremony are prohibited.
All are welcome to observe and participate.
The Friendship Feast is a highlight of Tamkaliks. In 2018 more than 600 people shared salmon, buffalo, and a wide variety of potluck dishes. The line was long and stretched almost half-way around the dance arbor. Elders and honored guests are served first at tables set up in the dance arbor.
Tamkaliks concludes Sunday afternoon with dances that are fun and non-competitive, with traditional categories for men, women, and children. The event wraps up about 5 PM with awards for the dancers who won their categories and a closing ceremony.
Tamkaliks is on Whiskey Creek Road just south of Wallowa on 320 acres along the Wallowa River. Along with traditional cultural events, vendors from around the Northwest sell a variety of food including Indian fry bread, along with handmade goods like moccasins, jewelry, leather, and beaded purses. You’ll find some Nez Perce vendors among the plethora of more commercial booths.
Historic bridges, bedecked with informative interpretive signs, link the powwow grounds to the town of Wallowa, and provide easy access to the Wallowa Band Nez Perce Interpretive Center. The steep hill on the north side of the grassy meadow and dance arbor is known as Tick Hill. A trail from the valley floor winds up to the top. Interpretive signs along the way explain plants, animals, and Nez Perce life. The view from the top provides a nice overview of the Wallowa Mountains and the fertile lower Wallowa Valley, home to the Wallowa Band Nez Perce for thousands and thousands of years.
Primitive camping is available. There are no specific designated campsites, no electrical or sanitary hookups, and water is available only at spigots near the Dance Arbor. A corral and horse stalls are on site for those bringing horses. A limited number of showers and vault toilets are available for campers.
To reserve a campsite, time for a naming or memorial ceremony or to get more information on the Wallowa Homeland Project and the Tamkaliks Celebration call 541-886-3101 or visit www.wallowanezperce.org.