More than 100 people from Wallowa County and beyond celebrated the completion and installation of a new statue at the Josephy Center for Arts and Culture on Saturday June 22. ‘etweyé·wise, which means “I return from a difficult journey” now has taken its rightful place in the front courtyard of the Josephy Center.
It was more than an unveiling. It marked one more step in the Chief Joseph Band, the walama’s, homecoming journey. Nez Perce elders who are descendants of the walama band journeyed from the Lapwai, Idaho, Colville, Washington, and Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservations to participate in ceremonies to honor and consecrate the work. Nez Perce Nation Drum and a Drum from Umatilla participated in the ceremony, including presenting a long-lost walama band song known as the Chief Joseph War Song.
Barbara Rounsavell, the 1952 Chief Joseph Days Rodeo queen, presented an unexpected gift to Ferris Paisano III, member of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee — a stone mortar tool, found along the Snake River, that had been in her family for many years. It was a moving moment for all.
Bobbie Connor, former chair of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla whose heritage includes walama Nez Perce, delivered a moving tribute to the artwork, and its meaning. “This is a wonderful work of art,” she said. “It was done in the right way. Our art was always carefully and lovingly crafted, like this is. To make art, often we had to take a life, whether that was a deer for its skin, or mussels for their shells, or a basket woven of reeds which required us to remove the plants and their roots in the earth. And so art had to honor that life. Doing it the right way is the way we have made all things.” Connor went on to thank sculptor Doug Hyde for choosing a woman as his subject. “We are really appreciative that he chose a woman. In our culture, we all share responsibility equally.” Finally, Connor noted that the land itself was grateful for this presence of the walama, today and in the future. “It is not a place we visit,” she said. “It calls us. It acknowledges our presence. The land is happy that we are here.”
The artwork, by renowned Native American artist Doug Hyde, is the only work by a Native American artist in Joseph’s pantheon of bronze statues—several of which depict the Nez Perce, including Chief Joseph. The new work’s name means “I return from a difficult journey.” The sculpture is a life-sized bronze of a Nez Perce woman who is walking back to the Wallowa homeland where she belongs—depicted by a slab of colorful granite with an outline of the woman and the profile of the Wallowa Mountains on the top.