The Walking Out People
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As Told by Otis Halfmoon of the Nez Perce Tribe
The Nez Perce people — we have two names for ourselves. We call ourselves Ni-mee-poo, which means “The People.” We also call ourselves Tsoopnitpeloo, and Tsoopnitpeloo means “The Walking-Out People” — people from the mountains come to the plains, to hunt buffalo. And that was our old-time name. A long time ago, how these people communicate, was through sign language. And our sign was, accordingly, was the right finger out, and a downward motion in front of the face, to show, from the mountains, come to the plains to hunt buffalo. And somewhere along the way a French fur trapper, and some other tribes as well, thought that meant “pierced nose.” But we never pierced our nose. Nez Perce was a French word that does mean “pierced nose,” but we never did that. We had two names, Nimeepoo and Tsoopnitpeloo. Those are old time names.
You know, with those two names in mind . . . Back in 1805, when Lewis and Clark first came round to our country... It's kind of funny in a way, because... I told this story, that when they came through they said they “discovered” my people. In actuality, the Nez Perce people... We knew where we were... We discovered Lewis and Clark. Those were the ones that were lost. And to top that off, they had a Lemhi Shoshone guide that didn't know the country anyway, so what do you expect?