Niimiipuu women lead the fight: Panel discussion on protecting Mother Earth


Lisa Sanphillippo, Writer

“Nez Perce Women Protecting Mother Earth” is a panel discussion held Thursday, April 25 from 12 to 1:30 p.m. in Sacajawea Hall 112. Speaker activists include, Lucinda Simpson, Paulette Smith and LCSC student Wetalu Henry. The panel is moderated by LCSC alumnus renée holt, and is sponsored by the LCSC Native American Club and LCSC Environmental Studies Speakers Series.
One of the panelists, Paulette Smith, says people attending the event can expect to hear about “our experiences and the passion that drives us. I hope that at least one person truly hears us, if not more, and decides they want to become involved.”
Smith is no stranger to taking action, working with fellow tribe members and others to step forward and stand up for the environment.
“Women are educating themselves, becoming leaders within grass-roots organizations to fight corporate takeover of land, water and cultural areas. Nez Perce women stood on Highway 95 in 2013 in protest of mega loads, protecting the rivers, the scenic corridor that we all love and benefit from. It’s very important that our rivers don’t become polluted; our salmon depend on that protection. We also organized during the Dakota pipeline fight; food, equipment, various items were collected and delivered, and our women made the trip to be there at the front lines. I see more and more of our women involved with networking,” Smith said.
According to Smith, the recent flooding on tribal land was an example of Nez Perce women connecting and coordinating with agencies such as Red Cross, the National Guard and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe during the declared State of Emergency as well as being present on social media to express tribal needs.
“Our women may not be seen all the time,” Smith said, “but they are working extremely hard behind the scenes. Our younger generation of women are making those trips to DC and Boise, Idaho, to speak for us on many issues: health care, water/land protections, etc.”
Wetalu Henry, a student at LCSC and President of the Native American Club, is among the younger generation of Nez Perce women.
When asked how Nez Perce women act as protectors to the environment, Henry responded, “Niimiipuu women have always and still gather what they need, we don’t take more than what is needed. All [our] natural techniques and methodologies have proven to do no harm to our lands. We understand protection and preservation is what helps keep us and our traditional customs alive.”
Non-native people can do their part, too. We can all act against environmental problems that Henry says includes “surface and groundwater contamination, illegal dumping, hazardous waste disposal, air pollution, mining wastes, habitat destruction, and climate change.”
She continued, “I would suggest standing in solidarity with our tribal nations as we are continually fighting against the extracting of oil, natural gas, geothermal energy or water from deep underground. Hydraulic fracking is only one element of destruction as there are other ways to protect the land and water. On a smaller scale, subtle changes within the walls of your household, such as cutting and managing waste and water can make an impact on a larger scale.”
Paulette Smith also had suggestions for non-natives, “Open your eyes; wide open.”
Let us all come with open eyes and listening hearts to the panel discussion April 25 in Sacajawea Hall 112.