Photo: Nez Perce Tourism

This Indigenous Woman Brings Tourists to Her Reservation to Share the Beauty, the Sacred, and the Truth of Her Land

Idaho Travel Culture
by Kristine Hansen Jan 25, 2022

When she was living over 1,000 miles away from home, Stacia Morfin yearned to not only return to the land on which she was raised but introduce others to its beauty, too.

Morfin, 37, grew up in the heart of Nimiipuu country in the small town of Lewiston, Idaho. During the spring of 2019, she launched Nez Perce Tourism, inviting visitors to experience whitewater rafting and jet-boat river cruises, Appaloosa horseback riding, hikes and sacred ceremonies at historical sites, pow wows, dinners and cultural workshops that include tipi building. The shortest tour is three hours and the longest is a total immersion lasting seven days.

Music and dance performance by Nimiipuu people for the opening of Nez Perce Tourism

Photo: Nez Perce Tourism

Another part of Morfin’s tourism business — and a must-stop — is Traditions Gift Shop in downtown Lewiston. Sharing space with an art gallery, a shop selling foraged teas, and a Hawaiian restaurant, the young Nimiipuu employed there sell earrings, moccasins and other items handmade by Nimmipuu artisans. Indigenous dances and music, often performed by Morfin’s father, siblings, and her other relatives at the gift shop, also provide a glimpse into the Nimiipuu culture even without stepping onto the reservation.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell us about yourself

My Indian name is Takes Care of Water, and my given name is Stacia Morfin. I grew up at lepwéyma (Lapwai) and šimiinekem (Lewiston). My mother grew up at tuniiweyme (Juliaetta) and my father at lepwéyma. I am a citizen of Nimiipuu nation whose ancestors originally came from pik’úunin (Snake River area between the Snake and Salmon River) and wawáwi, which is located on the lower-Snake River area above palúus, timíimap (up the Northfork of the Clearwater River), saqánma (Canyon people of the Snake River), and lamáta (White Bird Creek and Sam River Area).

Was there a moment or experience that inspired you to launch Nez Perce Tourism?

In 2017, my daughter q’emesn’im l’aatis (camas lily or Kalila) and I hiked to the top of one of our sacred mountains that is also one of my people’s power places. As we sang one of our Nimiipuu songs, one of our elders appeared, offering a very direct set of instructions. That message was to start a cultural-tourism company to ensure traditional knowledge and places continue to be shared amongst our people, as well as to create a platform for our people to share their own narrative of the past, present, and future with outsiders.

The vision I experienced with our elder was a directive that had to be followed. I began listening to the needs of our community and conducted an internal needs analysis, as well as market research in the travel and tourism industry. Nez Perce Tourism is the only place in the world where you will hear the Nimiipuu side of history and witness stories of our ancestors. I see Nez Perce Tourism as an economic driver in Nimiipuu Country, and as a cultural and educational connection to ensure a bright future for generations. It is essential that children are included in all aspects of the business, from planning to implementation, for a deeper connection to our culture, land, and water. Nez Perce Tourism also provides one-on-one, elder-to-youth mentorship opportunities through interactive workshops.

Family from the Nez perce reservation

Photo: Jennifer Rapoza / Nez Perce Tourism

Our company creates a safe space for Nimiipuu to be just that, Nimiiipuu. Not very long ago we were killed for being Nimiipuu—all of us were forbidden to speak our language, forced to cut our hair, given new names, forced into assimilation and onto reservations. Nez Perce Tourism is a driving force in combating systemic oppression my people still face today. Through our stories and legends, our narrative and the truth are told. Our people know who they are and can share parts of our history with others from a place of healing.

In what ways did you need to prepare your community for the increase in visitors?

In the vision that came to me, my ancestor warned me: “There will be people that come against you, your own people, but do not take it personally. They are not coming against you but from distrust they have experienced from outside visitors in the past.” With this in mind, I did two years of market research. This included consulting an internal feasibility study that addressed the sacred versus the secret, along with commonly known and widely shared information in my community. This was a strategy to gauge community concern as well as set my goal: to preserve cultural identity and build a bridge for guests interested in authentic experiences.

Are there aspects of Nez Perce and Nimiipuu you are excited to show visitors?

Stacia Morfin performing a ceremony and petroglyphs by the Nez Perce people

Photo: Nez Perce Tourism

On the “Hear the Echoes of our Ancestors Jet Boat Tour” on the Clearwater and Snake Rivers, guests experience the places our ancestors called home and learn why our waters are sacred. We also take visitors to see the messages they left for us in 8,000-year-old petroglyphs along the rocks of Buffalo Eddy.

The Plateau peoples, specifically the Nimiipuu, are known for the vast connection to the land they originated from. A great thing happens when people are out on our waters, experiencing our landscape, tradition, and culture, and hearing our stories from our perspective. They are changed in their spirit. Now we, the Nimiipuu, can share our own story, with cultural integrity at the forefront.

Has anything surprised you about visitors’ responses to the tours?

Stacia Morfin talking to non-Native tourists visiting the Nez Perce reservation in Idaho

Photo: Nez perce Tourism

Many visitors don’t have any true historical context of how long my people have truly been on this land. They are in awe of the open and pristine landscape, at the intricacy of our regalia, and the connection we have with our past. We share legends of our people and offer an accurate perception of damage caused by European settlement and history such as the acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase and Manifest Destiny leading to the brutal and mass murders of my people. Some guests are surprised we are still here at all.

How has COVID-19 affected Nez Perce Tourism in the past two years?

In the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, while other tourism-related businesses closed their doors, we decided to operate at a limited capacity in the form of a gift shop with increased emphasis on shopping native, local, and online. During this difficult time, Traditions Gift Shop has brought back the trade-hub legacy of our people and created a streamline of income for local families.

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