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OR Nez Perce Lands Featured in National Geographic

August 5, 2010

JOSEPH, Ore. - The August issue of National Geographic magazine features northeastern Oregon as part of an article on native lands being restored by the tribes that own them. In Wallowa County, the Precious Lands consist of more than 16,000 acres given back to the Nez Perce by the U.S. government, more than 100 years after their ancestors were forced to leave it. Today, the tribe is rooting out invasive species and replanting native grasses.

Joe McCormack, president of the Wallowa County Nez Perce Band, says the land has become "precious" to more than just the Native American community.

"It's open to the public - we haven't closed anybody out. Hunters can come on and the tribal people can also come on. And they maintain our treaty rights on the Precious Land, although it's deeded land to the tribe, there's been some changes for that particular piece."

McCormack says the communities in Wallowa County have been very supportive of its efforts, and in return, the tribe does its part for the local economy. The county and Nez Perce work jointly on salmon restoration, and the tribe has a Fisheries and Resource Management office in Joseph, he adds.

"You have about 15 full-time employees and several other seasonals who work up here and bring in over $2 million annual budget to the county. We've got a pretty good footprint here."

Many consider the Precious Lands acreage its own ecosystem, from desert canyons to forested mountains. In another part of the county, the Nez Perce also have purchased more than 300 acres for a tribal Homeland Project. It includes an interpretive center and picnic grounds for the annual community feast hosted by the tribe in July. This summer, a longhouse is being constructed on the Homeland property.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR