Shoshone, Paiute, and Bannock people gathered in Boise, Idaho, earlier this month for the sixth annual Return of the Boise Valley People gathering. Tribal members from five different reservations, including Fort Hall, Idaho; Duck Valley, Nevada/Idaho; McDermitt, Nevada; Burns, Oregon; and Warm Springs, Oregon) gather annually in Boise at the Quarry View Park and Gowen Field for the event, to reclaim traditional space and symbolically revisit their ancestral homelands.
Historically, the Boise Valley of southern Idaho was the beloved homelands of the Shoshone, Paiute, and Bannock people, along with other tribal nations who moved in and out of the area for hunting and gathering. In the late 1800s, the Shoshone, Paiute, and Bannock, were forcibly removed from the area when gold was discovered by white settlers there, leading to tragedy, trauma, and unresolved grief.
“Descendants of the Boise Valley organized the first (Return of the Boise Valley People) event in 2011 to remember and honor our ancestors as many are buried throughout the valley,” Lori Edmo-Suppah, Shoshone-Bannock, told ICTMN. “We gather to share stories, oral history, eat traditional foods and to teach the youth the significance of the area. However, our tribal ancestors have always returned to the valley to pray at Eagle Rock, and many fought to prevent the housing development above Eagle Rock in the early 1990s, but it still was built.”
Today, the city of Boise is the state capitol of Idaho, and is affectionately known as “The City of Trees.” Yet before white settlement, the Boise Valley was bustling with the movement of tribal people. The valley was rich with wild game, edible plants and roots. It was a place of life, prayer, and togetherness for many tribes of Idaho.
“Our ancestors’ foot prints are here, everywhere,” said Shoshone elder Winona Charles to a crowd of Boise Valley descendants.
For generations, thousands of indigenous peoples came together at various times throughout the year to fish and to gather in the Boise Valley, as tribes congregated in large encampments all throughout the area. It was a good life particularly for the Shoshone, Paiute, and Bannock people. This all changed, as tribes were forced out of the Boise valley, and sent in all directions to different reservations.
“The Return of the Boise Valley People is a significant event that brings healing to us and our Sogo Bia,sacred, sweet Mother Earth,” said Lee Juan Tyler, Shoshone-Bannock.
People of all ages gathered during the four-day event. Tribal elders told stories, many shared personal family genealogy and name sakes, while others made cultural presentations, participated in traditional games, a walk-run, and foot races. Others shared traditional songs, danced, and prepared traditional foods. It is a time of togetherness, connection, healing, and regeneration.
“The stories of our past and the removal of our nahnehweneh’ (relatives) were sad times,” Tyler said. “But returning here brings a healing in all aspects. The friendships, the feeding, the games, and sharing of songs – it is an awesome feeling. Meeting friends and relatives, and passing on our deniwap (teachings), the unwritten law, so we can hopefully get back our languages, is all a part of this gathering, too.”
Elders from all five tribal communities remain central to the gathering each year. Many issued challenges to the younger generations to learn their language, carry on traditional ways, and stay connected to homelands.
“We have to tell our stories,” said Charles. “Don’t keep them to yourself.”
Throughout the past six years of the Return of the Boise Valley gathering, the Idaho National Guard has been a consistent partner to the tribes. This relationship is especially symbolic to the descendants of the Boise Valley, as their Shoshone, Paiute, and Bannock ancestors were removed by military force nearly 150 years ago. This new relationship with the National Guard stands as a testament to the power of healing and reconciliation that is central to the Boise Valley gathering.
This year the Idaho National Guard dedicated an A10 fighter jet to the descendants of Boise Valley, decorating the nose with artwork titled, “Warrior Spirit.”
“To find partnerships like the National Guard is awesome,” Tyler said. “We need to get others involved, too, like the mayor and other legislators so we can all coordinate, and work towards positive solutions to keep Idaho perpetual, like the flag reads.”
Healing and reconciliation continue to be major cornerstones of the Return of the Boise Valley People gathering, and the partnerships created between Native and non-Native peoples are strengthened after each annual event.
“We all know what happened to our people here,” Toni Tom, Shoshone-Paiute, said as she addressed relatives, elders, and friends at the gathering. “But we survived. That’s something we will always remember – the strength of our people.”
Sarah Sunshine Manning (Shoshone-Paiute, Chippewa-Cree) is a mother, educator, activist, and an advocate for youth. Follow her at @SarahSunshineM.