Nez Perce Elder Horace Axtell Carries Cultural Torch for His Tribe
Receives honorary degree at University of Idaho spring commencement
Known as “Uncle” to virtually everyone on the Nez Perce Reservation, Nez Perce elder Horace Axtell served in the U.S. Army’s 529th Engineers during World War II. While serving overseas, Horace kept up his language skills by pretending to have conversations with his grandmother in her native Nez Perce language. After the war, Axtell worked at the Potlatch Mill and married his wife, Andrea. A group of Nez Perce elders heard him speaking his language and invited him to learn the old Nez Perce religion.
Axtell spent time with other Plateau tribes while he learned how to conduct the various ceremonies, funerals and blessings in the Seven Drum Religion. He also learned how to conduct pipe ceremonies. He already knew the old songs, learned from church and from his grandmother.
He has taught Nez Perce language at Lewis-Clark State College and has an honorary doctorate from LCSC. Since 1978, he has conducted several hundred memorials at various sites linked to the Nez Perce War. His story has been told in a book co-written with Margo Aragon, “A Little Bit of Wisdom,” and in a documentary film, “Nee-mee-poo: The Power of Our Dance.”
Axtell has given much of his time as a cultural interpreter and tribal historian to scholars, documentary filmmakers, and others interested in Nez Perce traditions.