What is the Nez Perce Reservation?

Heather Phillips

The Nez Perce reservation is located in northern part of the U.S. state of Idaho, and encompasses 1,195.1 square miles (3,095.3 km2) of land. It comprises a small portion of the aboriginal land of the Nez Perce tribe. The reservation’s landforms include canyons, plateaus, grassland, forests, mountains, and rivers.

Many plateaus can be found on the Nez Perce reservation.
Many plateaus can be found on the Nez Perce reservation.

The tribal population living at the Nez Perce reservation was about 3,250 people in 2010. The city of Lapwai hosts the reservation’s tribal headquarters, and just over 80% of its citizenry is Nez Perce Indian. Orofino, however, is the largest city on the reservation.

Nez Perce Indians living on the reservation engage in a variety of occupations. Some of these include working in agriculture, fishing, and forestry. Other tribe members often work in hospitality and other jobs created by the advent of tribe-owned casinos.

The natural habitat of the Nez Perce reservation is home to many forms of wildlife. Animals such as the gray wolf, the Chinook salmon, and the greater sage grouse live in the region. Some important plants native to the area are Indian ricegrass and camas plants, which traditionally provided food for the Nez Perce Tribe.

The water supply is a concern for the people of the Nez Perce reservation. Since there is quite a bit of plateau land, the recharge rates of the aquifer and available ground water have to be carefully monitored. Distribution of water for agricultural irrigation and other purposes requires thoughtful planning to ensure that enough water gets to where it is needed.

Climate conditions at the Nez Perce reservation vary greatly because the land elevation and topography is so varied. The land in some areas is arid to semi-arid. Depending on the location, rainfall ranges from about 13 in (33 cm) to up to 50 in (127 cm) per year. Summers tend to be dry and hot, while the winters are fairly cold.

In 1855, the landmass of the reservation was about 7.5 million acres (30,351 km2). This included much of the Nez Perce ancestral lands in what are now Idaho, Oregon, and Washington state. In the 1860s, gold was discovered in the region, and the Nez Perce landholdings were reduced to 757,000 acres (3,063 km2). By the 1890s, the Nez Perce Reservation was reduced to its current size, primarily due to the homesteading policies of the United States as settlers moved west. Nez Perce Indians also currently live in Canada and on the Colville reservation in Washington state.

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Discussion Comments


There is a horse breed specific to Nez Perce Indians called the appaloosa. Nez Perce Indians are excellent riders and they breed horses as well. They've actually been breeding horses since a very long time. They were riding and breeding horses extensively before the colonists arrived in America.


@stoneMason-- That's true. The Nez Perce Indians actually resisted this. A group led by Chief Joseph refused to go the reservation and fought a war with US forces. But they lost and tried to make their way into Canada but was not able to do that either. This group ended up in Colville Reservation. That group never ended up in the Nez Perce reservtion, but many other Nez Perce Indians accepted and moved there.

I have driven by the reservation but never had the opportunity to spend time there. Do visit the canyons when you get the chance.


It's kind of ridiculous how much the Nez Perce landmass has reduced from its original size. But this is true for every Indian tribe. I would like to visit the reservation sometime. I'm especially interested in the wildlife found there.

Has anyone here been to the Nez Perce reservation?

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