This Indigenous woman brings tourists to her reservation to share the beauty, the sacred, and the truth of her land

Stacia wanted to return to the land she was raised in and introduce others to its beauty when she was living over 1000 miles away.

The small town of Lewiston, Idaho is where Morfin grew up. She launched Nez Perce Tourism in the spring of 2019: whitewater rafting and jet-boat river cruises, Appaloosa horseback riding, hikes and sacred ceremonies at historical sites, pow wows, dinners and cultural workshops. The shortest tour is three hours and the longest is seven days.

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

The photo is of tourism.

Traditions Gift Shop is located in downtown Lewiston and is a must-stop. 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. Even without stepping onto the reservation, the Indigenous dances and music performed by Morfin's father, siblings, and other relatives at the gift shop provide a glimpse into the culture.

The interview has been edited to make it clearer.

Tell us about yourself

My name is Takes Care of Water, and my name is Stacia Morfin. I grew up at imiinekem and Lapwai. My mother and father lived at tuniiweyme. The lower-Snake River area above pal is where my ancestors originally came from.

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

My daughter and I hiked to the top of a sacred mountain that is also one of my people's power places. One of our elders appeared and gave us a very direct set of instructions as we sang one of our songs. To create a platform for our people to share their own narrative of the past, present, and future with outsiders, and to ensure traditional knowledge and places continue to be shared amongst our people, was the message that was given to start a cultural-tourism company.

The directive that had to be followed was what I experienced with our elder. I conducted market research in the travel and tourism industry and conducted an internal needs analysis after listening to the needs of our community. The only place in the world where you can hear the side of history of our ancestors is in Nez Perce Tourism. I believe that Nez Perce Tourism is an economic driver and a cultural and educational connection that will ensure a bright future for generations. It is important that children are included in all aspects of the business, from planning to implementation, for a deeper connection to our culture, land, and water. One-on-one, elder-to-youth mentorship opportunities are provided by Nez Perce Tourism.

Family from the Nez perce reservation

The photo was taken by Jennifer Rapoza.

Our company makes a safe place for Nimiipuu to be. All of us were forced to cut our hair, and all of us were forbidden to speak our language. My people still face systemic oppression, and that's because of Nez Perce Tourism. The truth is told through our stories. Our people know who they are and can share their history with others.

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

My ancestors warned me that there would be people who would come against me, but I would not take it personally. I did two years of market research to understand that they are not coming against you but from distrust they have experienced from outside visitors in the past. 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

The photo is of tourism.

On the Ancestors Jet Boat Tour, guests can experience the places our ancestors called home and learn why our waters are sacred. Visitors can see the messages left for us by the people who used to live there.

The Nimiipuu people are known for their connection to the land they came from. A great thing happens when people are out on the water and experience our culture and landscape. They are different in their spirit. We can share our 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

The photo is of tourism.

Many visitors don't have a historical context for how long my people have been here. 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 the damage done by European settlement and history such as the acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase and the mass murders of my people. Some guests are surprised that we are still here.

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

While other tourism-related businesses closed their doors, we decided to open a gift shop with increased emphasis on shopping native, local, and online. Traditions Gift Shop has brought back the trade-hub legacy of our people and created a streamline of income for local families during this difficult time.