Elder speaks softly with drum

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A tribal elder is more than just another aging person. To be called an elder is a sign of respect for someone who has had a lifetime of lessons, who is committed to preserving tradition through language, song and ritual, and who has the desire to pass it on to younger generations.

Horace Axtell, 84, is a Nez Perce elder who was born in Ferdinand, Idaho in 1924. His family had been baptized but still held the Nez Perce ways close. Axtell spent his youth absorbing traditional ways of the tribal elders, some of whom were survivors of the 1877 Big Hole (or Bear Paw) War when Chief Joseph led his people north. On their trail were cadres of soldiers, who under President Ulysses Grant’s orders attempted to clear the Nez Perce homeland.

His father eventually left the family, and his grandmother, mother and an aunt raised him. At his birth he was named Isluumc, but also given an English name, as was custom.



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