About the Exhibit

This exhibition expresses the rich traditional cultural continuity of my people—the Yakama, Nez Perce, and Umatilla. It also demonstrates how we see, understand, and represent our families, our homes, and world around us. Each of us perceives home differently. It can be represented by the gathering of natural foods, the ability to speak and understand our native language, or the way we see our land—from the sagebrush covered hills to the high alpine forests to the river banks of the Columbia River.

For thousands of years Plateau artists incorporated geometric designs into stone carvings and rock wall paintings recording how they experienced and understood nature—especially the relationship between humans and the natural world. Today these distinct recognized patterns are symbols of place that connect us to our culture, history, environment, knowledge, and values.

Present-day Plateau artists are inspired by and continue to use these symbols to identify tribal and familial backgrounds. Floral and pictorial images have also been incorporated. Drawing on oral histories, tribal celebrations, and landscapes, Plateau artists are creating remarkable new visual memories of this place called home.

—Miles R. Miller (Yakama/Nez Perce)
—Guest Curator

Traditional Plateau Clothing

Objects in the exhibit include Traditional men's and women's clothing has changed little over time and is still made from deer and elk hides and decorated with elk teeth, bone, stone, natural paints, and shells. The heel tab, or fringe, seen on Plateau moccasins is a unique feature with deep significance: it is an acknowledgement to the Ants, who are legendary characters that saved the life a young Plateau woman from a sea-monster. 

By 1805, the Plateau people had acquired a wide variety of materials through trade routes, including glass beads, cotton thread, and needles, wool, cotton, and velvet fabrics, and silk and velvet ribbon. The women's cloth dresses worn today are variations of the older hide dresses, and men's ribbon shirts are adaptations of the hide shirts.

Horse Gear

The horse has been a part of Plateau culture since the 1700's. Horses were highly regarded objects of wealth, and people created beautifully beaded outfits for them—using trade goods to create intricate curvilinear floral and designs for saddles, blankets, saddle bags, collars, and masks.

Ancient Ones

Columbia Plateau petroglyphs and pictographs (rock art) and stone tools are an historic record of Plateau culture spanning thousands of years. While most stone tools were undecorated but elegantly made for their purpose, others such as, mortars or containers were decorated in similar patterns to the other objects shown in the exhibit.

Rock art is a visual record of an early artist's knowledge and representation of their passage through place and time. The exact interpretation of Columbia Plateau rock art is ancient history and no longer known today. Perhaps a child imagined, after listening to an elder tell stories, what Tataliya (Witch Woman), Wawayay (Cannibal Mosquito),or the man-eating water monster would look like—and left their vision of these figures on the rock walls.


Image Here
Hair/Shoulder Ornament
Yakama, 1932