Turtle Island Storyteller Nakia Williamson-Cloud

A Way of Seeing The World

Nakia Williamson

My name is Nakia Williamson. The focus of my work is basically to perpetuate ideas and thoughts of the Nez Perce people of my own family and the elders that I’ve been able to be around, which is sometimes counter to what the outside culture sees the function of art being.

The function of what art does in our community is to perpetuate a way of life, to perpetuate a way of seeing the world and relating to the land that we still live on. The rivers and the mountains are still important to us. As a people, as all people, we depend on those resources no matter how far we separate ourselves from the actual gathering of the foods, or gathering of the different resources that we need. My work, whether it be painting or, like I said, traditional form, all kind of goes back to that connection with the land that is so important for me as a Nez Perce.

I do a variety of styles of I guess you could say painting. I’m working on a series of nine paintings for the Nez Perce National Historical Park on various sites along the Nez Perce National Historical Trail. I’m doing four paintings, which documents different aspects of the White Bird Battle, which is just about an hour to the south of here, with the first battle of the Nez Perce War in 1877, on June seventeenth. It’s interesting. It’s more of a documentary in its focus and what we’re trying to translate and interpret to the people and the visitors there.

So in those works I have a real clear distinct style that’s trying to document a specific event.

I started out mainly in painting, but I’ve always had an interest in more traditional forms and things because they’re so true.

I started to dabble in various things and I just found that I could do them. I learned more and more from different people. I’ve been able to become pretty proficient at beadwork, different types of techniques of beadwork, as well a few techniques of quillwork and hide work as well.

You know, there was an elder that was well known for making drums and things of that nature. I had a pretty good relationship with him when I was in high school. He made drums and carved the drums out of a trunk of a cottonwood tree, which is the traditional method, and then covered them with buffalo hide. I’d help him. That’s where I learned how to make those drums. Then I would paint them sometimes.

I started to become more involved in the traditional dance. The ceremonial life started to be a stronger factor in my life. My involvement in those types of events as well as horse parades and things of that nature, become really important to my life. You have to have certain types of bits of regalia and things of that nature to be involved in those. That’s part of the teaching that you carry when you’re involved in these traditional ceremonies. Not all of our families have those kinds of specific knowledge, and so you have to go out and gather the knowledge from different sources, whereas a long time ago usually there was a female person in your family that would take up that responsibility and make those things for you.

Traditional forms of art are important because a lot of the things you can’t just buy at a store. You have to gather them yourself, put them into use and produce something out of that. That’s like the truest form of expression of my identity. I feel these types of traditional arts there’s a direct connection to the resources around us that were always important to us and continue to be important to us.

One of the projects I was involved in not too long ago was we wanted to make one of these bows that are made out of bighorn sheep. There was one man that knew how to make it. We applied for grant money to do it, and we got that done. That really re-instilled the importance of the geography and the resources, because all of the things we did, we got them from here, the horns and then the use of the hot springs to soften the horns. Those are specific uses of certain areas that you just can’t replace.

It started to re-instill in me the idea that our people developed these things and through the relationship with the land, just like the teachings and the songs talk about. The songs and the way that we believe is like the land forces you to do what it wants. The earth forces you to act in a certain way. The foods that you eat are dictated by what’s here and what’s placed here. We don’t change it to conform to our needs.


Nakia Williamson-Cloud

Nakia Williamson-Cloud lives in Lapwai, Idaho and is a member of the Nez Perce Nation. He was born and raised on his family’s original Nez Perce allotment. His grandparents had a profound impact on his life. They never spoke English. They dressed traditionally in moccasins, braids and plateau wind dress. Nakia’s parents were Lillian and Ben Cloud. His grandfather, Cloud Gatherer, was a prominent leader in the 1855 treaty. His Nez Perce family are descendants of the Dickson family from the lower Snake River area.

Nakia has completed a series of nine paintings for the Nez Perce National Historical Park, which are displayed on various sites along the Nez Perce National Historical Trail. This includes four paintings which document different aspects of the White Bird Battle, the first battle of the Nez Perce War in 1877. Two paintings were completed of the Canoe Camp in conjunction with the 1805-6 Lewis and Clark Expedition, including Oweipe Meadows where the Nez Perce first encountered Lewis and Clark in 1805. A series of three paintings were completed for the Bear Paw National Battlefield.

The multi-talented Nakia has become proficient in different beadwork, quillwork, and hide work techniques. In high school, learned the traditional method of carving drums out of a cottonwood tree trunk from a traditional elder, and how to cover them with buffalo hide, and paint them.

Nakia is a storyteller of historical events. Allan Slickpoo was his mentor while participating in a Cultural Service Program. He participated in the Pacific Rim Indigenous Art Gathering in Olympia, Washington, was one of four artists chosen to travel throughout the United States, attended the Institute of American Indian Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, joined a group to represent the Nez Perce for the Native American Indian Grave and Reparation Act, belonged to a native delegation hosting the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, and is helping a friend compile a book about Native American horsemanship, history of the horse among Indian people, and the role of the horse. Nakia is also a spokesperson for Clearwater Forest National Park Service. This park contains the bulk of the buffalo trail network, the Inipi trail, used by Lewis and Clark. He is featured in a short film, shown to people taking the trail, stressing the importance of these historical areas. Nakia has also become involved with traditional dances and ceremonies of his people.

Nakia Williamson – Cloud
PO Box 244
Lapwai, ID 83540
208-843-5783
[email protected]