Coeur d’Alene

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Coeur d’Alene
By Julie R. Monroe

Coeur d’Alene

Just as the ancestral homeland of the Kalispel was centered on a body of water so was that of the Coeur d’Alene. At the center of their aboriginal territory, which encompassed approximately four million acres in Idaho, Washington, and Montana, was Lake Coeur d’Alene. The natural environment of the northern part of the territory resembled that of the Kootenai and Kalispel, but the southern part was flat grassland and particularly well suited to grazing stock. Like their neighbors to the north, the Coeur d’Alene hunted game and fowl; they also gathered the abundant camas root. In addition, the Coeur d’Alene hunted buffalo on the Great Plains of Montana and harvested fish from the waters of the Clearwater River to the south and the Spokane River to the west.

French-Canadian fur trappers and traders gave the tribe the name, “Coeur d’Alene,” which means “heart of the awl” in French. It is a reference to the “sharpness of the trading skills exhibited by tribal members in their dealings with visitors. In the ancient tribal language, members call themselves ‘Schitsu’umsh,’ meaning ‘The Discovered People’ or ‘Those Who Are Found Here,’” according to a 1990 tribal history.

In the 1850s, as did other Idaho tribes, the Coeur d’Alenes watched as white settlers, in ever greater numbers, encroached upon their lands. Through a series of Executive Orders beginning in 1873 and culminating in 1889, the Coeur d’Alene Reservation was established. What had once been a huge homeland had been reduced to a reservation of 345,000 acres. Additional land was lost in 1909 when the Allotment Act was implemented, and today, only 70,000 acres of the reservation are owned by the approximately 1,500 enrolled tribal members.

Yet, the Tribe is now one of the largest employers in the area, with approximately 1,000 employees among its tribal departments and enterprises. Tribal enterprises include the Coeur d’Alene Casino/Hotel north of Worley and a large tribal farm that produces wheat, barley, peas, lentils, and canola. The Tribe also maintains the Coeur d’Alene Wellness Center in Plummer and its tribal school, a $5 million facility that opened in 1997. In addition to commerce, the tribe supports the preservation of the environment through respect and reverence for natural law and by acting as environmental stewards.

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