The lakes country of northern Idaho has long been the homeland of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, or Schitsu’umsh as they call themselves, meaning ‘Those who were found here’ or ‘The discovered people.’ French trappers gave them the name Coeur d’Alene which translates in French to Heart of the Awl for their sharpness in trading.
That homeland was reduced from roughly five million acres to 345,000 acres by treaty action plus intrusion by others following the Allotment Act. Despite that, they remain on a portion of their historic homeland.
Circling Raven prophesied in 1740 that men in black robes would come to the tribe but it wasn’t till 1842 that Father DeSmet visited the tribe and in 1848 the Mission of the Sacred Heart was established at Cataldo, built largely by tribal members, and is the oldest building still standing in Idaho. That long history with the Catholic Church remains to this day.
Indian Country Today Media Network asked several prominent Coeur d’Alene tribal members to respond to what readers should know about the later history of the tribe. Chairman Chief Allan and Ernie Stensgar, former Chairman and current Vice Chairman are two of those.
They had to fight that fight
In 1858 the tribe had a clash with U.S. Army troops. Stensgar explains, “Joseph Seltice kept a manuscript in his own handwriting. He talks about a time when contact was made with the non-Indians. They’d heard many stories and were afraid of what was coming. Should they escort him through the territory or stop him at the border and say no, this is our property and you can’t come? The war started and they had to fight that fight and here we are with no horses and getting moved. What an upheaval. I think the missionaries coming down and bringing that religion maybe stopped our tribe from being completely removed from our homeland – at least we were able to stay on the southern part.”
The tribe was rich because of farming
“In later years some of the guys were really rich with herds of horses of 200-300 head and their hay fields, Stensgar said. Everybody was working and because of our culture and the way we shared things it was a rich and fulfilled time for the whole tribe. Then to have it snapped up and taken away was horrific. Probably the most devastating of all, in addition to being moved to the reservation, was when they came out with the Allotment Act. It just ripped us apart. We’re suffering today because of that act.
The Benewah Medical Center
The Benewah Medical Center is one of the most modern rural health centers in the area. “This symbolizes many years of hard work and sacrifice by our tribe for the future health and well being of everyone. We are one of the most important entities to provide medical services to the region with over 170 staff members serving around 6,000 patients and about 35,000 total visits annually,” Allan commented.
The Lake Case
“The lake was always part of our homeland. It was the center part of our existence, our sustenance, spirituality, living their life around there. Then being moved and enjoying just the southern end of the lake was a thorn in our sides. To get the lake back was a continual battle. To finally be successful and win that fight was a good story. That ended in 2001,” Allen said.
The casino has been doing extremely well
Stensgar said, “You can’t talk about Indian country today without mentioning gaming. We wouldn’t be able to do a lot of what we’re doing today without gaming. I can’t think of a program that we don’t enhance with gaming dollars. I attribute that success to the people working there, the way they provide and treat our clients. Without gaming a lot of the stuff we have wouldn’t be happening without gaming.
Proud of donations
“We have a philosophy of being a good neighbor. When we do well, everyone does well and we believe this is true in business and in life,” Allan said.
In 1992 the tribe signed a gaming compact and voluntarily agreed to return at least 5 percent of its gaming revenues to education. The educational donation in 2015 will bring that total to approximately $22.5 million. “When it comes to making a difference in someone’s life, we believe there is no bigger impact than an education,” Allan said. Other donations go beyond schools to many worthwhile causes both on and off the reservation.
Impact on region
The tribe is the second largest employer in the region with 1,749 employees and impacts Idaho’s economy about $330 million annually. Chairman Allan added, “What seems like a lifetime ago, our unemployment rate was sky-high and jobs were hard to come by. We’ve worked hard to create jobs and decrease unemployment on the reservation and we’ve made significant strides in a relatively short time. Today we’re proud to be one of the largest employers in the region.”
Partnering with county to offer bus service – Citylink
Laura Stensgar, Executive Marketing Director explained, “The name signifies the purpose and beauty of the operation. It links the casino, the communities and the cities together. It’s not just a casino bus. It provides transportation for students and for people wanting to come to the casino to eat or golf or game.” This bus service, started in 2005, is free and now transports roughly 35,000 passengers a month, the majority in surrounding urban areas.
One of the top golf courses in the country – Circling Raven
Laura Stensgar explained, “The list of awards goes on and on, probably 60 or 70 accolades since it opened in 2004. The ongoing thing is that it’s listed among the top 100 courses in the U.S. The tribe wanted not only a world-class championship course but something that blended with the natural surroundings and the beauty that exists so bountifully in northern Idaho, that embrace of Mother Earth which the tribe wanted along with golf. It’s also part of the Audubon National Sanctuary system.
Military service and recognition by tribe
Tribal Chairman Allan was quoted about military veterans and the beautiful memorial on the reservation. “Our people have always held in highest esteem our Warrior’s Society, those men and women who have protected our homelands and ensured our freedoms. Our Veterans Memorial was built to remember the names of our warriors who have served our country.”