Saturday, December 02, 2023

Month celebrates Native Americans, culture and history

by JENNIFER PORTER / Contributing Writer
| November 2, 2023 1:00 AM

November is acknowledged as Native American Heritage Month; a time to honor the diverse culture of Native Americans and to celebrate the true history. The following is a “brief” historical view of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho.

North Idaho has been a homeland for the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho since time immemorial. The Kootenai, or as we like to call ourselves, the “Ktunaxa” people at one time occupied the area of Southern British Columbia, North Idaho, and Western Montana. This area encompassed more than two million acres and the Kootenai had occupied this area for at least the last 16,000 years. 

Our people were created by “Quilxka Nupika,” the supreme being, and placed on earth to keep the Creator-Spirit’s Covenant. The Covenant says, “I have created you Kootenai people to look after this beautiful land, to honor and guard and celebrate my creation here in this place. As long as you do that, this land will meet all our needs. Everything necessary for you and your children to live and be happy forever is here, as long as you keep this Covenant with me.”

The natural beauty of the area, the abundance of wild game and the presence of minerals are many features that attracted settlers to claim the land dividing it into separate countries and further dividing into states. Today, the Ktunaxa live in six communities, four in Canada, one in Montana, and our small band here in Bonners Ferry Idaho. We live in our homeland today because our people refused to be moved to the Flathead Reservation during the treaty of 1855. No Kootenai ever signed the Hellgate Treaty; they honored the covenant. 

Our people had to endure tremendous suffering for the refusal to move. We were forbidden to practice our religion, spiritual ceremonies or speak our language. Tragically, the introduction of alcohol, combined with tuberculosis, smallpox, and other epidemics began the genocide of our people. Prior to 1974, we had no land base. We were not considered a federally recognized tribe, we had lost our hunting and fishing rights and were not eligible for federal funding. With no freedom of religion, funds for education, or skills for employment, all hope was rapidly fading. 

In desperation, after years of suffering, sorrow and degradation, on September 20, 1974, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho declared war on the United States of America. The 67 remaining members fought a peaceful war. Roadblocks were set up on Highway 2 and Highway 95, charging a 10-cent toll and selling war bonds to help our efforts. The publicity gained from these actions drew national attention and, in the end, we were finally given access to education, employment and social development funds. Twelve and a half acres at the Mission, where we have always lived, was returned to us. 

Although not all grievances were met, the Tribe was ready to move forward. We established a permanent tribal office and implemented a housing project. We oversaw better access to our tribal trust lands and the installation of decent public utilities. This was only the beginning, the tribe continued to plan and learn the ways that the federal government implemented federal programs and utilized these programs to our benefit to ensure the health, education, and welfare of our surviving people. 

On Dec.1, 1986, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho opened its doors to our first economic development venture — The Kootenai River Inn. Today we look forward to welcoming the community through the doors of our new Sturgeon Station.

Our belief in our higher power, our “Quilxka Nupika,” gave our people the strength and courage to go forward. Overcoming tremendous obstacles, including the government, forced religion, forced relocation, the boarding schools, and the legal systems, we continue to survive and grow, never forgetting our covenant. 

Jennifer Porter is the tribal chairwoman of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho. The Tribe can be reached at

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