By Dick Sheldon
| June 19, 2020 1:00 AM
No one really believed they would actually do it. But, on Sept. 20, 1974, Chairwomen of the Kootenai Tribal Council Amy Trice and Doug Wheaton, community representative for the Tribe, formally notified the U.S. government that a state of war existed between the Tribe and the U.S.
The issue centered around the Kootenai Tribe’s frustration over the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) disregard of the Tribe’s frequent requests for assistance with much needed housing repairs, medical care, education and respect for their lands. On the other side, the BIA complained that the Tribe was impossible to deal with due to the Tribe’s long history of having difficulty in coming to a decision.
In 1855 the Tribe had refused to sign the treaty that would require them to cede tribal lands to the U.S. This proved to be the cause of much hardship because the BIA would only give assistance to Tribes residing on legally recognized reservations. A slow decline of Tribal identity began. A Tribe that once consisted of 4,000 members dwindled to 67 members when the war was declared.
Chris Ketner, a 50-year resident still living near Naples was the sheriff of Boundary County at the time and still has vivid memories of the war. He was described by the media as being level-headed and fair during the 29-day war. Ketner recalls that a prior confrontation with Indians attending protests in the town of Wounded Knee had made then President Ford take immediate action to solve this issue quickly and without violence.
Militant Indians had come into Boundary County from Oregon, South Dakota and Montana to support the declaration of war. The Tribe wanted a peaceful solution but, Trice was prepared to call on the American Indian Movement for help with the standoff.
It was locally rumored that these militants had in their possession automatic weapons, rocket launchers and bombs. The rumors were found to be false. None the less, 60 Idaho State Police arrived to support the sheriff, whose staff consisted of three deputies and one Tribe member who was the dispatcher.
Ketner recalls that U.S. 95 was not blockaded as reported. Instead, there were Tribal members soliciting for a 10-cent voluntary donation from anyone stopping to listen to the Indian drums being played.
The government agreed to some of the Tribe’s demands and the war was ended. Since then, economic and cultural decline has been in part reversed. In Bonners Ferry the Tribe owns the Kootenai River Inn, Casino and Spa, the Springs Restaurant, Casino Day Spa and Gift Shop, a sturgeon fish hatchery, a sand and gravel business, plus a timber business. Also, the Tribe continues to gain land and when a tribal member graduates from high school, they are eligible for a lifelong monthly cash stipend.
*Taken from Peter Sellers’ movie title “The Mouse That Roared.”
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Reviewed and edited by Chris Ketner and Deborah Mitchell