Kootenai Tribal History

Kootenai Tribe of Idaho

By the Tribal Office Published in the History of Boundary County, ID Compiled by the Boundary County Historical Society 1987

The Kootenai Tribe of Idaho has a very small land base located approximately three miles west of Bonners Ferry, Idaho. The Kootenai Indians in Boundary County spoke a language very different from other Tribes. (It had a very musical quality).

The main source of food for the Indians was: Salmon, white fish, trout, suckers, sturgeon and squawfish. Big game hunting included the following: Big-horn sheep, Rocky Mountain goat, grizzly, brown and black bear, moose, elk, white tail, black tail, and mule deer and woodland caribou. They also valued the coyote, lynx and wolf, mainly for their furs. Birds were also plentiful and several kinds of ducks, geese and grouse made up much of their diet. These animals thrived in a well-watered area of forested slopes and open valleys with small lakes and sloughs.

Boundary County, being blessed with a milder climate than other parts of Idaho, grew many food plants. The Kootenai Indians gathered bitter-root, wild onions, black moss, thornberries, huckleberries, serviceberries, blackberries, choke-cherries and assorted nuts and seeds. Food was dried and cached near their winter settlements.

Round baskets and spears were used to catch fish from bark-covered canoes. Fish were dried either in the sun or over a fire and stored in cedar boxes. Boiling was the usual method of cooking fish.

Deer was the most sought after food-animal and was hunted in drives headed by a deer-hunting chief. Women dug roots with a willow stick put into a deer horn handle and having a fire-hardened point or a short stick made from the crotch of one elk horn prong.

During the long winters, roots, pine moss and wild onions were boiled with dried meat. Eating utensils were made from horns, bowls were made by carving wood as well as sun-dried pottery.

When the white man arrived in the area, they found the Kootenai living in mat-covered houses. For brief stays away from the encampment, for purposes of hunting or gathering roots and berries, they lived in teepees.

Indian men wore buckskin shirts with a full collar from two hides, leggings, breech cloths, and moccasins. Women wore an undecorated skin frock and soft, knee-length leggings during the colder months. Hats were made from rawhide, fur and willow withes (tough, limber twigs) and honored warriors decorated their heads with feathers. Warriors also wore a bark body-armor for defense against the war clubs, arrows, spears, and knives used by their enemies. Footwear was moccasins and leggings.

No Kootenai Indian band ruled another, but each had a band leader. Among the band leaders, there were also a war leader, a fishing leader, deer-hunting leader and duck-hunting leader. All leaders were expected to give a good example and live properly. "Troublemakers" were sometimes ignored or banished until they could behave.

Many restrictions were directed toward the expectant mother, because it was believed that everything she did might affect the unborn child. For instance, she should not handle a cord, beads, or anything binding lest the baby strangle on its cord. They also believed they should exercise often to assure an easy birth and a healthy baby. Three midwives usually took care of the mother and baby in a special birth house. Infants were kept in cradleboards most of the time until they were ready to walk; and they were nursed until about the age of two.

Children were named for important relatives, for they believed they would grow up to be like their namesakes. To change themselves, they would sometimes take a new name. Children were often under the care of grandparents or older children, and by the age of two, they were doing menial chores.

By age six, boys were hunting and fishing with fathers, grandfathers, and uncles; and by age ten, boys were making their own bows and arrows and killing fawns and other small animals. They learned life's serious lessons from their fathers and uncles. Children were expected to be quiet and well-behaved around adults. By the age of six years, girls were helping thier mother, grandmothers and aunts by digging roots and fetching water. Older women taught the girls about the facts of childbirth at a very young age.

Young couples usually were married at the age of 17. Marriages were usually arranged and ceremonies were planned by the two families. The couple usually moved in with the bride's parents. Later, they might live with the groom's parents. The groom was expected to help his in-laws and show his ability as a husband, provider and warrior. Often, he would bring them gifts from hunting or war parties. A common custom was for the groom to avoid speaking to or even being in the same room with his mother-in-law to ensure peace between them.

As years passed, a man's relatives would join the family, especially his parents and elderly and unmarried relatives. They would help with the chores, food gathering and child care. If children lost a parent through death or divorce, which was fairly common, remarriage was usually quick and relatives were always around to help the children. Also a Kootenai child called aunts and uncles, "mother" and "father" as well as his parents. Kootenai children wer always surrounded by a large group of close relatives.

After the death of a spouse, the surviving spouse often married the spouse's brother or sister, after a period of mourning. Thus wives and children were cared for in the hunter-gatherer level of living. Upon the death of a man, his belongings were removed from his home, then the lodge pole, flooring and tent pegs were destroyed. If a woman passed away, the carpeting, flooring and tent cover were removed. Upon the death of a chief, the entire band moved to a new location. Close relatives showed their mourning by their appearance. A man would bob the tail and mane of his horse and wear unsightly clothing. A woman would not comb her hair and also wore unsightly clothing.

The Kootenai Valley was the ancestral home of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho many centuries before white trappers and traders entered the area. Although they were associated with the Canadian Kootenais, the Upper Pend Orielle and the Flathead Tribes, they were not represented when these tribes ceded their land to the United States in the Treaty of July 15, 1855 in exchange for reservations to live on, and so therefore, were left landless.

The Kootenai lived in villages chosen by their chief. Upon his death, the village moved to a new location. Before 1900, homesteaders were rapidly claiming lands in the Kootenai Valley, including Indian village sites. The Indians were given land allotments to encourage farming, but no reservation was established. The Kootenai people lacked both training and money to become farmers.

When homesteading farmers tried to form a diking and drainage district to combat a serious flooding problem along the Kootenai River, the Kootenai people lacked funds to participate. Congress passed an act allowing them to join in, nevertheless, many simply sold their land. The government would re-invest the money their acquired from the sale, in benchland; but much of it was not suitable for farming. The Native Americans, however, did some seasonal work on farms owned by non-Indians in the valley, but were in great need for a permanent village to call their home.

During the reign of Chief Thomas Blind, the Kootenai people lived in teepees year round. The village site he had chosen was about three miles below Bonners Ferry on the south side of the Kootenai River. When Chief Blind passed away in 1869, his son, Abraham Blind became chief. He chose the new village site a quarter of a mile west of the first trading post in the area. Chief Abraham Blind built the first cabin and convinced Isaac Adams, Morisse Chicquiet (Chic-i'-et), Archie Chicquiet and Camille Two-Shelter to do the same. The five cabins were the first permanent homes which the Kootenai Indians built and lived in.

Following the death of Chief Abraham Blind in 1887, following tribal custom, Assistant Chief Isaac Adams moved his people about one and a half miles west of the old location. Morrissee Chicquiet was then appointed Chief of the Kootenai people. The Kootenai Indian people were visited yearly by Jesuit Missionaries from DeSmet, Idaho.

On one such visit, it was decided to erect a church building on the south end of Long-Arm Island - later to be known as "Mission Hill". This building lasted a few years and then a second church was built about 200 yards west of the old one. the structure was smaller and built of lumber donated by people of Bonners Ferry. In 1907, yet another church was constructed nearby and is still standing on land deeded on March 11, 1897, by James Dupras to A.J.Glorieus, who later deeded it to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise.

A Day School was started on a two and one half acre plot purchased by the government from the heirs of Tamia Abraham, for $125.00 It operated until 1926, when attendance became so low it was closed and parents sent their children to public schools in Bonners Ferry. The school building was removed from this land located next to the ten-acre village, Mission Hill, after the flats around it were drained.

By 1910, the Village contained about eighteen cabins and several teepees. In 1920, Dr. E.E.Fry felt conditions in the village were unhealthful and tried to get public support to improve conditions for the Indian people, but help was slow in coming. Finally in 1930, Congress appropriated $27,000 to purchase the village site for the Kootenai people and build homes, complete with water and sewer systems.

On July 2, 1931, the Agency Superintendent asked the people to move from the old cabins so they could be torn down to make way for the new homes. Some of the people did not wish to move, fearing that they would be left homeless, but work began during the summer of 1931. Allotting the new homes was managed by Chief Isadore. They were assigned to the following people: Justina Chicqui, Polly Pierre New, Theresa David, Louis Adams, Simon Francis, Mary Little Sam, Eneas Abraham, Joseph Meshall Temo, Chief David Stanislaus Bighead, Alexander Kannaka, Saul Chicqui, Osay Joseph, Lucy Pierre Stanish, David Luke Sam, Francis Adams, and Narcisse Chidqui Isadore.

Three Tribal members were appointed to see to the maintenance of the buildings, but no funds were available and this committee soon ceased to exist. As a result, the buildings gradually reached advanced stages of disrepair and all but two were torn down by the Kootenai Tribal Council as they became vacant and unsafe for further use. The Kootenai Indian people have sought ownership of the twelve and one half acres where their village and school stood for many years. The transfer was legalized by the heirs of Tamia Abraham, by a deed in 1931. On behalf of the Tribe, Simon Francis wrote many letters to officials seeking help. The Council has presented various proposals over the years to aid transfer of the title to the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho.


<< Go back to the previous page