The old ones walked here. Those yet unborn will walk here, too. From a tribal perspective,
the Coeur d'Alene presence here on the reservation and within the ancient homeland has lasted from the beginning of time.
Every tribal member knows and feels the link to generations past.
The culture and traditions have developed and been passed on for thousands of years - in the same place.
In modern Indians, you see the faces of their ancestors.
Ecology and Environment
In the early summer of 1991 the Coeur d' Alene Tribal Council took a stand.
Council members fought back tears as they decided to file a lawsuit and force
restoration of the Coeur d' Alene watershed, including the Coeur d'Alene River
and its tributaries, Lake
Coeur d' Alene, the so-called lateral or chain lakes nearby and portions of
the Spokane River
The Creator owns the lake, but He put the Coeur d'Alene's here to take care of
They shed tears for the lake, the river, and the monumental task ahead. It would
mean years of struggle over ownership and over terrible environmental damage.
Thus began the Coeur d' Alene Basin Restoration Project and the largest natural
resource damage lawsuit in American History.
Over a 100 year period the mining industry in Idaho's Silver Valley dumped 72
million tons of mine waste into the Coeur d' Alene watershed. The State of
Idaho, meanwhile, looked the other way. As mining and smelting operations grew,
they produced billions of dollars in silver, lead and zinc. In the process,
natural life in the Coeur d' Alene River was wiped out. In 1929, as the river
flowed milky-white with mine waste, a Coeur d' Alene newspaper reporter
described a river trip to the Silver Valley a "Up the River of Muck and into the
Valley of Death."
Today, the Silver Valley is the nation's second largest Superfund site. The
natural resource damages, however, extend upstream and far downstream from the
21-square mile "box" that is now under Superfund.
The Superfund cleanup is expected to cost $200 million. The tribe's natural
resource damage assessment for the river, its tributaries, the lateral lakes and
Lake Coeur d' Alene totals over $1 billion. The tribe, working with the U.S.
Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, the Bureau of Land
Management and the U.S. Geological Survey, has taken the leading role in cleanup
efforts and the leading role toward responsible stewardship of the basin.
The tribe took its case to court not only with a plea for environmental
stewardship, but also with detailed and peer-reviewed science. The issue has
become the Interior Department's number one priority for cleanup. The Justice
Department followed the tribe's lead and the United States government filed suit
against the mines and Union Pacific Railroad in the spring of 1996, echoing
almost verbatim the tribe's 1991 lawsuit. Union Pacific has since settled.
As the tribe works to create a basin cleanup, it also works to resolve ownership
of Lake Coeur d' Alene. A lawsuit filed in October of 1991 against the State of
Idaho would enable the tribe to take the state into court and eventually prevent
the state from interfering with tribal jurisdiction over Lake Coeur d'Alene,
which is the heart of the tribe's homeland and reservation.
Tribal leadership is convinced by recent history and environmental neglect that
the Coeur d' Alene Tribe is the last best hope for the future health of the lake
and, therefore, the economy of the region.
In these lawsuits, the tribe is applying its Sovereignty and its commitment to
"If we control the lake, we can clean it up," said the late Henry SiJohn, a
tribal elder who served as a tribal council member and the council's
environmental liaison. "We do what we do for the future of this lake and for the
future of this region. We do it not just for the Coeur d' Alene Tribe, but for
The tribe's quest to resolve ownership was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in
2001. The U.S. Supreme Court
recognized that the Tribe has always been the owner of the lower one-third of
Coeur d’Alene Lake and other related waters.