The Homeland is still home. The place “where the old ones walked” includes almost 5,000,000 acres of what is now north Idaho, eastern Washington and western Montana. The “old ones” were extremely wealthy from an Indian perspective, with everything they needed close at hand. Unlike the tribes of the plains, the Coeur d’Alene’s and their neighbors, the Spokane’s, the Kootenai, the Kalispel, the bands of the Colville Confederated Tribes and the Kootenai-Salish, or Flatheads, were not nomadic. Coeur d’Alene Indian villages were established along the Coeur d’Alene, St. Joe, Clark Fork and Spokane Rivers. The homeland included numerous and permanent sites on the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene, Lake Pend Orielle and Hayden Lake.
These tribes traded among themselves an with dozens of tribes far away on the Pacific coast. Ancient trade routes connected the Coeur d’Alene’s with the Nez Perce, the Shoshones and the Bannocks to the south and southeast. To the east were the tribes of the Great Plains and the vast herds of buffalo. With the coming of horses, young Coeur d’Alene men journeyed east to hunt buffalo. These journeys, however, were not necessary for survival. They were viewed as adventures, and even rites of passage, for youth who would emerge into manhood and into leadership roles.
All ancient tribal trade routes and paths remain today. In fact, those very same routes are still used all across the country. Today, however, we call those tribal routes “Interstate highways.”
The first white people to encounter the Coeur d’Alene’s were French trappers and traders. It was one of these Frenchmen who found the tribe to be vastly experienced and skilled at trading, thus the name “Coeur d’Alene,”meaning “heart of the awl.” The nickname stuck. One Frenchman described the tribe as “the greatest traders in the world.”