Through the millennia, Mother Earth was the employer. Coeur d’Alene Indians earned their livings through what was provided in nature: lakes and streams churning with trout and salmon; forests complete with elk, moose and deer, mountains and meadows with huckleberries and camas roots, wetlands with waterfowl and water potatoes. These and many more natural resources remained at close reach, and all, along with human beings, part of one life on earth. If you’ve never been here nor seen it, in doing so, you will find that it is a place of which your mind has dreamed; it is a place your heart has always loved. The Coeur d’ Alene Reservation covers 345,000 acres in North Idaho, spanning the rich Palouse farm country and the western edge of the northern Rocky Mountains. “The Rez,” as the locals call it, includes the Coeur d’ Alene and St. Joe Rivers, and Lake Coeur d’ Alene itself, considered to be one of the most beautiful mountain lakes in the world.
The reservation economy is based mostly on its productive agriculture. The Coeur d’ Alene Tribe’s 6,000 acre farm produces wheat, barley, peas, lentils and canola. The reservation countryside includes about 180,000 acres of forest and 150,000 acres of farmland, most of that farmland owned by private farmers. The reservation land also produces about 30,000 acres of Kentucky Blue Grass. Logging is another important component of the economy and source of revenue for the tribe. Only selective cutting of forests is undertaken on tribal land. Clear cuts are banned.
Tourism, including tribal gaming operations, continues to grow and impact the local and regional economy.
“The shadowy St. Joe” is one of North America’s premier trout streams, flowing from the Idaho-Montana line down to the south end of Lake Coeur d’ Alene. The lower St. Joe is the highest navigable stream in the world, and a waterway for the tugboats that push giant log booms to lumber mills along the Spokane River far to the north.
The Coeur d’ Alene River, meanwhile, would be equally beautiful. However, it still suffers desperately from heavy metal pollution. One hundred years of silver, lead and zinc mining in Idaho’s Silver Valley resulted in the dumping of mine waste and tailings into the upper river and its tributaries. The 72 million tons of mine waste dumped into the basin also represent a deadly threat to Lake Coeur d’ Alene. The Coeur d’ Alene Tribe and the United States Government have each filed suit against the mining industry in an effort to restore the river and its watershed.