The Coeur d’Alene Indian Tribe has a current enrollment of over 2,190 members. The tribe has sovereign authority on a reservation covering 345,000 acres of mountains, lakes, timber and farmland, spanning the western edge of the northern Rocky Mountains and the abundant Palouse country.
The Tribe, like all tribes in America, has a government based on executive, legislative and judicial branches. The tribal council has seven members and operates on a parliamentary system, with members elected by tribal vote and the chairman elected by vote on the council. Although he or she would serve as chief executive, the chairman has one vote on the council and does not have veto power.
The Coeur d’Alene Tribe and all federally recognized tribes in the United States are sovereign in their own lands. That Sovereignty is inherent in the U.S. Constitution, meaning that tribes were recognized as sovereign before the constitution was written. Tribes and the U.S. government have a long series of treaties or executive orders establishing reservations and tribal rights and authorities. Tribal treaty-making also existed with the British, French, Dutch, and Spanish governments before the birth of the United States as an independent nation.
As elected officials, members of this or any tribal council have a unique governing experience. Their responsibilities include maintaining a government-to-government relationship with federal and state governments. The tribal government also must deal with elected officials from city and county governments within the reservation.
Tribal council members meet with members of congress, members of the cabinet, governors and even the president of the United States, resolving issues and conducting government business. However, members of the tribal council must, first and foremost, respond to the needs and issues of tribal membership. Their duties and responsibilities range from their contributions to federal policy and laws to resolving even intra-family disputes on the reservation.
The name, “Coeur d’Alene” was given to the tribe in the late 18th or early 19th century by French traders and trappers. In French, it means “Heart of the Awl,” referring to the sharpness of the trading skills exhibited by tribal members in their dealings with visitors.
In the ancient tribal language, members call themselves, “Schitsu’umsh,” meaning “The Discovered People” or “Those Who Are Found Here.”
The Coeur d’Alene Tribe employs about 1000 people in 16 departments of government or in tribal enterprises. Employees answer to their supervisors or department heads. Department heads answer to the Director of Administration, who answers to the council.
Tribal enterprises include the The Coeur d’ Alene Casino/Hotel operation north of Worley, Idaho. Tribal gaming employs about 500 and generates about $20 million in profits annually, funding programs and creating economic development and diversity. The tribal farm covers about 6,000 acres and produces wheat, barley, peas, lentils, and canola. The tribe also operates the Benewah Automotive Center, the Benewah Market, and Ace Hardware.
The Coeur d’Alene Tribe Wellness Center, Phase III of the Benewah Medical Center, opened in July of 1998. The center, a $5 million facility that covers 43,000 square feet, completes an overall medical operation that is nationally award winning and has evolved to be a national model for both Indian health care and rural health care. The Benewah Medical Center, with phase I opening in 1990, has grown to serve 10,000 patients. It provides services to Indians and non-Indians.
The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has its own tribal school, with a new $5 million facility, which opened in 1997. The tribe’s Department of Education provides programs for adults, including a college degree program in cooperation with Idaho’s Lewis and Clark State College. The Language Department offers classes in the Schitsu’umsh language, teaching tribal members, staff and anyone interested to maintain ancient traditions and culture.
The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has been in this homeland for many thousands of years. The original homeland spans almost five million acres, stretching from Montana in the east to the Spokane River Valley in present day Washington State, from near the Canadian border in the north to near the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers in north Idaho. Tribal traditions includes a respect and reverence for natural law, and creates a powerful voice for responsible environmental stewardship.