May 22, 2008

Kootenai "war" against the US

Remember the Kootenai Tribe's struggle against the feds in 1974? Now's your chance to learnLed by Trice and others, the 67-member tribe declared "war" on the United States to protest living conditions in its village near Bonners Ferry and the taking of its ancestral land. More than a million acres were signed away without the Kootenais' presence under the treaty of Hellgate, Mont., in 1855.

In 1962, the government gave the tribe 36 cents an acre, based on 1855 land values.

The Kootenais weren't given a reservation, and their Depression-era housing was so inadequate that a tribal elder, Moses Joseph, froze to death in his home. From the tribe's perspective, the war wasn't merely a protest. It was a fight for survival.

No shots were fired--Trice said the closest thing to a weapon in the tribal office was a flyswatter--but the Kootenais charged motorists tolls to cross their land, threatened to block access to it and demanded payment for lands lost.

That set the stage for a brief but tense showdown with the state and then-Gov. Cecil Andrus, who sent about 70 state policeman to Kootenai country. Then-U.S. Sen. James McClure and Congressman Steve Symms flew to Bonners Ferry to negotiate with the tribe.

The bloodless "war" generated intense media coverage, and though some of the tribe's demands never were met, it did succeed in greatly improving its situation.

It received, among other things, a reservation with a new access road, a clinic, new housing and new water and sewage systems.

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