Boundary News
Recognizing the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho
Oct 31, 2008, 13:18

It is not easy flipping through a Thesaurus searching for that perfect, illusive word for a sentence conveying the proper recognition to give a sovereign nation that has given so much to a community the way the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho has bestowed upon Boundary County.

But since November was proclaimed seven years ago as National American Indian Heritage Month by former President George W. Bush, we figure it's about time.

On our view, it's way overdue.

The Kootenai People have survived more than a century of adversity and have prospered tremendously, and in that endeavor, they have channeled some of that prosperity back into Boundary County in ways that have not only benefitted the school district, but in job creation in a community where employment is scarce, as well as to their holistic watershed approach to the Kootenai River ecosystem.

Yet in all of their efforts - from working to restore the Kootenai River White Sturgeon and a conservation strategy to recover the dwindling burbot population - they have never sought praise or recognition, even though their endeavors addressing water quality issues have contributed to the broader goal of ecosystem restoration.

It's not why they do this.

"They have chosen to exercise their sovereign nation status to help," says Boundary County Commissioner Dan Dinning. "They feel this is their community and their home, too, and they have chosen to care for it and see it prosper. Because of their joint powers agreement with the city and the county that was signed in 2001 what they're doing for this community is unheard of. In a word, it's monumental."

So is a resolution Dinning remembers the Tribe passed years ago that in effect says if the Tribe decides to sell gasoline in Boundary County, it would dedicate funds generated from a gasoline tax to the county's Road and Bridge Department.

From $80,000 the Tribe sent to the Boundary County School District in August through the Idaho Local Public Schools Investment Act - also known as Proposition 1 - to employment opportunities at the Best Western Kootenai River Inn built 22 years ago on tribal lands, the Tribe has made significant contributions to education, community projects and economic revitalization.

In recent years, it wrote a $50,000 check to help fund the high school track and paid for buses and lodging for anyone who wanted to travel to Boise to watch the Badgers vie for a state football title.

Additionally, the Tribe has been instrumental in working with local governing agencies to form the Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative to restore and enhance the resources of the Kootenai Valley, a community-based, collaborative effort in the Kootenai River Basin.

And because of the Tribe's reputation and relationship with the federal government, Dinning says the Tribe has signed on to many federal grants the county has applied for.

"That, too, is unheard of," says the commissioner. "Their name carries a great deal of respect and a lot of weight."

This community's relationship with the Tribe has become the envy of the rest of the state and the region. It has also been memorialized in the Library of Congress and has been the foundation for new positive relationships with many state and federal agencies and organizations. The respect and cooperation between the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, Boundary County and Bonners Ferry has set the foundation for building dreams for the future.

It is easy to forget or pass over significant contributions that add to the enrichment of a community like the ones the Tribe has made to Boundary County.

However, in our view - especially now during National American Indian Heritage Month - it's time to pay tribute to Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and the legacy it is bestowing upon this community.

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