Coeur d’Alene Indian Tribe of Idaho

Published on October 15, 2010 by John

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Coeur d'Alene people and tipis, Desmet Reservation

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Coeur d’Alene people and tipis, Desmet Reservation,
c. 1907

The Coeur d’Alene are a First Nations/Native American people who lived in villages along the Coeur d’Alene, St. Joe, Clark Fork and Spokane Rivers; as well as sites on the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene, Lake Pend Oreille and Hayden Lake, in what is now northern Idaho, eastern Washington and western Montana.

In their language, members call themselves Schitsu’umsh (or Skitswish), meaning The Discovered People or Those Who Are Found Here. Early French fur traders in the late 18th or early 19th century gave them their non-native name. The name Cœur d’Alène means Heart of an Awl, referring to the perceived shrewdness of the trading skills exhibited by the tribe.

The native language is Coeur d’Alene, an Interior Salishan language.


For thousands of years the Coeur d’Alene lived in what would become the Panhandle region of Idaho. Originally the tribe roamed an area of over 4 million acres (16,000 km²) of grass-covered hills, camas-prairie, forested mountains, lakes, marshes and river habitat in northern Idaho, eastern Washington and western Montana. The territory extended from the southern end of Lake Pend Oreille in the north running along the Bitterroot Range of Montana in the east to the Palouse and North Fork of the Clearwater Rivers in the south to Steptoe Butte and up to just east of Spokane Falls in the west. At the center of this region was Lake Coeur d’Alene. The Coeur d’Alene lived in areas of abundance that included trout, salmon, and whitefish. The tribe supplemented hunting and gathering activities by fishing the St. Joe River and the Spokane River. They used gaff hooks, spears, nets, and traps and angled for fish.

The Coeur d’Alene lands were reduced to approximately 600,000 acres (2,400 km²) in 1873 when U.S. President Ulysses Grant established the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation by Executive Order. Successive government acts cut their property to 345,000 acres (1,400 km²) near Plummer, south of the town of Coeur d’Alene.


The earliest written description of these people come from the journals of Alexander Henry (the younger), a fur trader with the North West Company, drawn from his and David Thompson’s experiences trading in the area from 1810 to 1814:

The Skeetshue [Skitsuish] or Pointed Hearts [Coeur d'Alene] Indians dwell further southward [than the Kullyspell or Pend d'Oreille tribes], about Skeetshue [Coeur d'Alene] Lake and [Spokane] River; they are a distinct nation, and have a different language [Salish] from the Flat Heads. They are very numerous, and have a vast number of horses, as their country is open and admits of breeding them in great abundance

Ross Cox, a clerk with the Pacific Fur Company and then the North West Company, spent considerable time at Spokane House between 1812 and 1817

The Pointed Hearts, or as the [French] Canadians call them, les Coeurs d’ Alênes (Hearts of Awls), are a small tribe inhabiting the shores of a lake about fifty miles to the eastward of Spokan House. Their country is tolerably well stocked with beaver, deer, wild-fowl, &c.; and its vegetable productions are similar to those of Spokan. Some of this tribe occasionally visited our fort at the latter place with furs to barter, and we made a few excursions to their lands. We found them uniformly honest in their traffic; but they did not evince the same warmth of friendship for us as the Spokans, and expressed no desire for the establishment of a trading post among them. They are in many respects more savage than their neighbors, and I have seen some of them often eat deer and other meat, raw. They are also more unfeeling husbands, and frequently beat their wives cruelly.

About twenty years before our arrival [hence in the early 1790s, the Spokans and Pointed Hearts were at war, caused by a kind of Trojan origin. A party of the former [Spokane Indians] had been on a hunting visit to the land of the latter [Coeur d’Alene Indians], and were hospitably received. One day, a young Spokan discovered the wife of a Pointed Heart alone, some distance from the village, and violated her. Although she might have born this in silence from one of her own tribe, she was not as equally forbearing with regard to a stranger, and immediately informed her husband of the outrage. He lost no time in seeking revenge, and shot the Spokan as he entered the village. The others fled to their own lands, and prepared for war. A succession of sanguinary conflicts followed, in the course of which the greatest warriors of both side were nearly destroyed. At the end of a year, however, hostilities ceased; since which period they have been at peace. The two nations now intermarry, and appear to be on the best terms of friendship.

Modern times

There are approximately 2,000 enrolled members in the tribe. Tribal businesses include the Coeur d’Alene Casino, Hotel, and Circling Raven Golf Course facilities 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 tribe operates the Benewah Automotive Center, the Benewah Market, and Ace Hardware located in Plummer, Idaho.

The tribal farm covers about 6,000 acres (24 km²) and produces wheat, barley, peas, lentils, and canola. The tribe also has invested in two businesses, a manufacturing plant BERG Integrated Systems, and a bakery HearthBread Bakery, both in which the tribe owns a majority share.

Cities in which the tribe reside include DeSmet, Harrison (a small part, population 1), Parkline, Plummer, St. Maries (part, population 734), Tensed, and Worley.

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has a health care facility which opened in 1998 named the Benewah Medical Center. The center was recognized as a national model for Indian Health Care and rural health care. The clinic provides comprehensive primary care services including dental, mental health services and community health outreach services to both the Native American population and general community.

Tribal traditions include a respect and reverence for natural law, and for responsible environmental stewardship. The tribe is active in the protection, conservation and enhancement of fish and wildlife resources; as well as conservation issues that impact tribal resources. U.S. courts recently ruled that the tribe has jurisdiction over the lower third of Lake Coeur d’Alene, as well as 20 miles (32 km) of the St. Joe River. The State of Idaho is appealing that decision.

Source: Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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