The Tribes of Idaho: A Missed Part of Idaho’s Planning Narrative

“I have created you Kootenai people to look after this beautiful land, to honor and guard and celebrate my creation here.”  — Kootenai peoples covenant with their creator, Quilxka Nupica

The Kootenai Valley, which includes Bonners Ferry and much of Boundary County. The land the Kootenia vowed to protect. Accessed from The Spokesman Review

The Kootenai Valley, which includes Bonners Ferry and much of Boundary County. The land the Kootenia vowed to protect. Accessed from The Spokesman Review

In 1974, tribal chair woman, Amy Trice, out of a desperate cry for help, declared war on the United States Government. This has gone down in Idaho’s history books as Idaho’s Forgotten War. Looking at this historically, through a planning lens the main issue is communication between jurisdictions. It seems as though the planning narrative in Idaho has missed the connection of this underrepresented group. In this blog I explore the reasons why tribes in Idaho are ignored, underrepresented, and in this case of the Kootenai, forgotten.

The Kootenai’s covenant with their creator vowed them to protecting their land forever. This was why; in 1855 the Kootenai people of Idaho would not sign the Hellgate Treaty, which would have put them on a reservation. 120 years later the tribe was on the verge of being culturally wiped out. This was a direct result of not being recognized. The tribe did

With no money to send Amy Trice to Washington D.C. to negotiate, the Kootenai set up a toll road for all entering their  land. Picture accessed from Missoula Independent.

With no money to send Amy Trice to Washington D.C. to negotiate, the Kootenai set up a toll road for all entering their land. Picture accessed from Missoula Independent.

not receive the funds they needed for roads, education and housing. The Kootenai Tribe was essentially forgotten. The U.S. government had built 18 wood frame houses on 10 acres on traditional Kootenai land in 1932. By 1974 only 3 houses remained with no adequate plumbing or heat. They were caught in a battle to get their basic needs, but were told because they were not recognized, the government couldn’t help.

There is a story here, to which culminated in Idaho as the Forgotten War. And although Bonner’s Ferry (town within Kootenai reservation) at the time had no planning document, the story shows that tribes are often underrepresented because of inconsistent federal policies and overlooked because of cultural difference and definitions. Ted Jojola, professor of Community and Regional Planning at the University of New Mexico put it as,Before indigenous authority was usurped through colonial processes, tribal societies planned their communities.  Unlike the Western approach that relies principally upon regulating land use, the indigenous planning approach bases its practice on dealing with land tenure.” Looking through this lens it becomes apparent that Idaho’s planning narrative of land use and private property rights has overlooked tribal values, causing many issues. Rational type planning in a tribal context is not productive, since it may not reflect the overall goals and needs of tribes in Idaho.

Within Idaho, five tribes have sovereignty over their reservations, the Shoshoni-Bannock, Nez Perce, Shoshone-Paiute, Coeur de Lane, and the Kootenai. Within the United States political structure, sovereignty gives tribes the right to own land, and determine their own fate. According to western U.S.  Historians, Gregory E. Smoak and Laura Woodworth-Ney, in their blog about Idaho’s Native people,

Unlike any other racial or ethnic minority in Idaho, enrolled members of the state’s five federally recognized American Indian tribes possess a legally defined identity. That status and the sovereignty inherent in it have helped to shape the relationship between Native and non-Native Idahoans. Simply put, sovereignty is the right and the power of a people to determine their own destiny; to make their own laws and handle their own affairs.

Under the micro-scope of a city or county planning department, it may seem that the need to plan for their values could be under estimated because they are not considered a minority, and therefore do not fit into a post-modern world of planning that promotes a “just city.” It creates a unique situation that does not seem to fit any planning model.

Furthering the understanding of how easy it is to forget tribal issues when planning for tribes is the swinging pendulum of federals policies towards Native Americans. There are many different paradigm shifts that cause inconsistent in policies that negatively affect tribes. For a list of these paradigm shifts take a look at Indian Tribes in Idaho: Opportunities and Challenges In the Times of Self-Determination by Abelardo Rodriguez. These federal policies have had a direct result on the capacity of tribes and cities and counties to plan effectively at the tribal level. One blaring example of this that contributes to in-effective planning was the creation of the Dawes Act. This act divided reservations into lots, for the purpose of giving those lots to individual Native Americans. The surplus of lots were then subject to the homesteading act, and euro-Americans were able to move onto 160 acre lots on the reservations. This act was seen as a way to bring economic self sufficiency to Native Americans and also assimilate them into American culture. By the time it was abolished, the tribal lands in Idaho shrunk by more than half, and gave reservations a checker boarded land scheme. The effects of this act, even though it was abolished in 1930, are everlasting. One example of this in Idaho, is the Nez Perce reservation. Currently only 15 percent of the Nez Perce reservation is Indian owned land.

This map represents the shrinking of the Nez Perce land from 1855 to 2006. The green area represent the land that is now owned by the Nez Perce. Accessed from Blogspot
This map represents the shrinking of the Nez Perce land from 1855 to 2006. The green area represent the land that is now owned by the Nez Perce. Accessed from Blogspot

The checkerboard pattern causes jurisdictional issues, since the county has jurisdiction over issues pertaining to private owned land on the Indian reservation. Without adequate relationships and planning, the Nez Perce tribe would be considered a minority on their own reservation.

The planning narrative should begin looking at collaborative efforts, and planners as being communicators. Regional planning may affect tribes the most in Idaho, and without good relationship with tribes, they will continue to be underrepresented. Federal policies that are inconsistent create a unique situation when it comes to planning. Sovereignty and jurisdictional issues get in the way of being able to plan comprehensibly. The case of the Kootenai tribe in northern Idaho is a worst case situation that is a result of definitions, jurisdictions and federal policies. Planning may or may not have played a role in their conditions, but it does tell a story of how unique and difficult planning in conjunction with tribes can be.

 

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