Click for the latest Bonners Ferry weather forecast.
Print Version

Home   News   Sports   Social   Obituaries   Events   Letters

Native tribes lose an icon; services set for Amy Trice

July 24, 2011
Amy Trice, whose leadership was integral in bringing what was a small, dying tribe to national attention, and in so doing restored the dignity of its people, passed away Thursday, July 21.
Amy Trice, a long-time leader of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and chairman of the Tribe when, in 1974, it became the last Indian tribe to declare war, albeit peaceful, on the United States, died Thursday morning in Spokane following complications during surgery.

According to information posted on Facebook by her grandson, Gary Aitken Jr., her body is scheduled to arrive at the Kootenai Mission at 5 p.m. today, when her wake will begin. Rosary will be at 7 p.m. Monday, July 25, and services will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday, July 26, at St. Anne's Catholic Church, Bonners Ferry, with burial to follow at the Mission.

Amy grew up in Bonners Ferry seeing first hand the repression of the Kootenai people, living in tipis near town in the 1930s, unable to get assistance from the Bureau of Indian Affairs because the tribe was too small ... and one of few that had never signed a treaty with the United States government.

Her incredible story was told in a 2009 documentary by Sonya Rosario.

"It's a story that needed to be told," Rosario said of the film, which has been shown at the Sundance Film Festival and is now a feature on Idaho Public Television's "Idaho, A Portrait." "If it wasn't, we could have lost this incredible voice and part of the history of Idaho."

Living in substandard housing and seeing little hope for their future, Trice and the 67 members of the tribe declared "war" on the United States in 1974, but it wasn't a war reminiscent of the tales of the old west. Tribal members set up toll booths on local roads, threatening to close them if their demands were not met.

Their bold stand drew intense media attention, with then-Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus sending in a contingent of the Idaho State Police and then-U.S. Senator James McClure and Congressman Steve Symms flying to Bonners Ferry to negotiate with Tribal leaders.

While not all their demands were met, the tribe, having lost all its aboriginal lands and having been split into several separate factions by the placement of state and national borders, 1974 marked a turning point for the Kootenai Tribe. It gained a 12-acre mission along the Kootenai River, decent housing, a clinic.

While those things were important, Trice succinctly summed up what the Tribe truly gained.

"We got our dignity back," she said. "That was what the war accomplished."

In the years since, the Kootenai Tribe has faced other challenges.

In 1986, the Tribe opened the Kootenai River Inn in Bonners Ferry, improving the Tribe's economic condition. After years of bitter fights with U.S. government regulators, the Tribe fought for and won, in 1996, the right to bring gaming to the Inn, making it possible for them to focus their attention to things of importance; education, health care, the environment.

Each year since, the Tribe has been a staunch supporter of local public schools and brought educational opportunites to the Mission's children never before available. Many of those children have gone on to earn college degrees, and have returned to serve as the Tribe's next generation of leaders.

Frustrated by indecisive action by the federal government to do what was needed to protect the Kootenai River White Sturgeon, not having successfully spawned since the Libby Dam was built in the late 1970s, the Tribe, opposed almost every step of the way by government regulation, established a hatchery to keep the sturgeon alive until measures could be taken to once again provide the conditions the ancient fish needs to survive on its own.

Now a model and cornerstone of the sturgeon recovery effort, the tribe has been recognized as a vital local voice in matters of national interest. This summer, the tribe embarks on what may well prove the salvation of many fish species native to the Kootenai River, the Kootenai River Restoration Project, which will reconfigure the course of the river to accommodate the artificial flows created by the Libby Dam, brining it back to conditions more natural when only nature prevailed.

Thanks largely to her efforts, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho is now taking its rightful place alongside other governmental agencies, working as an equal partner with the county, local cities, the state and the federal government agencies that hold sway here to accomplish hard tasks that are of importance to all of us.

In the years since the war, Trice became a mentor not only to future leaders of her tribe, but to Indian tribes across the United States and Canada, travelling extensively to speak of the importance of dignity and heritage and of the many things that can be accomplished, even by small groups long overlooked as insignificant by the prevailing powers that be, when they bravely refuse to lie down "and just go away."

"People here in Oklahoma and across the nation are saddened by the recent passing of Amy Trice and would appreciate more of her bio information," wrote Sherman Chaddlesone, a Kiowa artist of Anadarko, Oklahoma. "Why hasn't News Bonners Ferry provided that?"

While we haven't received any information from the family of Amy Trice and no obituary has yet been released, the only answer can be, "we have been remiss."

A full obituary will be published when it becomes available, and we would be grateful to receive and publish the reminicences of all those who knew and were inspired by her.
Questions or comments? Click here to email!