Amy Trice was the chairwoman of the Kootenai Tribe when it declared war on the U.S. in 1974.
In the 1930s, the Kootenai Indians lived in tipis near Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Their allotment lands had been dissipated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. A local physician managed to persuade the government to build eighteen houses. These had running water, but no bathing facilities, which were provided in a community center. By the 1970s nothing had changed. The Bureau of Indian Affairs asserted that the tribe had too small an enrollment to qualify for any assistance. Amy Trice decided to do something about it. Thus began the Kootenai War of 1974.
It was so depressing out here. There were only two or three houses left. The kids were on their own. They had no future. They were lost. People lived in anything, anyplace. We had a man who died, living in a place with the water pipes frozen and holes in the roof. At the time we didn't know he had Alzheimer's disease. It was snowing and he died of exposure. It was so sad; no one seemed to care... We tried to get help from the local people here, but "A good Indian is a dead Indian" was their motto. I think they believe differently now. But that was the kind of feeling some of the people had...
I got together with other tribal members. One thing led to another. They said, "Well, no matter what we do, we will be right back where we started. We are too small." So we discussed how we could let the public know about our cause. We were so oppressed nobody even saw us. When you hear "Bonners Ferry," nobody knows where it is.
I had the opinions of my parents and other elders, none of whom are with us anymore. I told them that we needed to get the news media out here to see if we could stir something up. Not to the effect of a full-scale blood and gut war, but a war with the mind, with the pen. Everything went into place. The tribal members said, "We'll send letters out to speak our cause. We'll even send a letter out to the president." Which we did.
We had a meeting downtown, where the office was. The people came in. I told them the steps that I would like them to take. I needed their opinion and input. The majority of the people said, "Yes, this is the only way we can be heard." I told them that it was going to be dangerous and hairy and scary. I didn't guarantee anything because we would just play this by ear. Hopefully there would be no bloodshed. But there could be.
Not all my people wanted to participate. I told them, "It is your discretion. Take your families and leave." I didn't want to force them. But I had made a commitment. This is the only thing I could do to help my people. There were a few that left. I know a couple that hitchhiked out of here. I sent my girls to Tacoma so that they wouldn't be hurt. I sent my mother to Montana--my dad wouldn't budge--to get away because it was going to be dangerous.
I think I slept, if I did sleep, about three hours at a time during that whole two weeks straight. We didn't know for sure what was going to happen. There was a little old lady, very frail. She must have weighed a hundred pounds. I told her, "I will understand if you leave." She just burned my ears right off. She told me, "When I light a fire, I stay until it is burnt to the fine ash." That told me that she wasn't about to leave, bless her heart. She stayed with me.
The Kootenai War consisted of a Declaration of War on September 20, 1974, against the United States of America and the placement of a toll-collecting booth on the state highway. Youths carrying signs asked for ten cents or whatever a traveler wished to donate for the Kootenai cause.
We told the media. Everything just worked beautifully. They just kind of talked for us, and that was the best thing that could have happened. We were on nationwide... The state police were hilarious. They came in with their sawed-off shotguns. There were thirty-five state patrol cars... It was so comical at times. We heard some noises across the street one night and couldn't figure out what was going on. The sheriff's office was nailing a light to shine on our front door. I said, "That's silly." So the little old lady said she was going to undo her braids and dance around out in the front just to give them a good show. We were just silly. The boys did some drumming and singing. Word got out we were on the war path... They thought we were getting ready to attack! All we had was just a fly swatter. That was the strongest thing we had.
All we wanted was just to be seen and heard. The Affiliated Tribes had a meeting in Spokane later that week. They had one whole day designated for the Kootenai to present our case, to explain why we wanted to be recognized. They made arrangements with the then Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Morris Thomson, to come down and negotiate.
We do have houses now... The first batch of thirteen houses were beautifully built and nice. We have a home now, and twelve and a half acres on which the houses and the [Tribal] center are located. It's not a gift. Some people think, "Those Indians have everything free, they get monthly checks." We don't get monthly checks. We pay for our homes. We paid for these. We borrow and we work just like anyone else. If given the chance, we pay our debts back.
Andrus | Baker | Hayashida | Hill | Laird | Nelson | Oliver
Simplot | Slickpoo | Sorrels | Trice | Zabala