What might have been the last Indian war was about land, too. No bullets were fired, nor arrows unleashed. The war was declared by a woman, Amy Trice, the chair of the Kootenai Tribe, on September 20, 1974.
The Kootenai had been unrepresented at the signing of the Treaty of Hellgate of 1855. Never-the-less that treaty took away any claim they had to their aboriginal lands and without compensation. They had no reservation.
That lack of representation was something of a Catch 22. Most tribes in the United States are prohibited from declaring war on the country, a clause laid out in multiple treaties. But the Kootenai had never signed a treaty. They weren’t even recognized as a tribe by the U.S.
So, after living in grinding poverty with no land base for 120 years, war it was. To underscore their claim of aboriginal lands, the Kootenai began waving cars over and collecting a voluntary fee of 10 cents to cross their lands on the highway north and south of Bonners Ferry. There was much local resentment of the action and rumors of weaponry being smuggled to the Indians. Members from several tribes began gathering near Bonners Ferry in support of the Kootenai.
The 67-member tribe suggested they would soon begin charging a 50 cent per day business tax and 10 cents per day for dwellings situated on their aboriginal lands.
The Kootenai’s call it a “War of the pen.” The publicity gained by declaring war and charging tolls got the attention of the press, the public, and politicians more than anything the Tribe had tried. In the end, President Gerald Ford signed legislation granting the Tribe 12.5 acres of land surrounding a mission. In the Hellgate Treaty, an estimated 1.6 million acres of land had been taken from the Kootenai.
The 12.5 acres doesn’t seem like much, but it gave the Kootenai a reservation and the legislation recognized the Tribe, clearing the way for eligibility for some government funding. Today, the Kootenai Tribe holds about 2,500 acres of land. They are dedicated to habitat restoration, particularly for sturgeon and burbot.
Amy Trice, the woman who declared war against the U.S., passed away in 2011 at age 75, a heroine to her people.
Image: Amy Trice, courtesy of Idaho Public Television. For more information on Trice and the Kootenai War, click here.
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