A Project of the Idaho GenWeb


Coeur d'Alene Indian Tribe (Skitswish)

For the Coeur d' Alene, who call themselves the Schitsu'umsh, literally meaning, "the ones that were found here", and often historically spelled Skitswish, they were placed in what would become the Panhandle region of Idaho. It was a landscape of some 4,000,000 acres of fir, ponderosa and cedar-forested mountains, freshwater rivers, lakes and marshlands, and white pine and perennial bunchgrass and fescue wheatgrass-covered rolling hills and prairie. The territory of the Coeur d'Alene 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 heart of this region was Lake Coeur d'Alene. It was a homeland inundated with "gifts" from the Animal Peoples that would provide for some 5,000 Coeur d'Alene.

The Coeur d'Alene were organized into three loosely-structured bands, each corresponding to the winter village sites. The core of one band was located at the north end of Lake Coeur d'Alene and along the Spokane River, while the other two were situated along the St. Joe and Coeur d'Alene Rivers respectively. Each band comprised several extended families, each of which could function autonomous of the others and could realign itself with a different band. Reflecting a fundamentally egalitarian social structure, there were no hereditary clans, no class structure, and slavery was not practiced. Kinship was bilaterally based, with the same terms used to address a cousin from one's mother's or father's family.

Intertribal relations with other Salish-speaking tribes, such as the Spokane, Flathead, Kalispel, and Pend Oreille, were generally friendly, though conflicts were not unknown. Coeur d'Alene families regularly traveled with members from these tribes to distant salmon fishing sites, and, after the coming of the horse, into the buffalo hunting country of Montana, renewing established trading partnerships. But with the Kootenai, and the Sahaptin-speaking Nez Perce and Palus, tensions erupting into periodic skirmishes occurred. Warfare typically resulted from avenging a transgression, and not entailing territorial conquest or enslavement of populations. In preparations for battle, Coeur d'Alene warriors sought spiritual assistance by singing their suumesh songs and dancing in imitation of the war deeds they were about to accomplish.
 

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