most people about Idaho’s most recent war and prepare for
blank stares, but ask former Kootenai Tribal Chairwoman Amy Trice
about the war and she will give a knowing nod.
Trice lived it. At 34 years old she led her tribe into war against
the United States on September 20, 1975.
"I’m hoping that my children, my grandchildren will know,"
Trice said. "They will know how at one time their grandmother
It is easy to pass over the Kootenai war, since it only lasted three
days and there was no bloodshed, but Trice says that if it were
not for that war there would be no one left in her tribe.
"It was so depressing out here," she said sitting in her
living room with a majestic view of mountains. The house and the
mountains are on land that is now the Kootenai Indian Reservation.
"There were only two or three houses left. The kids were on
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," she said. "It was snowing and he
died of exposure. It was so sad; no one seemed to care."
road sign along the highway
near Bonners Ferry
So Trice and
others decided that war was the only way to make people care. Her
first act was to post two young tribal members at a dirt federal
road along Highway 95 with shotguns, and they would stop cars along
the road and ask for a fifty-cent toll to use the road that passed
through the land that had been the tribe’s aboriginal land.
It drew a large amount of attention, including local and national
media. This was an unusual circumstance. Most tribes in the United
States are forbidden to declare war on the U.S. government because
of treaties, but the Kootenai Tribe never signed a treaty.
"We were the only ones to never sign a treaty. Today we haven’t
even signed it. That is why we can still do whatever we want because
we are not a treaty people," Trice said. She sees no reason
for her tribe to sign one.
"That’s one good thing about us. We did not sign a treaty,
never will. Why should I have to sign a treaty when this is my country?"
Before declaring war the Kootenai Tribe had no reservation and also
had trouble being recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs or
by the Federal Government for aid and other help. When the media
showed up to cover the war, they also covered poor housing conditions
of tribal members and the lack of medical care they received.
"So many people died of TB, small pox and chicken pox because
of the inadequate housing," Trice said. "It was a hard
The tribe knew they had to do something, and in the end Trice said
that their only option was to go to war.
But she knew that was a large risk: "I asked myself am I doing
right, or am I just killing off what’s left of us."
But the three-day gamble was not only bloodless, it was a victory
for the tribe. It resulted in the concession of 10.5 acres that would
become the seed for what is now the Kootenai Reservation. It also
led to recognition by the federal government’s Bureau of Indian
Affairs. That recognition brought new houses from the department of
Housing and Urban Development to the reservation, as well as funds
to pave the road to the reservation, and this was only the beginning.
"After three days we got all of that, they (the Bureau of Indian
Affairs) said just to quiet it down," she said.
Trice said the results were amazing, especially considering that the
most dangerous "weapon" she had in her office was a fly
"We had a lot of help not only from people per se but also a
lot of help from our Creator, because like I said, a lot of things
happened that should not have happened," Trice said. "I
mean you look at Wounded Knee and there was a lot of bloodshed there."
They also received over $7,000 from the toll where people often gave
more than fifty cents and from people who sent money when they heard
about the cause.
Trice said that one of the most interesting donations came from a
ship in the Mediterranean.
"I even had a young man that was 17 years old that was a chef
on one of the big ships originally from Israel. He was in the Mediterranean
on one of the ships there and he wrote and sent I think it was $20,"
Trice said. "He said his tribe has been at war for thousands
of years and he hopes and prays that this doesn’t last that
long, I thought that was touching."
Trice still keeps in touch with him and thinks of him.
The tribe that Trice went to war to save from dying out is now prosperous.
It has a medical center, a tribal council that is involved in politics
on and off the reservation, a sturgeon fish hatchery, a tribal school,
and a hotel and casino. Their land has also grown considerably since
Trice’s legacy also lives on through her son Gary Aitken, who
is currently chairman of the tribe, and through her grandchildren
who may one day also lead the Kootenai Tribe. One of her granddaughters
is studying to be a doctor.
Yet Trice fears some have forgotten what it took to give the tribe
a reservation and recognition. She is currently working on a book
about Idaho’s three-day war, and hopes that some day tribal
members will be able to read about their rich and unique history.
"I hope that book comes out so they will know exactly what happened,"