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Honoring the Coeur d’Alene Tribe

Protecting Coeur d’Alene Lake

March 10, 2017

Winter Waters – Sierra Club Upper Columbia River Group, CELP



We gather tonight to honor the Coeur d’Alene Tribe for their 25 years of prophetic environmental stewardship, their persistence in this work, and the promise that they will be invested in renewal of the land so long as the Tribe exists.

Bishop Martin Wells on honoring the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.

25 years is, of course, a short heartbeat in their existence on the Lake. They count their legacy in the thousands of years, indeed from the beginning of time, as “the people who were found here,” people who are today “who they always were and who they will always be,” words they use to describe themselves on their excellent website.

For us it is simply to imagine what it must have been like for this people to welcome traders and trappers and discover themselves re-named “Coeur d’Alenes” in the process of being overrun by settlers.

And then the hard-rock mining began, and then the logging began, and then the changes to the rivers began as they were used by industry as toilets to flush away the refuse of production.

For most of us the most dramatic damage is still visible in the Silver Valley, 70 miles east of here, in the 21 square-mile box that is the superfund site where clean-up has been underway following lawsuits and settlements against the mines and railroad in the mid-1990’s.

But our days of imagining that environmental damage is contained instead of systemic, those days are over as anyone driving Interstate 90 by the Cataldo Mission can witness. It is hard to imagine, let alone see pictures of dredge pipes pouring millions of gallons of tailing discharge onto a beautiful river wetland and bird refuge.

And of course the waterborne heavy metals didn’t stay in place there either. When the north fork of the Coeur d’Alene river ran fast in spring runoff, or flooded in this so-called “rain-on-snow” weather-belt, or rampaged from clear-cut forests to the north, it merged just west of the mining valley with the residue carried by the South Fork of the River, and together overwhelmed the wetland and flowed south and west through the chain-lake area of the lower 20 miles of the river and in to one of the most beautiful and pristine lakes in the world, Lake Coeur d’Alene, the heartland of the people.

And now 75 million tons of toxic mining waste coats the bottom of the lake and more is funneled down the river of smaller lakes known to the Tribe as “the killing fields” for the dead birds, dead wildlife drown or smothered in lead waste.

What so many of us know as a beautiful recreation land and lake is in fact an organic life in travail, groaning as floods and fertilizers mobilize the bottom waste and, no surprise here, send it down the Spokane River, send it down Lake Roosevelt, send it down the Columbia where it joins the toxic wasteland of the Hanford Reservation, sending its water down the Columbia Gorge and finally to join the great, growing stewpot of the Pacific Ocean where there is no deeper bottom to this bottom-of-the-barrel reality of human defilement!

Everyone here tonight is looking for the partners-for-life that care about this poisoning of life. Tonight we are blessed to come alongside the ancient people who have lived in harmony with the life of the lake and rivers in a land we too are blessed to call home.

And irony of ironies we gather in a great mansion built from the profits of Creator’s land abused, to honor a people who were here long before our ancestors, and to beg to join them in the great work of reclamation that they have begun.

Their gift to us is the holistic view that confirms that Creator is not done creating, and the great Healer is not done healing the people and the land that was and is our original blessing, the creation itself.

Tonight we say thank you for the fundamental stability and rootedness of this people who have begun a great work and will be present to see it through to restoration.

Thank you, on behalf of Winter Waters, and these advocates and friends who tonight pledge, with great admiration, to support you in your healing work.

Coeur d’Alene Tribal Council members Charlotte Nilson and Ernie Stensgar receive the Watershed Hero Award for the Tribe from Rev. W. Thomas Soeldner, Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group.


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