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Native Idahoans

Native Idahoans
By W. H. Jackson

Before the arrival of the European and Mexican explorers, there were approximately 8,000 Native Americans that lived in Idaho. These Native Americans were separated into two distinct groups, the Great Basin Shoshone and Bannock tribes of the Shoshone-Bannock, the Shoshone Paiute and the Plateau tribes of the Coeur d’Alene, Nez Perce, and Kootenai county areas. Currently, You can see Idaho’s Native American heritage, chiefs, and their tribes through the county names such as Nez Perce, Benewah, Shoshone, Kootenai and Bannock counties. Along with communities like Blackfoot, Nez Perce, Shoshone, Pocatello, White Bird, Kamiah, etc.

We know that Idaho has several different regional areas like the Snake River Plain, mountains, Salmon River country, Panhandle and arid Western Idaho. Each with their own geography, plants, animals, fish, climates and other various resources such as minerals, water, and rocks.

In today’s Idaho, there have been two separate culture areas. The first is the Northern Panhandle which is the appointed part of the Plateau culture which was home to the Nez Perce, Kootenai and Coeur d’ Alene tribes. The Plateau culture also included people living in the eastern part of Washington. The Great Basin Culture Area covers much of Nevada and Utah and reaches way north into Idaho to Corn Creek along the Salmon River. The part of Idaho in The Great Basin culture is home to the Shoshoni, Northern Paiute and Bannock tribes.

The initial undisputed archaeological proof of human inhabits in southern Idaho is from the Owl Cave which is located west of Idaho Falls. The Owl Cave has radiocarbon and obsidian hydration dates which date back to about 11,000 years ago. Along with the radiocarbon and obsidian hydrations you can see stone and bone tool fragments, including fluted projectile points classified as Folsom. Other proof of human inhabits is the undated conditions, generally surfaced of fluted points all thought to date between 12,000 and 11,000 years ago. The site of the Simon Site near Fairfield, Idaho are the most notable and contain numerous Clovis points and associated bifaces.

After the close of the Pleistocene, the climates continue to dry and warm causing the longtime residents to slowly retreat north and east of southern Idaho. This left them leaving the Snake River plain and left it open for those that neighbored to expand from what is now Nevada to southern Idaho.

Lifestyles of the First and Only 

After the settling of the land harvest began. There were diverse resources, provided by nature, natural materials were altered to fit the needs of the Idaho people. Every tribe homed a distinctive region and offered each tribe with different unique raw materials which the people then created the basic necessities out of those resources. The vital basic was food and then they created shelter and clothing to keep them warm.

In the Plateau Culture, the Coeur d’ Alene people were able to live there and have the necessities without much travel as they used forest trees to construct double lean-to longhouses and then they covered the homes with woven mats. The natives also built and utilized conical lodges called tipis. There were many families, at times more than 10 would live in the same house together consisting of extended families such as aunts, uncles, grandparents etc.

Deer and elk were provided by the forest as well as the trees for lodging. The natives used the deer and elk skin to make buckskin tunics to wear with long loose sleeves. The tunics on the women went all the way to the ankles where the men’s stopped at the knees. Bison provided extra hides for warmth in the winter.

In addition to the Coeur d’Alene people living within the Plateau Culture were the Nez Perce. The area provided similar resources and they constructed the lean-to longhouses as well which were covered with woven plant fiber mats. When traveling they constructed conical tipis as temporary shelters.

They would sometimes leave the area and travel to the Great Plains to hunt bison. These hunts brought the Nez Perce into contact with the Plains tribes, which lead to the trading of items and fashion trends. Unfortunately, the clothes the Nez Perce wore, were similar to the clothes the Plains wore.

Shaping the future

The way of life and history of Idaho Natives was majorly affected by newcomers to the area. The natives had lived in the lands of Idaho for thousands of years prior to the European explorers entering Idaho. When the European explorers invaded it brought epidemic diseases like cholera, influenza measles, and tuberculosis to name a few. The Natives has not yet developed immunities yet to these diseases. Due to this lack of immunity, the Natives lost a large part of their populations.

As it is today the adults of the time were in charge of the providing the food, shelter, clothing, weapons, and tools for those who could not provide for themselves. There were many differences and variations among Idaho’s natives. The independence of the Coeur d’Alene and Shoshone Bannock is both of survival, determination, and innovation. It is not limited to the Coeur d’Alene and Shoshone Bannock but other Idaho Native American tribes prior to the evasion of Europe and Mexican explorers. Each tribe took to adapting old government rules and conceptions to bring forth a new reality during the invasion of Idaho’s territorial time. This helped the tribes defend their lands.

Even with the Idaho statehood, the developments did not end. Beginning in the twentieth century all the tribes adopted constitutions and bylaws which defined tribal membership. This created the stage of cultural preservation efforts, economic development and modern assertions of authority. There were several circumstances that came from the difficult alternation of culture, historical pressures and the creative adaptations the people from Europe and Mexico colonization brought to Idaho’s society and politics. For example, in 2001 the Supreme Court decided to transfer the management of the lower third of Lake Coeur d’Alene to the Coeur d’Alene tribe from the state of Idaho. Another example would be the successes of the Shoshone Bannock tribal members who accomplished the treaty fishing rights to allow the survival of tribal authority in Idaho today.

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