Native Village Youth and Education News
October, 2009


Coeur d'Alene Tribe language speaker honored

Condensed by Native Village 

It is the language of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe which first named the mountains, lakes, and rivers of North Idaho. And it is the language of Felix Aripa, one of its last fluent speakers.  "I want to make sure our lands have our names on them," Aripa tells youth.  "It is how we can remember."

The tribal elder, World War II veteran and longtime land and wildlife preservationist was honored last month during his birthday party at the Longhouse in Worley. His birth certificate says he's 86, but he's 89 according to the Tribe.  Nearly 300 people came to thank him.

"I'm really not accustomed to birthday parties like this," Aripa said.. "But for people to come out and enjoy me brings out the memories of yesteryear."

"Uncle Felix," as he is called by many on the reservation, worked to spread the Tribe's culture and history.

After he returned to the reservation from working on the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon, Aripa volunteered to teach his language and act as tour guide where he shared the names and locations of sacred grounds around his home. He also surveyed tribal lands and roads, and he worked with the state of Idaho to make sure road construction didn't interfere with fish and wildlife habitats.

"It is something that belongs to us," Aripa said of his devotion to the land. "It is something we call home, and where we belong."

Aripa's name in both languages will now grace the fishery building in Plummer -- The Felix Aripa (shi'ttsin) building. And he was awarded the Tribe's Excellence Award, a monthly award Tribe Chairman Chief Allan said Aripa could have won every month.

"It's in our elders we find our anchor," said Dave Matheson. "If it weren't for them we'd leave our culture."

"He's our protector of this sacred life," Marlene Sproul said.

And when the crowd stood to listen to the sound of the Tribe's drummers singing, Aripa reflected again on a history he's devoted to sharing.

"When I hear the drummers, the singers and that singing, that reminds me of our elders and of our way of saying thanks to the Almighty," he said. "That drum is our thanks for everything."

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