A big chunk of Lake Coeur d'Alene, the crown jewel of the Idaho Panhandle tourism industry, is once again owned by the people that share its name.
In late July, a
federal court ruled that the 1,450-member Coeur d'Alene Indian
tribe owns the lake bed and banks of the southern third of the
lake, as well as 20 miles of the St. Joe River, all of which fall
within the boundaries of the Coeur d'Alene Indian
"The tribe's ancestral leaders were
always very protective of this lake," said tribal spokesman Bob
Bostwick. "They are now looking down with pride upon the modern
The lawsuit was brought against the
state of Idaho by the U.S. Department of Justice and the tribe in
1994. The state hasn't yet announced whether it will appeal.
Another suit, filed by the tribe in 1990, is still pending. It
calls for tribal jurisdiction over the entire lake, which is
anything but pristine.
The lake and a lengthy
section of the Coeur d'Alene River contain about 75 million tons of
sediment contaminated with heavy metals that have leached from
abandoned hardrock mines upstream (HCN, 11/25/96). It's too early
to tell how the court's decision will affect the cleanup at the
lake, but tribal officials say they'll confer with members of the
Salish and Kootenai tribes, who took control of the southern half
of Flathead Lake in western Montana after a similar federal court
decision in 1982. The two tribes now regulate lakeshore
development, oversee law enforcement, sell fishing and boating
licenses and monitor water quality on Flathead
For now, life on Lake Coeur d'Alene
shouldn't change. Homeowners and boaters attracted to its cool
waters won't see any new rules soon, tribal Chairman Ernie Stensgar
told the Spokane Spokesman-Review.
over the past 200 years," he said, "how it feels to be treated
unfairly by another government."