Idaho Rows of tables laden with food filled the Rose Creek
Longhouse and approximately 300 people gathered to wish Coeur d'Alene
tribal elder Felix Aripa a happy 86th birthday. Aripa is well-known,
referred to often as "uncle," and well-respected throughout the
Coeur d'Alene Reservation.
council members and friends took turns at the microphone recognizing
Aripa and his value to the community. The council decided to name
the new fisheries building, the Felix Aripa Building, "for his commitment
to culture, the language, the history, the natural resources of
these lands including the fish, wildlife, and timber," council member
Dave Matheson said.
spoke about growing up on a farm. His dad was one of the first to
attend the boarding school at Desmet, Idaho, and learned to read
and write English along with his native Coeur d'Alene language.
His mother understood the Coeur d'Alene language, but only spoke
her native Spokane language. It was from this background and visiting
the elders of his day with his father, that he learned the true
snchitsu'umshtsn (Coeur d'Alene) language and that makes him so
important to the language program of the tribe today.
language comes alive through Felix, that's what's important and
what is irreplaceable about Felix," said Raymond Brinkman, an anthropologist
who heads the language program. "He recalls things people said as
he was growing up. We have the direct link to the 19th century.
We hear the things that people were concerned about, what they knew
about and what they talked about. Humor was part of that. We hear
all that through him, but more than that, he comes through the door
talking Coeur d'Alene and making us laugh. It makes it a joy."
his early years Aripa said, "You learned your responsibilities and
your duties as you grew up. First, I had to go to the hen house
to get eggs or feed the chickens. As I got older I went with my
older brothers. I'd watched them milk cows, feed horses, cleaning
the wheat by hand. You learned what they were doing. You grew up
watching your parents working. They worked hard. That's one of their
traits I gained from my youth. I'm 86 years old and still working.
Like my dad said, 'the best way to kill time is to work it to death.'"
father started farming in the 1890s, before allotment. The missionaries
taught them farming and they had to change their way of living.
They cleared land, raised timothy for the stock, cleared more land
and raised wheat. "We were one of the most noted farmers in the
state of Idaho," Aripa said.
we had on the table was what we grew in our garden. Some staples
like coffee and sugar you had to get from the store. We'd clean
up the wheat and get about 15 sacks on a wagon or truck and haul
it in. That's what you used to buy other staples. Kind of like money
in the bank."
graduated from high school at Desmet and started at Gonzaga University,
but left for the Navy when World War II broke out.
strict parents and teachers prepared him for this part of his life.
I went into the Navy, discipline didn't bother me;" I already had
it." He served aboard the USS Thompson, going through the Panama
Canal to North Africa, Italy and France "Normandy invasion
and different invasions," he recalls. The crew of that ship still
gets together annually, but at the last reunion there were only
four left from the original crew. Aripa is the only WW II veteran
still alive on the Coeur d'Alene Reservation.
also spoke about the close relationship Native people had with animals,
how you never steal water potatoes from a muskrat mound and observe
bears, eagles and other animals to determine weather or locate food.
He talked about huckleberries and trips to the mountains to gather
them. "You didn't pick them to sell; you picked them for the home.
They were one of our main staples on the farm."
hopes younger generations learn the language. "The language is the
main part of our culture." He stressed the importance of learning
the Indian names of the mountains, streams and different locations.
In this respect he is working with the tribe and lettering Coeur
d'Alene names of these landmarks on large maps. He is one of three
tribal members who speak fluent snchitsu'umshtsn.