Jeanne Givens, tribal member North Idaho College on Wednesday awarded a rare honorary degree to artist, storyteller and Coeur d’Alene tribal elder Lawrence Aripa.
The brief ceremony took place at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane. Aripa, the tribe’s vice chairman and a longtime tribal council member, has been hospitalized for two weeks with heart trouble. He is 69 years old.
“He has shared his art and made it a window to what the Coeur d’Alene culture is,” said Jeanne Givens, a member of the tribe and NIC’s board of trustees.
The degree is Aripa’s first. North Idaho College officials could remember only one other recent honorary degree - one awarded to former Gov. Cecil Andrus eight years ago. Tribal chairman Ernie Stensgar, 49, said he grew up listening to Aripa’s stories about Coyote and other Indian mythic creatures. Over the years, Aripa has told Coeur d’Alene stories and history to hundreds of students, on and off the reservation.
“We’ve all enjoyed the stories you’ve shared with us from the time we were babies right up to now,” Stensgar told Aripa. “Lim lemch,” he said, which means “thank you.”
Aripa said he is proud to pass on the tales he learned from his grandfather, uncles and brothers.
“I’ll always do it,” he said. “One of the most important things that has kept us Indian has been the ability to share everything. The non-Indian can learn what we’re made of.”
Lewis-Clark State College anthropology professor Rodney Frey presented Aripa with a book that the two recently collaborated on. It’s a collection of Idaho Indian stories. Frey also brought a black graduation cap, which Aripa donned for the ceremony.
“I wouldn’t miss this,” Frey said. “It’s a public acknowledgment for the tremendous teacher this man has been for so many people.”
Despite his recent poor health, Aripa said the award warmed him.
“I’ve had my ups and downs,” he said. “But right now, I feel pretty good.”
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