Coeur D’Alenes Act To Save Land Tribal Council Prohibits Purchase Or Inheritance By Non-Tribal Members

SATURDAY, FEB. 4, 1995

Weary at losing much of its land base, the Coeur d’Alene Indian Tribe is making a defiant stand that may infringe on private property rights.

The Tribal Council Jan. 5 quietly passed the Coeur d’Alene Indian Land Preservation Act to regulate property sales and inheritances.

No reservation land owned in whole or part by Coeur d’Alenes or other Indians, by law, can be sold to or inherited by non-Coeur d’Alenes without the prior approval of the Tribal Council. The act is retroactive to Dec. 1.

Most land on the 345,000-acre reservation is owned by non-Indians and is not affected. But many members from other tribes have inherited Coeur d’Alene land through intermarriages.

The Coeur d’Alenes, who number 1,300, own only 70,000 acres of their reservation. Their culture, heritage and identity is at stake, tribal Chairman Ernie Stensgar said.

In a Jan. 13 letter notifying Coeur d’Alene members of the new law, Stensgar wrote, “Our strength as Indians comes from the land. We have held it, defended it and preserved it for hundreds and thousands of years. Our tie to our land is what sets us apart from others.

“Every time some of our land is lost, a little bit of our Indian identity is lost.”

The Tribal Council voted for the act, 3-1, with two council members abstaining.

Joie Wienclaw could be one victim of the new policy.

Wienclaw, an Oglala Sioux, inherited several parcels from her stepfather - former tribal chairman and revered leader Joseph Garry.

The building the council meets in is named after Garry, and his pictures and awards hang on its walls. But since Wienclaw’s children are not enrolled Coeur d’Alenes, she fears she can’t pass the land to them.

“It’s going to hurt us in the long run,” Wienclaw said. “My children will have nothing. .. They have given us no indication how they will compensate us for it.”

Stensgar said compensation and other issues will be considered in the coming months. He also said each proposed purchase or inheritance will be reviewed upon its own merits.

Only Coeur d’Alene members were notified, Stensgar said, because “that was our only obligation.”

“We’re not going to go out and grab land without compensation or kick anyone off their land,” Stensgar said. “Common sense is prevailing out there.”

Non-Coeur d’Alene Indians who own reservation land are angry, noting they were not informed of the Tribal Council’s action and haven’t been told the guidelines the tribe will use to review proposed land sales.

“I’m really angry that the tribe has that much control,” said Kathy Mahoney, a non-Indian who is married to Coeur d’Alene Louie Mahoney.

They own the Plummer mini-mall called Mahoney Meadows.

“We had no say-so in this whatsoever,” Louie said. “We elected these people to protect our rights. To me, they’re abusing our rights.”

Stensgar noted that many neighboring tribes, including the Yakamas in Eastern Washington, Flatheads in Montana and Nez Perce in Idaho adopted such land restrictions many years ago.

“Many tribes have special legislation that limits inheritance,” said Jim Wolf, with the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ realty office in Portland.

He said it’s typically a turning point in tribal philosophy. It often occurs when a tribe is experiencing or expecting to experience economic high times.

The Coeur d’Alenes this week won federal approval for a contract to run a national lottery. Under one estimate, the tribe could bring in $400 million in three years.

The National Indian Lottery may be the plum that convinced the tribe it would be able to make such a jump.

“The tribes with greater resources are in a much better position to become self-sufficient,” Wolf said.

The land preservation act also forces land owners to get council approval before using their property as collateral on loans.

The council will ensure owners have enough assets so they won’t default on loans. Otherwise, banks could foreclose and sell the land to non-Coeur d’Alene members, Stensgar said.

He said similar laws on other reservations have been tested and upheld in court challenges. The law is necessary for self-sufficiency and to obtain full sovereignty, he said.

Louie Mahoney has been wanting to sell the mini-mall in Plummer. “But we can’t go through a Realtor like anybody else,” Kathy Mahoney said. “This puts the stops to us doing it.”

Louie sold a 3,000-square-foot, two-story building Dec. 12 to his brother, Pete Mahoney, and Pete’s non-Indian wife, Peggy Mahoney. The couple took out a mortgage from a non-Indian bank.

“If I kick over tomorrow, who gets the store?” asked Pete Mahoney. “I guess I can’t leave it to my wife?”

In 1891, Congress created the Coeur d’Alene Reservation by signing a treaty that prohibited it from being sold out from under the Indians or opened to white settlement.

In 1906, Congress passed the Coeur d’Alene Allotment Homestead Act without the tribe’s consent. It opened most reservation land to white farmers, loggers and miners.

“The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has never consented to this unlawful act by the United States, and never will,” Stensgar wrote.


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