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Trials weigh on mother

Wed., Oct. 17, 2007

Two family calamities 250 miles apart have burdened Diana Cote’s life.

Shonto Pete, her 28-year-old fourth child, is standing trial in Spokane County Superior Court for allegedly stealing a police officer’s truck – the same officer who shot Pete in the head in a volley of bullets last winter and faces trial himself for first-degree assault and reckless endangerment.

When Pete was shot Feb. 26, Cote’s 18-year-old daughter Tasheena Craft, a Havermale High School student, was the first to notify Cote at her home in Pablo, Mont. Craft also rushed to Sacred Heart Medical Center to be with her half-brother as doctors dug a bullet out of his skull, Cote recalled.

Three months later, Craft was found murdered near Arlee, Mont. She had returned to Montana for a brief visit with her boyfriend, who was home on leave from Iraq. An autopsy determined the cause of death was strangulation.

Cote, 56, a poet and a former photojournalist with the Char-Koosta News in Pablo, is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe and lives on the Flathead Reservation. She has been attending every minute of her son’s trial since it began last week – along with Pete’s wife, Vanessa, their 6-year old son, Pete’s mother-in-law and a half-dozen other relatives from Spokane and Montana.

But Cote must leave Spokane today for a hearing in Polson, where her daughter’s accused killer, Kelly Burmingham, faces trial on murder and attempted escape charges.

Cote said the killer entered her home by breaking a window about 3 a.m. He drove off with the girl in a pickup.

“I don’t know why people are trying to kill my kids,” said the divorced mother of seven.

After Craft’s death, Cote said female family members cut their long black hair out of respect for the dead, a common Native American tradition. Some of Pete’s sisters and female cousins – their hair still short – are sitting through his trial this week in Spokane County Superior Court.

Cote has listened intently to the testimony at Pete’s trial. During breaks, she pores over her dead daughter’s journal, edits a Salish dictionary and writes poetry about her difficult year. Pete had helped Craft move to Spokane to attend school because she was struggling in school in Montana.

On Monday, Cote wept silently as detectives described how Pete was chased and shot by suspended Spokane police Officer James “Jay” Olsen. Olsen has accused Pete of taking his truck and triggering the confrontation; Pete has denied it, saying Olsen chased him after Pete asked him for a ride.

“We are afraid of Olsen. It seems they are defending him, and it scares us. He’s out free, and he tried to murder my son. I stayed up all night trying to guard us; women’s fears are always worse,” Cote said when Pete’s trial began last week.

Pete, part Bitterroot Salish and also registered with his father’s Navajo tribe, was born in Montana and liked to dance nearly from birth, Cote said.

“He was one day old at his first powwow,” she said, adding that Pete still sings and drums.

He attended school in Pablo and after high school graduation went to work as a floor boss at the Northern Quest Casino in Spokane.

Cote, who graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in English and creative writing, said she’s always stressed education for her children. Her oldest son, Tachini Pete, is the executive director of the Nkwusm Salish Language Revitalization Institute in Arlee. Another son is on reserve duty with the Marines, and a third is working on a master’s degree in geology. Her youngest daughter, 15-year-old Shayla Cote, attends the Medicine Wheel Academy, an immersion school for Native Americans, at Havermale.

Cote acknowledged that Pete has had problems with alcohol, leading to a DUI conviction and stress within the family, but he is trying to change as he studies for a business degree.

“We’re getting on him about it,” she said.

Cote said she divorced Pete’s father when her son was four and raised him largely as a single mother. He’s produced four CDs of Native American drum and dance songs, some of which he recently posted on YouTube. His nickname on the popular Web site: “Bulletproof.”

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