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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Benewah coalition promotes tolerance

Group works for better relations among tribal, nontribal residents

A fledgling human rights organization in Benewah County has formed with a goal of promoting better relations between members of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and nontribal residents.

“If you live on the west side (of Benewah County), you see the benefits of the (tribal) medical facilities, the free transportation and the employment that they provide both tribal and nontribal members,” said Christina Crawford, president of the Benewah Human Rights Coalition, and a former county commissioner. “If you see the good parts and the positive aspects, you perhaps have a different attitude than if you don’t ever see them. Our hope is to be able to bridge the gap of inadequate information.”

The tribe is not involved with the coalition, said tribal spokesman Marc Stewart, but applauds its formation and its effort to promote human rights.

Crawford was appointed in 2009 to fill a one-year vacancy on the board of commissioners but was defeated in the next election cycle. During her time on the board, Crawford said, she noticed misunderstandings about tribal policy that she attributed in large part to inaccurate information.

Three years ago, Tony Stewart, a Kootenai County human rights expert, said racism against the Coeur d’Alene Tribe had become his top human rights concern in North Idaho. He attributed it to a variety of factors, including reactions to the 2001 U.S. Supreme Court decision that the lower third of Lake Coeur d’Alene belongs to the tribe.

Stewart said although racism is a nationwide issue, every community addressing human rights “must determine how it wants to approach its work based on its uniqueness.”

Crawford said in Benewah County, the new coalition is incorporating as a nonprofit organization and plans to attend community events armed with “Did you know?” fact sheets on topics about which there may be misunderstandings.

“We’re not involved in changing peoples’ minds,” Crawford said. “We’re going to be involved in giving people information so they can make up their own minds. It’s really, really important for people to have accurate information. And they can do with it what they choose.”

Crawford said the group hopes to create a “climate of tolerance and acceptance because that’s the basis of human rights.”

By the middle of summer, the group intends to have a website and will have general meetings open to the public in June and December. The two-month-old organization is run by volunteers but has established bylaws allowing for paid staff in the future.