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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘We survived’: Idaho tribes gather in Boise to commemorate ancestral homelands

Norm Cavanaugh of the Western Shoshone Tribe gives a prayer during the welcome ceremony for the Return of the Original Boise Valley People event Thursday outside City Hall. The annual event brings together descendants of the tribal people who originally inhabited the Boise area.   (Sarah A. Miller/Idaho Statesman)
By Angela Palermo Idaho Statesman

About 50 members of five regional Native American tribes gathered in front of Boise City Hall on Thursday to commemorate their ties to the Boise Valley, an area their ancestors were forcibly removed from over a century ago.

The tribes also paid tribute to their culture and history.

Some displayed traditional clothing, others participated in a drum circle and many told stories about their homeland.

“We’re happy to be back here,” Norm Cavanaugh, a member of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes, said. “Our elders have passed on to us and told us: ‘Don’t forget your language and your culture. Stay strong and continue to pass it on to the young people and anyone that’ll listen.’ “

The event, which included speeches from Mayor Lauren McLean, tribal officials and representatives from the Idaho National Guard, marks the start of an annual celebration with people from the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, Shoshone-Paiute Tribes, Burns Paiute Tribe, Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shoshone Tribe and Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

It’s the 13th such gathering, known as the Return of the Boise Valley People. The annual event began in 2011 to honor the return of Indigenous people of the region.

The tribes were forcibly dispossessed in the late 1800s when silver and gold were discovered in the mountains north and south of Boise, attracting white settlers to the area. As tension built between the newly arrived settlers and the Native American inhabitants, the U.S. Army established Fort Boise, which was guarded by soldiers. The government established reservations for the tribes to live on, some located hundreds of miles from the Boise Valley.

Brian Thomas, a member and former chair of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribal Business Council, recalled the traumatic history as told by his grandparents and other tribal elders.

“They’d tell us in the native language,” Thomas said. “In the winter months, when the nights are long, we’d sit there with the coal oil lamps and they would tell us stories about what happened, about what actually happened. A lot of them were really sad stories. Sad, sad stories. However, we survived it.”

Lori Edmo, the editor of Sho-Ban News in Fort Hall, told the crowd that members of the five tribes have formed a nonprofit, called the Original Boise Valley People LLC.

The nonprofit plans to build a cultural center in Boise.

The tribes are the only people of color in Idaho who don’t have a cultural center, Edmo said. She said building a cultural center was one of the tribes’ goals when they decided to start coming back to the Boise Valley more than a decade ago.

“The reality is we’ve always come back here,” she said. “We want to remember all of our ancestors who were buried on this land.”

McLean presented a proclamation that recognizes the five tribes and their ancestral ties to the land, promising a “strong partnership and commitment” to the tribes.

She also thanked the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes for working with her team to create new interpretive signs along the Oregon Trail.

As part of the celebration this week, the tribes held an event from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday at Eagle Rock Park with demonstrations and cultural classes throughout the day.

Eagle Rock Park is a sacred site where tribal members return to offer prayers for ancestors who were buried there.

The Idaho National Guard also had planned to dedicate a sports complex to the tribes during a ceremony Saturday on Gowen Field in Boise.