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

Children from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe say they were racially harassed at McEuen Park

A group of Coeur d’Alene Tribal School students on a field trip to a downtown Coeur d’Alene park say they were racially harassed by a group of men last week who told them to “go back” to the reservation as they imitated feathers behind their heads and laughed.

The children were ages 11 and 12 and walking in McEuen Park at 11:45 a.m. Friday near the boat ramp, said Tyrel Stevenson, legislative director of the tribe. That’s when multiple middle-aged white men began making racist gestures and remarks, according to a press release from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.

“This pathetic, ugly display of disrespect and harassment occurred in the center of a busy public space in broad daylight. We are not going to sit back and watch our community deteriorate into a place where people believe it’s ok to treat people differently based on the color of their skin,” Chief James Allan, chairman of the tribe, said in a statement.

The tribe is offering $25,000 for information leading to the identification and conviction or civil judgment of the people they say harassed the children. Coeur d’Alene Police Capt. David Hagar said law enforcement is reviewing video and attempting to locate any witnesses or those involved.

Stevenson said there was already an officer near the park at the time, so instead of calling the police, it was reported within minutes to the police officer nearby.

“The officer wasn’t able to locate them immediately,” Stevenson said. He added that the tribe would like to give the police “their room” to conduct an investigation.

Allan noted the men telling the children to go back to the reservation was “ironic” because the Coeur d’Alene area was their home well before U.S. expansion into the area, the tribe’s website says. The original name of the tribe was “Schitsu’umsh” which meant, “those who were found here.” Before the U.S. expansion, French fur traders referred to the Schitsu’umsh as the “Coeur d’Alene’s.”

“Coeur d’Alene is our homeland and our people have always been here and always will be,” Allan said.

He said he has heard from many people of color who “don’t feel safe in Kootenai County.”

Tribal member Ervin Schleufer previously told The Spokesman-Review that people in Coeur d’Alene have called him racial slurs on and off since 1979.

“Racism shows up. And you’re gonna get subjected to it. When you look at me, you see a tribal member. But I’m only half – they never see that,” he said. “They take one look at the color of your skin, and that’s who you are to them.”

Allan called on elected leaders, community leaders and others to join him in standing up to bigotry and racism.

“We are all neighbors, brothers and sisters who deserve love and respect. The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has always been a good neighbor to everyone in North Idaho,” Allan said.

Coeur d’Alene Mayor Jim Hammond called the behavior “horrible” in a phone interview Wednesday.

“It’s totally heartbreaking and totally unacceptable,” Hammond said. “There ought to be some kind of consequence for people who are that disrespectful.”

Hammond said he is working to bring together tribal officials to work with the community.

Prosecutors earlier this month declined to file charges against a high school student suspected of yelling racial slurs at the University of Utah women’s basketball team. And there have been concerns the people who harassed the students will not be held accountable either, Hammond said. But he agrees with the tribe’s suggestion to bring civil action.

Stevenson said even though there is concern charges will not be filed, engaging in dialogue about racism against tribal communities is necessary.

“It’s important to shed light that these events will continue to happen,” he said.