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Coeur d’Alene Tribe language speaker honored

By Tom Hasslinger
Worley, Idaho (AP) 9-09


It is the language of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, a dying tongue which only a handful of people still speak.

But it is the language which first titled the surrounding mountains, lakes, and rivers of North Idaho, a language tied to the history of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe as forever as the singing voices or beats of the drum.

And it is the language Felix Aripa would write across the maps to name the pictured landscape hanging on the walls around buildings while he lived on the reservation.

“I want to make sure our lands have our names on them,” Aripa would explain when the youth would ask him what he was doing. “It is how we can remember.”

As one of the last several fluent speakers of the language, the Tribe elder, World War II veteran and longtime land and wildlife preservationist was honored Sept. 9 during his birthday party at the Longhouse in Worley.

It was his 86th birthday, according to his birth certificate, but 89th according to the Tribe. Years aside, nearly 300 people came to thank him.

“I’m really not accustomed to birthday parties like this,” Aripa said following the ceremony. “But for people to come out and enjoy me brings out the memories of yesteryear.”

“Uncle Felix,” as he was called by many on the reservation, worked to spread the Tribe’s culture and history.


After he returned to the reservation from working for the roads department on the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon, Aripa volunteered his time to the Tribe by teaching the language and guiding tours to share the names and locations of sacred grounds around his home.

He surveyed land and roads for the Tribe and worked with the state of Idaho ensuring road construction didn’t interfere with fish and wildlife habitats.

“It is something that belongs to us,” Aripa said of his devotion to the land. “It is something we call home, and where we belong.”

His name in both languages will now grace the fishery building in Plummer – The Felix Aripa (shi’ttsin) building. And he was awarded the Tribe’s Excellence Award, a monthly award Tribe Chairman Chief Allan said Aripa could have won every month.

“It’s in our elders we find our anchor,” said Dave Matheson. “If it weren’t for them we’d leave our culture.”

“He’s our protector of this sacred life,” Marlene Sproul said.

And when the crowd stood to listen to the sound of the Tribe’s drummers singing, Aripa reflected again on a history he’s devoted to sharing.

“When I hear the drummers, the singers and that singing, that reminds me of our elders and of our way of saying thanks to the Almighty,” he said at the ceremony’s conclusion. “That drum is our thanks for everything.