A new documentary film made by Sonya Rosario tells the story of the Kootenai people and their struggle to reclaim their land and livelihood near Bonner's Ferry, Idaho. Trice, the Kootenai chairwoman, declared war on the United States in 1974 in a bold move that brought attention to the Kootenai's plight. Rosario, who credits her participation in Landmark Education's programs with helping her complete the film, has entered "Idaho's "Forgotten War" in the Sundance Film Festival – It is also being shown at the University of Idaho this March. Here is a trailer from the film, as well as an excerpt from a story about the film that apeared in the Idaho Statesman last year.
Remember the Kootenai Tribe's Struggle against the Feds in 1974? Now's Your Chance to Learn
by Tim Woodward
"Idaho's Forgotten War" is a fitting title for a documentary trailer being screened Saturday at the Flicks. Most Idahoans today don't know the war ever happened.
"It's a story that needed to be told," Sonya Rosario, the film's director, said. "If it wasn't, we could have lost this incredible voice and part of the history of Idaho."
The "incredible voice" is that of Amy Trice, chairwoman of North Idaho's Kootenai Tribe during the last Indian war declared against the U.S. government – in 1974.
The film tells "the true history of the Native Americans, not what's in the history books," Trice said.
"It shows how the people live and what we've gone through and how our land was taken with no compensation."
Led by Trice and others, the 67-member tribe declared "war" on the United States to protest living conditions in its village near Bonners Ferry and the taking of its ancestral land. More than a million acres were signed away without the Kootenais' presence under the treaty of Hellgate, Mont., in 1855.
In 1962, the government gave the tribe 36 cents an acre, based on 1855 land values.
The Kootenais weren't given a reservation, and their Depression-era housing was so inadequate that a tribal elder, Moses Joseph, froze to death in his home. From the tribe's perspective, the war wasn't merely a protest. It was a fight for survival.
No shots were fired – Trice said the closest thing to a weapon in the tribal office was a flyswatter – but the Kootenais charged motorists tolls to cross their land, threatened to block access to it and demanded payment for lands lost.
That set the stage for a brief but tense showdown with the state and then-Gov. Cecil Andrus, who sent about 70 state policeman to Kootenai country. Then-U.S. Sen. James McClure and Congressman Steve Symms flew to Bonners Ferry to negotiate with the tribe.
The bloodless "war" generated intense media coverage, and though some of the tribe's demands never were met, it did succeed in greatly improving its situation.
It received, among other things, a reservation with a new access road, a clinic, new housing and new water and sewage systems.
"We have good places to live now," Trice said.
"We got our dignity back. That was what the war accomplished."
The film, according to Rosario, shows "what a small group can do if you believe in your dreams for a better life and way of living. What was once a devastated people – homeless, poverty-stricken, dying – they came out of the ashes, a powerful few to stand up and speak out of the injustices that have been a signature of this country for so long."
Trice, who will speak at Saturday's screening, sees "Idaho's Forgotten War" as "a legacy for our children and grandchildren. We have a lot of things going for the tribe now. They need to know how it used to be and what it took to make it better."
The film that will be screened Saturday is actually a 15-minute trailer.
The final version, Rosario said, will be about 75 minutes and should be finished by fall.
She said she had met with PBS representatives, who were "impressed with the trailer and sent a letter saying they were interested in showing it in Idaho and maybe nationally."