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Coeur d'Alene Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Coeur dAlene tribe for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our main Coeur d'Alene website for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Coeur d'Alene pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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    Coeur d'Alene Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Coeur d'Alene"? What does it mean?
Coeur d'Alene was the French name for the tribe, and it literally means "awl heart." Nobody knows exactly why the French called them this, although some people guess it may have meant that they were sharp traders. In French, Coeur d'Alene is is pronounced similar to "cur dah lane," but Americans and most Coeur d'Alene people themselves pronounce it more like "core duh len." In their own language, the Coeur d'Alenes call themselves Schitsu'umsh, which means "the people found here."

Where do the Coeur d'Alenes live?
The Coeur d'Alene Indians are original people of eastern Washington, Idaho, and western Montana. Today most Coeur d'Alene people live in Idaho.

How is the Coeur d'Alene Indian nation organized?
The Coeur d'Alenes live on a reservation, which is land that belongs to them and is under their control. The Coeur d'Alene Nation has its own government, laws, police, and services, just like a small country. However, the Coeur d'Alenes are also US citizens and must obey American law. In the past, each Coeur d'Alene band was led by a chief who was chosen by a tribal council of elders, clan leaders, and other important men. Coeur d'Alene chiefs were highly respected, but didn't have a lot of political power. They had to listen to the tribal council most of the time. Today, Coeur d'Alene bands are still ruled by tribal councils, but councilmembers are elected by all the people and can include women as well as men.

What language do the Coeur d'Alene Indians speak?
Almost all Coeur d'Alene people speak English today, but some Coeur d'Alenes, especially elders, also speak their native Coeur d'Alene language. Coeur d'Alene is a complicated language with many sounds that don't exist in English. If you'd like to know an easy Coeur d'Alene word, qhest is a friendly greeting in Coeur d'Alene. It rhymes with "best," and the qh is pronounced similar to the guttural "ch" in German "ach."

Today Coeur d'Alene is an endangered language because most children aren't learning it anymore. However, some Coeur d'Alene people are working to keep their language alive.

What was Coeur d'Alene culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here's a link to the homepage of the Coeur d'Alene Nation in Idaho. There you can find information about the Coeur d'Alene tribe in the past and today.

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How do Coeur dAlene Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. Many Coeur d'Alene children like to go hunting and fishing with their fathers. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonial children. But they did have buckskin dolls, toys and games to play. Like many Native Americans, Coeur d'Alene mothers traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs. Here is a website with Native American cradleboard pictures.

What were men and women's roles in the Coeur d'Alene tribe?
Traditionally, men and women had different jobs in the Coeur d'Alene tribe. Coeur d'Alene women gathered plants and herbs and and did most of the child care and cooking. Men were fishermen and hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine.

What were Coeur d'Alene homes like in the past?
The Coeur d'Alenes lived in villages of earth houses sometimes known as "pit houses." These lodges are built partially underground, with a basement-like living space dug from the ground and a dome-shaped wooden frame built over it and packed with earth. The homes were small (about 15 feet across) and only a single family lived in each one. Later, as some Coeur d'Alene bands began to follow the buffalo herds, they began using portable hide tepees like the Plains Indians. Today, Native Americans only put up a tepee for fun or to connect with their heritage. Coeur d'Alene families live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Coeur d'Alene clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Coeur d'Alene men wore breechcloths with leggings and short buckskin shirts with patterns of holes punched into them. Women wore buckskin dresses, often decorated with beads and quillwork. Both men and women wore leather moccasins on their feet, and in colder weather, they also wore fur robes. Here is a museum exhibit of Plains and Plateau Indian beaded clothing, and some photos and links about Native dress in general.

Originally, Coeur d'Alene men didn't wear headdresses, while women sometimes wore fez-shaped basket caps. As they became more influenced by styles of the Plains and the Eastern Plateau, some Coeur d'Alene men began to wear a feather headdress. Coeur d'Alene women sometimes painted their faces with brightly colored designs, and also wore tattoo art on their arms and hands. Couer d'Alene men didn't usually paint or tattoo themselves. Most Coeur d'Alenes wore their hair either long and loose or in two long braids, cutting their hair only when they were in mourning. Some Coeur d'Alene men wrapped their braids in fur in the Plains Indian fashion.

Today, some Coeur d'Alene people still have moccasins or a basket hat, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear fancy traditional regalia on special occasions like a wedding or a dance.

What was Coeur d'Alene transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes--the Coeur d'Alene Indian tribe made lightweight birchbark canoes for fishing and traveling on the rivers. Here is a website with pictures of Native canoe styles. Over land, Coeur d'Alene people usually just walked. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) They sometimes used snowshoes to help them travel in the winter.

Today, of course, Coeur d'Alene people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Coeur d'Alene food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Coeur dAlene Indians were fishing people. Their staple food was salmon. Coeur d'Alene men also hunted for deer, elk, buffalo, and small game. Coeur d'Alene women gathered nuts, roots, and berries to add to their diet. Here is a website with more information about Northwest Indian food.

What were Coeur d'Alene weapons and tools like in the past?
Coeur d'Alene fishermen used bone fishhooks, nets, and wooden fish traps. Hunters used bows and arrows and trained hunting dogs. In war, Coeur d'Alene men fired their bows or fought with spears. Here is a website with Native weapon pictures and information.

What are Coeur d'Alene arts and crafts like?
Coeur d'Alene artists are known for their coil baskets and woodworking. Here is a website with some photographs of Interior Salish baskets.

What other Native Americans did the Coeur d'Alene tribe interact with?
The Coeur d'Alenes were allies and trading partners of other Interior Salish tribes such as the Spokane and Flathead tribes. They were not known as a warlike tribe, but they did sometimes fight with Plains Indian tribes like the Blackfoot and Crow Indians.

What kinds of stories do the Coeur d'Alene Indians tell?
There are lots of traditional Coeur d'Alene legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Coeur d'Alene Indian culture. Here is one Coeur d'Alene legend about the adventures of the trickster Coyote. Here's a website where you can read more about Coeur d'Alene mythology.

What about Coeur d'Alene religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Coeur d'Alene life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Coeur d'Alene people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Coeur D'Alène religion or this site about Native American traditions and customs in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
There are not many books for kids specifically about the Coeur d'Alene tribe. If you can find a copy of A Coeur D'Alene Indian Story, that is a good choice-- it is a history of the Coeur dAlenes written for kids by a tribal member. Older kids could also try reading Landscape Traveled by Coyote and Crane, a book for adults about Coeur d'Alene culture and history. Younger kids may like Beaver Steals Fire, a picture book based on a legend of the Flathead Salish tribe (relatives of the Couer d'Alenes.) Or Plateau Indians is a good book for kids about the Plateau Indian tribes in general, including the Coeur d'Alenes and their neighbors. You can also browse through our reading list of books by Indian authors. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Coeur d'Alene Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Coeur d'Alene Tribe

Coeur d'Alene Indian Tribe
An overview of the Coeur d'Alene people, their language and history.

Coeur d'Alene Language Resources
Coeur d'Alene Indian language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Coeur d'Alene Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Coeur d'Alene Native Americans past and present.

Coeur d'Alene Words
Coeur d'Alene Indian vocabulary lists.

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