Former Kootenai Chairwoman Amy Cutsack Trice, who declared war against the United States Government in 1974, died July 20. She was 75.
"Amy is not just a role model for little Indian girls but a role model for women in Idaho and across the country," says filmmaker Sonya Rosario, who documented Trice's fight in the film "Idaho's Forgotten War."
Trice's small band of Idaho Kootenai is one of seven that stretch across Montana, Canada, and Idaho and share family and social ties. When Trice came of age in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, the band had no land and no access to the federal resources granted to other Kootenai in exchange for ceding tribal lands to the U.S. In a still largely segregated community, Trice's kin were unable to make a living. They fell to hunger and sickness. The tribe charged Trice with keeping them alive when it elected her chairwoman, and she set to work lobbying the government to grant the Idaho Kootenai federal recognition. Such an acknowledgment would give the band access to the resources they were entitled to. But Trice's efforts fell on deaf ears. The government told her the band was simply too small.
Unwilling to simply watch her people become extinct, on Sept. 20, 1974, Trice declared war against the U.S. government. She directed the Kootenai to equip themselves with cardboard signs and set up roadblocks on both ends of Bonners Ferry and demand 10 cents from every motorist who drove through town.
At the time, civil unrest was spreading across the nation. Women and minorities were increasingly taking to the streets to demand equal rights. Violence had erupted just the year before on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, when American Indians demanded the government fulfill treaty obligations. When Trice mobilized the Idaho Kootenai, the government finally paid attention. Idaho legislators stepped in to negotiate federal recognition. The Catholic Church donated 12.5 acres to the tribe. It was a seed for the future Kootenai reservation.
Rosario says Trice accomplished her goal because she drew from qualities people too often forget they have. "Amy took a very serious stand, to say, 'If I don't do it, who will? I think a lot of times we do not heed that feeling...Why can't it be you?"