COEUR d'ALENE - Quanah Matheson's voice filled the few spaces left Friday at the Human Rights Education Institute.
The Coeur d'Alene Tribe's culture director sang in the language of the Tribe as about 140 people listened during the opening of the institute's newest exhibit. The installment explores the culture and history of the Coeur d'Alenes.
Matheson said it was a "thank you and an honoring song" remembering Cliff SiJohn, a Tribe elder who died in December. The exhibit is dedicated to the Tribe, in memory of SiJohn, who was active in the preservation of Coeur d'Alene culture.
"It's really hard to put our story in this much space," Matheson said. "We've been here since time immemorial."
The exhibit marks the first time a large-scale display of the Tribe's history has been installed in the city that bears its name. The artifacts and antiquities provide a window to the way the world once was for the Coeur d'Alenes, while celebrating many of the Tribe's traditions that continue today.
Glass cases hold stone scrapers and pestles, summoning images of Coeur d'Alenes removing hides from deer and elk, grinding roots and berries to be used as medicine.
Beadwork, woven cedar baskets, regalia and other clothing items can be viewed.
Leather, beaded religious items used by the Jesuit priests at the Sacred Heart Mission are on display.
Before Matheson spoke, the Shooting Star Dancers, a group of Coeur d'Alene children, performed, swirling and stepping their way through traditional dances.
Tribe member Philomena Nomee explained the significance of the dances as the children performed.
"We teach our kids to dance from the time they can walk," Nomee said.
She also noted that the children's performance at the opening was not only notable for its cultural connection. Several of the dancers were Cliff SiJohn's grandchildren.
Matheson said SiJohn was a good person whose actions always came from the heart.
"In the last days of his life, I would go to see him and he would say, 'Thank you for being in my presence," Matheson said, adding that the institute's mission is a high priority for the Tribe.
Institute director Tom Carter said his organization's relationship with the Tribe extends beyond a mutual desire to celebrate diversity and strive for respect for all people.
"They're so willing to give. They've given $20 million to education. I don't want to just take, take, take," Carter said.
City Councilman Dan Gookin said he's glad to see the exhibit in town.
"This is awesome," Gookin said. "This is important. This is our name."
Coeur d'Alene resident Padma Rutley said she was excited to see the large turnout at Friday's event.
"I like the age difference I see," said Rutley's husband, Tom, noting that the crowd comprised all ages from toddlers to seniors.
The exhibit is the result of a partnership between the Human Rights Education Institute, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, the Sacred Encounters exhibit at the Coeur d'Alene's Old Mission State Park and Idaho State Parks and Recreation. The exhibit will also feature artifacts from various African tribes from Ghana and other West African countries.
"Many Cultures, One World" is free and open to the public through December 2013 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.
HREI is on the corner of Coeur d'Alene City Park in the red brick building.