Tribe, NIC resume cultural center talks

Proposed facility would be located on Coeur d'Alene campus

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North Idaho College Board member Ken Howard, left, talks with Coeur d’Alene Tribal Council member John Abraham about topics of mutual interest between the college and tribe in Plummer on Wednesday. Behind them are Ernie Stensgar and Chief Allan, both tribal council members.

PLUMMER - Let the talks between North Idaho College and the Coeur d'Alene Tribe on building a longhouse or cultural center resume.

Boards for both agencies on Wednesday agreed to resume discussions that fizzled several years ago of a facility to be located on NIC's Coeur d'Alene campus.

The facility would serve as a gathering place for events and be intended to further strengthen the relationship between the college and tribe. The boards agreed to form committees to explore the logistics of the center.

Christie Wood, NIC board member, said there's a site in the education corridor along the Spokane River that could be explored for the facility.

"It's an area that has a wonderful riverfront view," Wood said.

Wood said architect renderings for such a facility and a study on the future of NIC's campus are already complete, so the boards wouldn't have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to planning.

Alfred Nomee, tribal council member, said the banks of the Spokane River and Lake Coeur d'Alene were the homeland to his family and other tribal members, so resuming talks for the facility hit close to home.

"I don't look at it as a longhouse in terms of our historical perspective, but as a gathering place or cultural center for students to come together to be a part of the educational community," Nomee said. "It should not only be something the college can be proud of, but the tribe can associate with. If you put something in there, do it with the idea that people will use it on a daily basis."

The college would own the property and funding for the facility would be a partnership between the college and tribe. An estimated cost that surfaced during the earlier discussions was $1.6 million, but board members on both sides agree the scope of the project with the renewed talks would likely generate a new estimate.

NIC President Joe Dunlap said the college has made many visible strides under a nine-point agreement to show how the institution recognizes the historical significance of the tribe to North Idaho. Those range from flying the tribal flag to expanding educational opportunities to artwork on the campus.

Both sides agree that a cultural center or longhouse is the next logical step in strengthening the partnership.

Leta Campbell, a tribal council member, said longhouses have had a lot of different uses in history, so the purpose of the facility would need to be defined.

"Let's put it in perspective," said Chief Allan, tribal chairman. "We won't be going up there and praying in this building. It's not a sacred place."

Allan said the spirit of the nine-point agreement is to enhance educational options and strengthen the relationship between NIC and the tribe, not to create sacred grounds on the campus.

NIC's board agreed to host the tribal council for a tour of the college facilities later this year so tribal members can see changes that have been made to recognize the tribe's history. The board also plans to continue to meet at least once a year to discuss topics of mutual interest.

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