Native American Month Q&A with Quanah Matheson

For our final blog post in celebration of Native American Month we sat down with casino Cultural Affairs Director Quanah Matheson to hear more about the history and culture of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and Coeur d’Alene Casino.

Cultural Director is a pretty unique position at a casino, can you tell us a little about what your job entails?
Cultural Affairs Director at the Coeur d’Alene Casino is very unique. I wear many hats including trainer, educator, outreach, greeter, cultural specialist, entertainer, dancer, singer and cultural tourism specialist. I am also in charge of our interpretive center on site and make sure that our heritage is included in planning, architecture, business philosophy and presentation.

As a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe how are these traditions and languages being passed down and preserved for future generations?
Language is passed down these days through multimedia, books, curriculum and lesson plans by our language programs. We have teachers that go into schools and different environments to pass down the language. Traditions are passed down the way it was always done. By doing with those that know. Hunting with grandpas, dads and uncles, gathering with grandmother, mothers and aunties are just one example. We also have programs that teach these things to our communities.

The seasons bring different traditions and stories. Can you tell us a little more about how the seasonal changes drive the tribe’s ceremonies and practices?
Our seasonal round dictated everything about culture. We followed the changing of seasons and thus followed our hearts and our stories to become stewards, protectors, warriors, gatherers, strong ceremonial and prayerful people because we cared about our families and our resources.

Our teachings and stories flowed with the changing of the seasons. Our coyote stories were saved for the winter months. We camped and fished all winter long on our lake and rivers. We have our sacred dances in the winter months. We have a traditional thanksgiving in late October when the last root is dug. We pick berries and the noted huckleberries in the summer time. We have joyous prayer and thanks for the first roots dug in spring.

The introduction of things like horses and Catholicism marked major changes in the tribe. Can you speak about the key changes in the history of the tribe?
Key changes in the Tribe made us who we are today. Our challenges were met with fortitude and courage. We endured almost complete annihilation of who we are as a people and our population. We went through catastrophic decline when the diseases hit. In a span of one generation we lost 90 percent of our population.

When the horse came it allowed us to travel further and changed our culture. When we had to battle the United States Army and defeated them on the field, there were grave consequences. We had enjoyed thousands of years of freedom and roaming on our lands, 5 million acres to enjoy. When reservation life hit, only a few thousand acres were allotted to us. They stripped and beat the Indian out of us. They told us no more culture, spirituality, long hair, traditional dress and don’t speak the language. The idea was to kill the Indian and save the man. We evolved to become great farmers and well-known Catholics.

We moved into the modern era with great leadership, such as Chief Gary, preserving our leadership and how we carry ourselves today. We persevered and had many victories over the years and continue with adversity. We still stand by what our ancestors did for us and continue on our path as a nation.

How does the Coeur d’Alene Casino benefit the tribe and its community?
The Tribe is a nation just like America is a nation. America uses taxes to fund itself. Coeur d’Alene Tribe uses the funds from its business, the CDA Casino, to fund itself. The casino helps support a whole nation of people in many respects.

It also gives back a tremendous amount of money to many foundations, projects and worthy causes in the communities across Idaho and abroad. It has given 24 million just to education in Idaho alone, which is a huge piece of where our hearts are as it relates to our neighbors.

The Tribe has given 1 million dollars to the KROC Center and operates a clinic that supports not only the Tribe but the whole community. We have countless programs that help support our local communities.

With some casinos, you might not know they were owned and operated by a tribe. That’s not the case with CDA Casino. How important was it to the Coeur d’Alene Tribe to maintain ownership and management?
I think the Tribe believes in itself and its members to be business leaders and thus gives the reigns to Tribal members who are educated to run things like the casino. We have our way of business dealings, philosophy and a business heritage that we continue today. I think this is huge because some Tribes don’t do that.

I am appreciative to have CEOs that are CDA Tribal members. We do us the best! And, we have our business practices exemplified. I always tell people that the term “Coeur d’Alene” bestowed upon us by French fur traders is a direct correlation to our business practices. Our ancestors were the best businessmen in the world according to those early traders to our country.

Winter Blessing and Julyamsh are perhaps the biggest cultural events the Tribe and casino put on, are there other events that celebrate the Coeur d’Alene Tribal Culture and traditions?
We have countless events throughout the year, some big some small. We have programs that connect kids to water, land, resources and heritage. We have our anniversary powwow in March at the casino every year. Stick games throughout the year and family powwows too. We have water awareness week on the rez and water potato day and week on the lake. We have brought back our traditional canoes to the waters in recent months. We will probably have celebrations, gatherings in regard to this in the coming years.

The Coeur d’Alenes have been known to work and trade with neighboring tribes. Can you tell me a little about how that is still taking place today? For example – Chinook features Nisqually Salmon and ties in the culture into the food with seasonal local foods like huckleberries.
Yes, we get Tribally caught salmon from the Nisqually Tribe. We get buffalo meat from a local supplier. He is not Tribal but we trade with everyone! On a local and family level we trade all the time with relatives and friends from different Tribes. We trade back and forth material, berries, meat, roots and things we can use in today’s modern life. We try to carry on our traditions the best we can.

Thank you to Quanah Matheson for his insights and thank you for joining us in celebrating Native American Month. Stop by our blog for more news and events in the coming weeks.

Lim lemtsh (thank you)