In 1986 the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho opened the Kootenai River Inn. The tribe was small. Unemployment was high and income was low. This endeavor was their first major attempt at changing that scenario and helping the tribe improve conditions for their members. Improvements have continued over the intervening 27 years and each has brought additional benefits to the tribe. The addition of gaming in 1995 also brought a significant change.
Jennifer Porter, tribal chair, summed it up succinctly, “It has turned the tribe around. There’s a big difference from where we were at that time to where we are now.” Even tribal numbers have increased as Porter explains, “At the time of the war we had 67 members. Now we have 151.” The war she refers to was in 1974 when the tribe declared war on the U.S.
Early May brought the biggest improvement to date with the opening of Kootenai Falls Lodge, a separate wing off the end of the original Inn. This addition added 36 new rooms to the overall resort development. They are beautifully designed with an outstanding variety of amenities. Each room has a 42-inch television, microwave and refrigerator, safes, irons and ironing boards, hair dryers, bath robes, walk-in showers, Keurig coffee makers, the list goes on. Each room has at least 11 electrical outlets plus MP3 docking stations. Nothing was overlooked. No corners were cut. There are two family suites with one bed in one room and two in the other separated by a family meeting area with a 55-inch TV and lounge area.
Jennifer has not yet stayed in the new addition but tells of her recent experience of visiting when the rooms were just finished. “Oh my gosh! Did you see the rooms? We feel the pride of being the owner of the Kootenai River Inn and Kootenai Falls Lodge.”
The tribe entered into a partnership with Hagadone Hospitality when the initial Inn was opened in 1986. Hagadone Hospitality had the experience of operating other major motel/hotel locations and they still remain a partner with the tribe. Tom Turpin manages the complex and speaks very highly of this arrangement. “The tribe has done a great job of investing in their property. It’s the largest employer in the county.”
The need for this addition was readily apparent. Turpin said occupancy in the Kootenai River Inn was running in the low to mid 80 percent range the year around. “We probably have the highest occupancy in the Pacific Northwest for room occupancy, testament to the tribe’s vision and operation. The new 36-room addition has been hugely needed. Nearly every other license plate is from British Columbia.”
Kootenai Falls are located downstream from Bonners Ferry, Idaho where the Inn and Lodge are located, between the Montana towns of Libby and Troy. The falls and vicinity are sacred to the tribe and have been for generations, part of the ancestral homelands of the tribe. The new Kootenai Falls Lodge pays tribute to that history. The tribe now has a 12.5 acre area close to Bonners Ferry where a tribal fish hatchery and office buildings are located, plus a little over 3,000 acres in the vicinity, some of which have been bought back in the past 10 years.
Porter explained that income from the development has provided more benefit to tribal members for health, education, and welfare. “The biggest benefit education-wise with gaming funds is that we’re now able to pay full scholarships to any student who wants to further their education.” One member received a doctor’s degree in psychology and next year another student will complete a doctorate in archaeology.
Kootenai Falls Lodge is beautiful, a source of pride, and the benefits will continue to aid tribal programs.