The Land’s Story
Aside from cleaning up the land, we’ve been developing an eco-friendly campsite since 2017. The land on our property belonged to my great-great grandfather, Baptiste Mathias, the last recognized Kootenai Chief. As a result of the passing of Chief Baptiste Mathias, my grandmother and a great-uncle inherited all lakeshore property along Old Highway 93 in Elmo and Dayton. For many years, our family has owned this property. The development and congestion around Flathead Lake makes it crucial to maintain the quality of the land, water, and air. Preservation of this land’s unique and valuable history is equally significant. We chose to build organically and carefully due to the untouched nature of the land that surrounds us. We intend to keep Camp Kapapa and the rest of the land as one of the last areas around the lake to remain undeveloped.
There is a story about the Kootenai origins dating back to the Pleistocene (ice age) era, which is exclusive to the Kootenai and in which they describe a homeland much larger than those on the Flathead Reservation or the small reservation in Idaho and reserves in Canada. Several prominent Kootenai legends are described in our creation story, including the Continental Divide, Chief Cliff and Yawuʾnik̓ ʾa·kuq̓nuk (the original name of Flathead Lake before it was named by early settlers) . All Indigenous people were created to care for the land, according to the creation story. The next generation must be taught how to respect each other and the environment in order for us to improve our quality of life. In order to pass these valuable lessons on to future generations, we should teach our children a sense of civic responsibility.
Ancestral & Family Stories
As an antecedent to my family, I descend to the Big Knife and Mathias Chiefs of the Kootenai tribe. Following the signing of the 1855 Hellgate Treaty, Eneas Paul Big Knife replaced Chief Michelle. Kootenai aboriginal territory covered the vast area from Canada to Yellowstone prior to the 49th parallel and the establishment of the US and Canadian governments.
As a result of the 1904 Allotment Act and the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, a lot of our history, culture, and land base changed. The Flathead Reservation became the first to reorganize under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. A large portion of aboriginal lands and chieftainships were dissolved by these acts. My grandmother’s grandfather, Chief Koostatah Big Knife, served on the tribal council and as Chief of the Kootenai in 1942. It was my great-grandmother Adeline Mathias who held Chief Koostahtah’s hand as he died in Dayton, Montana. Before taking his last breath and dying in the most beautiful and peaceful manner, Chief Koostahtah said, “Open the doors of heaven.”
While the federal government formally dismantled the chieftainship in 1934, the system was still recognized and practiced by the Kootenai. As part of an informal continuation of our Kootenai ceremonies, Baptiste Mathias (my great-great grandfather) was appointed and replaced Chief Koostahtah by the Kootenai people. Native American chiefdom in the United States ended in 1966 when Chief Baptiste Mathias passed away.
Camp Kapapa continues the legacy of the Kootenai Chief. Our language uses the term “Kapapa” to refer to grandparents or grandchildren. The name is our way of continuing the Kootenai generational connection that was eradicated by forced cultural assimilation. Traditionally, the descendant children of chiefs hold significant responsibilities and are considered noble. Bloodline is the only way to attain chieftainship. Early on, I learned Kootenai culture and values from my forefathers’ traditional teachings and values. It was my grandparents who taught me many things, and I intend to pass those lessons on to my children as well.
Alice Nenemay Camel, a full-blood Pend d’Oreille, was Louis’s grandmother. She served on the Salish and Pend d’Oreille Cultural Committees in addition to teaching the languages. She was known for her speed during her early years as a fast runner who often outpaced her family’s horses, herded cattle, and crossed country on foot. It was during WWII that Alice worked on United States naval ships in Vancouver, Washington as a welder. Besides being a hardworking mother, Alice also served as a strong role model for her children.
Louis’s father, Marvin Camel, held the first WBC and IBF cruiserweight titles in the world. A modern warrior, he worked very hard not only once as the first cruiserweight champion, but also twice as a two-time world champion, putting the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes (CSKT) and Flathead Indian Reservation on the map.
The connection Louie and I have to our grandparents and ancestors is strong. I am Kootenai and Louie is Pend d’Oreille. It was through our collaborative efforts that our dreams of starting a business with a purpose became a reality. Kootenai and Pend’ Oreille historically allied and joined forces according to stories given to me by my grandparents. This is another story I share when conducting tours.
In May 2015, Louis and I married, and a few months later, we started our company. He became a wildland firefighter and started cleaning up reservation lands in his early twenties.
Defining, introducing, growing, and sustaining the Kootenai and our existence has always been my dream. My first tour was while working with Summer Youth Programs at the age of 14. I continued to conduct tours and work as an Assistant Curator at the Three Chiefs Cultural Center (formally known as the People’s Center), where I preserved and restored Chief Koostahtah’s buckskin gloves. In our tribe, the gloves were a symbol of high leadership, and only high-ranking chieftains wore them. As a young person, it was an honor to handle them with such care and restore them at such a young age.
A Personal Note
Ya·qasinknawaskin̓isniⱡ ʾitkini nas ʾamaks (God Made the Earth). Taking care of the land is our responsibility. We appreciate your support in preserving our ancestral heritage and lands which is very important to our family and also to our tribal people. Our eco-friendly, off-grid campground does not depend on the grid for any of its amenities. The development has been planned to minimize the impact on ʾamak (Earth). We are committed to preserving and respecting the area’s pristine and historical features for future generations so that they may appreciate and revere them as their Creator intended.
Your business helps us continue to protect and preserve the land.
My role is to carry on what knowledge I possess and what has been passed down to me. Today, I can proudly say that “I’m busy making my ancestors proud!” Thank you for stopping in and visiting Camp Kapapa. Your business is greatly appreciated and allows us to carry on our ancestors’ stories.
Sukiⱡq̓ukni (Thank you) from the Kⱡawⱡa Clan (Grizzly Bear Family).