The Coeur d’Alene Tribe’s beloved elder Felix Aripa died Friday. He was 93.
He learned the Coeur d’Alene language from his father and was one of the last remaining fluent speakers of the Coeur d’Alene language.
Aripa was a central fixture within the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, consulting with staff and advising on natural resources, cultural resources, and language programs within the Tribe. He was often seen at tribal events surrounded by people who wanted to hear the stories of his childhood, which were commonly told in English with the Coeur d’Alene language mixed in.
The Tribe’s announcment of Aripa’s passing said his involvement in tribal programs has been invaluable to the younger generations of Coeur d’Alene tribal members who have been working to learn as much about the Coeur d’Alene language, culture, history, and traditions from Felix as they could in recent years.
“Felix lived such a full life and touched so many people. His experiences gave him an incredible wealth of knowledge and connected us to tribal culture and traditions from the past, making them relevant to our lives today. He had a great passion to protect the lake, the water, the animals, and all of our natural resources — what he saw and learned in his lifetime, he turned around and shared it with everyone. He was an incredible blessing to the Tribe and we will never forget him,” said Chairman Chief Allan of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.
Born Sept. 9, 1923, Aripa graduated from the Jesuit mission boys boarding school in DeSmet in 1938. He attended St. Joseph’s Academy in Tekoa and attended Gonzaga with the intention of studying engineering. However, he attended Gonzaga for just one year, cutting his time short to join the Navy.
He trained locally at Farragut Naval Training Center in North Idaho and was on the destroyer USS Thompson at Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944, for the beginning of the Allied invasion of Europe. Aripa was the last World War II vet alive on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation.
When the war ended, Aripa began a 40-year career with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He served his Tribe in countless ways, including serving as a judge in the tribal court. He served on the Tribal Council and was the chairman of the Tribe for one term. In 2013, he received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Gonzaga University.
Memorial services are planned for early next week and the funeral will be held at 10 a.m. on Wednesday morning at the DeSmet Longhouse.