DESMET, Idaho – A new longhouse was recently opened and dedicated near the Mission at Desmet, Idaho. The site was once the location of a large boarding school for Indian boys but now holds the newest building on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation. Many tribal elders received their early education on this site, which will now be known as the Evangeline Abraham Longhouse.
An honor song began the dedication followed by tribal council vice chairman Ernie Stensgar handling the ceremony and talking of Evangeline (Evan) Abraham. He told how she served on the tribal council many years ago at the time Joe Garry was the tribal leader, “a national leader that in a sense brought us into the modern world.” He added that no chairman can do that alone, and “Evan was one of those that helped. They set the stage for what we have today.”
Evan passed away in October 2008, so she didn’t see the completion of the longhouse now carrying her name, but she had a lot to do with getting it built. “Some of the elders came to tribal council and told how much they loved this town of Desmet but what was now wrong with it, and went on further to tell us what we should do to fix it,” Stensgar explained. “The top of their list was a community building to be utilized and a source of pride.” One of those people who approached the tribal council many times to get this building built was Evangeline Abraham.
The new Evangeline Abraham Longhouse in Desmet, Idaho will service as a gathering place for a multitude of purposes including education, sharing and spirituality.
“She took a lot of guff in her day but she stood up to them and did what she thought was right,” Stensgar said. “I’m proud to say she was my aunt and she supported me and my political career on the council but she was also one of my biggest critics. But then she’d give me direction and I utilized that and appreciated her.”
The building sits just a block from the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in this small community. The Sacred Heart Mission Boarding School once occupied the site. It was removed in 2009 to provide space to construct the longhouse.
This is a modern building, in many ways unlike the longhouses of the past. It serves as a gathering place, a place for sharing, for education and for spirituality, just like the longhouses of long ago. “We want this building to be a source of pride for all of us but also to be used. We hope the young will utilize it as designed with its teaching facilities,” Stensgar said.
He laughed as he said that some elders are saying they want their wake to be the first held here. “I think we’ll have our first meal here and not worry about who has the first wake.”
The front entry door faces the east. Upon entering one sees a large mural painted by Lawrence Aripa, a tribal member now deceased. Aripa had created the painting on the gym wall of the 1880 building after his return from World War II. When the building was removed the tribe saved the section of the wall with the painting and it now greets people as they enter. The painting shows Jesus as a baby in a cradle board and speaking to people of different nationalities. It was Aripa’s vision of Jesus’ love for all peoples.
The building is 8,000 square feet and includes such state-of-the-art functions as electric blinds and photo screens and projectors, and a modern kitchen designed around the desires and needs of the chefs. The lavatories also contain showers so if people need to stay over they will have restrooms, showers and cooking facilities available. The longhouse was paid for with tribal funds.
Standing within the building and looking through the windows to the west one views a peaceful scene of meadows, trees and mountains, nearly undisturbed by human development. A scene not too unlike what boarding school students viewed as far back as the 1800s.
It’s a beautiful building on a historic site with a magnificent view. As Stensgar commented, “When we look at this facility and all we have we should have a sense of pride.”