Felix Aripa, a Coeur d’Alene tribal elder, walked on September 16, 2016.
Jack McNeel
Felix Aripa, a Coeur d’Alene tribal elder, walked on September 16, 2016.

Coeur d’Alene Historian, World War II Vet Walks On

Jack McNeel

Felix Aripa, a Coeur d’Alene tribal elder, walked on September 16 at the age of 93. Despite having lost his hearing, he remained active in tribal events throughout the spring and summer, offering prayers in his Native language and providing guidance to young and old alike.

Felix was described as a “living link” between the early years of Christianity and the present. His grandmother was one of the first children to be baptized by the “Black Robes,” the Catholic priests, and his father served as an interpreter in negotiations with the government. Felix learned the language from his father and was one of two remaining tribal members fluent in the language. He was tireless in his efforts to teach the language to others.

Chairman Chief Allan summed up his passing very simply. “We lost so much knowledge today that can’t be replaced.”

Felix Aripa served in the Navy during World War II. (Jack McNeel)

He served in the Navy during World War II and was the last of the Coeur d’Alene tribal members who had served. He was aboard the USS Thompson on D-Day at Omaha Beach.

He then began a 40-year career as a road engineer with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and also served the Coeur d’Alene Tribe as a judge in tribal court, on the tribal council, and as Chairman for one term.

In 2013, Gonzaga University awarded him a Doctor of Law Degree. At the graduation ceremony, the moderator said, “What he teaches us is what it is to be fully human, fully present in terms of place, mind, body and spirit. He reminds us that the fight for justice for humans, animals, and plants is ongoing. It is certainly Gonzaga University’s great honor to claim Felix Aripa as our own esteemed son as we confirm him today the degree of Doctor of Laws.”

He had a passion for natural resources from a lifetime of observation and was a strong proponent of protecting Coeur d’Alene Lake, where he had been raised. He served as an expert witness during the legal battles resulting in the tribe acquiring ownership to the southern portion of the lake. His knowledge of old village sites and place names established the tribe’s history with the lake.

State Representative Paulette Jordan was very close to Felix most of her life, referring to him as Grandpa, as did many tribal members. “We are blessed and thankful that everyone was able to rally around and have the funeral come together with the whole community,” she commented. “Everyone who knew him was able to travel near and far and we’re just thankful they were able to honor him, this beautiful man, and to send him off to the other side in a good way. We all believe that everything he’s been doing, preparing for this time, this specific day, this transition, it’s all coming together and we’re just very blessed.”

“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 was an incredible blessing to the tribe and we will never forget him,” Chairman Allan commented.

During the funeral service there was a roll call of veterans, name and rank. The last name called was Felix Aripa. His name was called three times and someone spoke up and said, “Sir, he is not here. He is in a better place.”

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