The Coeur d’Alene Tribe reports that beloved Coeur d’Alene tribal elder Felix Aripa passed away on Friday, September 16, at the age of 93. Aripa was the last World War II veteran on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation and one of the last remaining fluent speakers of the Coeur d’Alene language.
Aripa was born on September 9, 1923. He 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. But his time at Gonzaga was cut short when he decided 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.
When the war ended, Aripa began a 40-year career with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He served his Tribe in many ways, including serving as a tribal court judge. He also served on the tribal council and was the chairman of the tribe for one term. He received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Gonzaga in 2013.
As one of the last remaining speakers of the Coeur d’Alene language, which he learned from his father, Aripa was a central figure within the Tribe. He consulted with staff and advised on natural resources, cultural resources and language programs within the tribe.
“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.
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.