|January 12, 2012
Perma pictographs link tribal people to the dawn of their being
By B.L. Azure
A rock panel containing an ancient pictograph was illegally removed years ago, portions of the remaining pictograph remains above the missing panel. (B.L. Azure photo)
PERMA — The Perma pictographs are an important link to the past for the Salish and Pend d’Oreille people, a history book of sorts. Unfortunately through the years people have ripped the pages out of that history book by defacing or removing portions of the pictographs. As a result important historical, cultural and spiritual knowledge has been lost, dusted to the winds.
In an attempt to curb further loss of knowledge several tribal programs have banded together to remediate damage to the area caused by the collateral damage of illegal camping and partying.
The Division of Fire, the Forestry Department and the Cultural Preservation Office with assistance from the Salish Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee and its Elders Committee are working together to reclaim the area and to provide a designated area for recreation away from the general area of the pictographs.
Last week, representatives from the Cultural Preservation Office, the Division of Fire and the Salish Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee Elders Committee journeyed to the Perma pictographs to assess damage and to begin planning for projects to mitigate the damage and to curtail future potential for damage by limiting access to the area.
According to Ira Matt of the CPO, the pictographs remained essentially intact for thousands of years until being discovered. Since the 1960s there have been at least a half dozen incidents of vandalism and looting of the pictographs as well as incalculable incidents of damage to the surrounding delicate landscape due to overuse of the area for camping and partying. Also lost, as result of looting is the spiritual offerings left at the area that has been used for vision quests.
All of that is against federal law, in particular the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, that in part states: the historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people.
For American Indians the sense of orientation lies in their spiritual practices and cultural ways passed on through oral traditions as well as the scribed as evidenced by the pictographs.
Ira Matt of the Cultural Preservation Office surveys the vandalism done to the pictographs on a recent field trip to the area. (B.L. Azure photo)
“This area is sacred to the Salish and Pend d’Oreille people; it is one of many such places along the river,” said Mike Durglo, Sr. of the CPO and the SPCC EC. The area was a well-known river-crossing corridor with numerous trails fanning out from it. It was also a spiritual place where vision quests were conducted. It is a history book written on the earth by the tribal people of the area since time immemorial. “This area shows the progression of our people through time. People these days shouldn’t take it upon themselves to take things from here. Every time people come here and chip away at the pictographs, they erase part of our history, part of our creation story.”
Beyond the damage done to the pictographs, the most obvious signs of damage are chiseled in the landscape with unauthorized campfire rings, tire ruts and the knapweed infestation, said Curt Matt, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes DOF information and fire prevention education officer. “This is a delicate area, the soil and vegetation can’t take a lot of disruption,” he said.
In the past there has been several discoveries of archeological deposits along the Flathead River corridor in the area around Perma.
The Flathead River was essentially the interstate — intertribal nation — transportation system of its time used by Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Spokane people to travel westward and back for hunting and gathering, as well as for trading and cultural purposes among other tribes along the Columbia River Basin.
Ira Matt said that the various types of pigmentation used in the pictographs have helped archeologists date the oldest of them upwards to 4,000 years ago. Perhaps there were some pictographs removed that linked today’s tribal people further back but those has been lost to time and vandalism.
“When people remove things from this area or any other area, it impacts our knowledge of the past and the Tribes ability to properly manage such areas,” Ira Matt said, adding that some limited level of development and management of the area has to be done to mitigate existing damage, limit further damage and to provide for authorized recreation via an established area for it. “We would like to create an interpretive park like feel to the area where people can come to recreate but with no overnight camping.”
ZZ Top didn’t motor north from LaGrange, Texas to deface the Perma pictographs; someone closer to home did. (B.L. Azure photo)
The area could be limitedly developed similar to Council Groves, site of the signing of the 1855 Treaty of Hell Gate west of Missoula near the confluence of the Bitterroot and Clark Fork river. Council Groves is a day recreation area with parking and picnic areas as well as signage about the historical nature of the place.
“We want to fix this place up and have people take ownership of the area and to treat it with the respect it deserves as a special place for our ancestors,” Curt Matt said. “If people understand or get the historic and cultural significance of what this area is all about, through education, I think they would respect its significance and the need to preserve it. The key things are education and mitigation to protect this historical hot spot.”
Curt Matt said some of the local Perma folks have taken ownership of the area and routinely clean up the litter that is left by unauthorized camping and partying. “There used to be a lot of trash here, filled with trash,” he said. “In the summer a lot of out-of-area people come here to recreate. They and the locals don’t always take out their garbage.”
In fact, Ira Matt said the recent clean up of the area hauled loads of garbage out of there including a television set, some camping furniture, cans, bottles and food packaging. If it is limitedly developed there could be garbage receptacles and regular maintenance.
Parking would be away from the general area of the pictographs, there would be vehicle barriers set up to keep them away from the pictographs. Picnic areas with fire rings and picnic tables would be constructed. Knapweed would be replaced with the natural vegetation and interpretive signage explaining the cultural significance of the area would be erected. Walking trails would be established also. The plans are in the early working stage and the scope is tentative dependent upon funding availability.
Illegal campfire rings are numerous in the area near the Perma pictographs. (B.L. Azure photo)
Curt Matt said DOF has grant funds of around $30,000 to use for the project. Ira Matt is also applying for grant funds to contribute to the limited development. Forestry is on board with in-kind donations of manpower and equipment and potential funding. Kicking Horse Job Corps could also be brought into the fold.
The entities with the DOF and CPO at the lead will spend the winter seeking funds and developing a blueprint of the proposed limited development. The goal is to have all the ducks lined up by the spring so the needed work could be done this upcoming construction season.
Saving history saves people. Erase history and people disappear. American Indians know all about that. That’s why the saving of the pictographs is so important. They add to the history book of America, they are the opening pages, without them the rest of the book is inaccurate.