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Salish Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee visit new state park and new signage at Clearwater Junction

By B.L. Azure

Tony Incashola and Louie Adams point to an area featured on the Salish trails informational sign at the Clearwater Junction rest stop. (B.L. Azure photo) Tony Incashola and Louie Adams point to an area featured on the Salish trails informational sign at the Clearwater Junction rest stop. (B.L. Azure photo)

MILLTOWN — The Salish and Pend d’Oreille people know the footprints of their ancestors are indelibly ensconced spiritually on the landscape of their aboriginal territory that encompasses much of western Montana from the Bitterroot Valley northward to the Canada border. Now, slowly but surely the public is becoming aware of that through the person-to-person education and informational process.

The new Milltown Overlook State Park and displays at the new Clearwater Junction rest stop are recent examples of the tribal perspective becoming part of the public manifestations of the history of western Montana. It’s always been there in the hearts and minds of the original inhabitants of what is now western Montana but now it is chiseled in stone, so to speak, for others to see.

The signage at the new Milltown Overlook State Park contains information about the area that was once a prime bull trout habitat and an important cultural and historic site of the Salish and Pend d’Oreille people. (B.L. Azure photo) The signage at the new Milltown Overlook State Park contains information about the area that was once a prime bull trout habitat and an important cultural and historic site of the Salish and Pend d’Oreille people. (B.L. Azure photo)

Last week members of the Salish Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and the Missoula County Historic Preservation Office commemorated the new Milltown Overlook State Park and Clearwater Junction rest stop. Both sites contain important signage that addresses the cultural and historic footprint of the Bitterroot Salish and Pend d’Oreille people in this area.

“This is placed here to show our presence,” said Tony Incashola, director of the Salish Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee, at the Milltown Overlook State Park, located on a ridge high above the valley that once was flooded with the water held back by Milltown Dam. The dam was recently demolished and the Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers now run as they have since time immemorial. The state park over looks the once flooded basin that is being reclaimed and will be part of a much larger state park when completed.

The Milltown Overlook State Park has signage that encapsulates the history of the dam from construction to demolition. More importantly from the tribal perspective it also contains the pre-history of the dam area as part of the aboriginal territory of the Bitterroot Salish and Pend d’Oreille people. “This project is the result of many years of the efforts of many people with the Tribes, and the state and local governments,” Incashola said. “Individuals or one group of people cannot make things like this happen. It takes a collaborative effort of a lot of people with the same vision to restore rivers to their natural flows. They made this happen. It is also part of the vision of the original elders of the culture committee who have gone on. Our stories have always been told by other people not us. This is a small contribution to the beginning of bigger things.”

Representatives from the Salish Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department and the Missoula County Historic Preservation office commemorated the new Milltown Overlook State Park last Wednesday. (B.L. Azure photo) Representatives from the Salish Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department and the Missoula County Historic Preservation office commemorated the new Milltown Overlook State Park last Wednesday. (B.L. Azure photo)

Incashola said the Salish name for the area was “Big Bull Trout” because of the abundant population of the now endangered species of fish. It was where the Bitterroot Salish came to harvest big bull trout.

“We hope they (bull trout) migrate back to this area now that the water flows as it once did,” Incashola said, adding that the signage at Milltown would have to be much larger to tell the tribal story but the encapsulated version was a good and much appreciated first step. “The signs here will educate our own people about our shared history as well as the non-Indians who visit this park. This is our home; it always has been and always will be.”

Lee Bastian, Regional Park manager for the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks concurred with the points Incashola presented.

“To do big things like this together we need a partnership that is established through friendship. This friendship broke down barriers,” Bastian said. “The signs tell the history of the area and we all learn about our place in the scheme of things through history, through the stories being told. This has been a tremendous partnership.”

Bastian gave kudos to tribal water rights staff attorney Mary Price for her effort in shepherding the divergent parties to the table for the mutual benefit of the full picture history of the place.

Pend d’Oreille Elder Pat Pierre discussed the importance of recognizing the historical and cultural footprint of the Salish and Pend d’Oreille tribes in the Missoula area. (B.L. Azure photo) Pend d’Oreille Elder Pat Pierre discussed the importance of recognizing the historical and cultural footprint of the Salish and Pend d’Oreille tribes in the Missoula area. (B.L. Azure photo)

“This place is pretty raw now,” Bastian said. “I am looking forward to see how this place looks 10 years from now after the landscape has been restored.”

The Milltown Overlook is just one component of the overall recreational park envisioned and on the drawing boards for the area. The vision and development of it includes a park, campground and picnic area, boat launches and a trail system that connects the Bonner and Milltown trail system to the Kim Williams Trails through Missoula.

Philip Maechling of the Missoula County Historic Preservation Office said the yet to be developed trails will also contain signage acknowledging the history of the tribal people of the area.

“This has been a convergence of people and ideas that came together for the benefit of a free flowing river system that is a healthy environment for the fisheries,” Maechling said. “This is the first step in a long process.”

“This is one heck of a nice day. I’m so happy with what is going on. Things have been rediscovered and brought back. It only has been recently that our stories haven’t been told as conflicts in the white-man’s history. This benefits everyone,” said Salish Elder Louie Adams who knows the history of the place and the Salish names for them as well as the back of his hands. “I wish that Agnes (Vanderburg) and the elders that have gone on were here. They are in spirit though.”

Shirley Trahan, Tony Incashola and Dolly Linsebigler check out the new Salish trails sign at the Clearwater Junction rest stop. (B.L. Azure photo) Shirley Trahan, Tony Incashola and Dolly Linsebigler check out the new Salish trails sign at the Clearwater Junction rest stop. (B.L. Azure photo)

“Down the road, 10 years from now what we are doing here today will be history,” said Pend d’Oreille Elder Pat Pierre. “People have worked really hard to preserve our history. We have worked together to preserve this land. We all have that responsibility to preserve Mother Nature from which everything comes that we need to preserve our ways of life. She is the provider of all things. Preservation can happen, let it happen. Let’s preserve what we have today so other yet to come can have it too.”

Following the Milltown Overlook State Park commemoration the group traveled to Clearwater Junction rest area to view the new signage about the Salish trails in the area.

“Today people see the landscape but have no idea of how the Indians used it,” Incashola said. “But now, slowly but surely our footprints on the landscape are surfacing. Our ancestors’ and elders’ words are now on the surface again because of what is written on these signs.”

Incashola credited Joe Durglo, Sr. for the research work about the Salish trails in the Swan Valley area.

“Mike is always mapping things,” Incashola said. “He is a good hand at mapping our old Indian trails. His work is good to see as part of the public display.”

It was a good day. It was a historic day. It was real.

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