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Early foundations program discovers the importance of the bitterroot

By Lailani Upham

Attendees watch carefully as Tim Ryan, EthoTech Cultural Educator explains value and uses of traditional foods at the SKC Camas room last Thursday evening. (Lailani Upham photo) Attendees watch carefully as Tim Ryan, EthoTech Cultural Educator explains value and uses of traditional foods at the SKC Camas room last Thursday evening. (Lailani Upham photo)

PABLO — “Discover the Bitterroot” was the theme for the first family event for the latest Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Social Services Early Foundations Home Visiting program.

Families shared in springing to life by discovering the beautiful, amazing and sacred plant known to the CSKT people as the bitterroot last Thursday evening at Salish Kootenai College.

The family connection night included presenter and cultural expert Tim Ryan and elder Shirley Trahan who shared stories, history, uses and blessings of the bitterroot plant with the attendees while they enjoyed a meal – all hosted and brought by the CSKT Tribal Social Services Department.

A participant holds up a display of bitterroot that is passed around the room during the presentation. (Lailani Upham photo) A participant holds up a display of bitterroot that is passed around the room during the presentation. (Lailani Upham photo)

Early Foundation is a new community service being implemented to help tribal families and children between newborn to three years old – or those currently pregnant in support of development and health for children and families.

Family participation in the program is strictly voluntary.

Rebecca Ereaux, CSKT Early Foundations staff, said community events will increase after the program gains more family participation.

The program strategy is to provide monthly and weekly culturally-relevant evidence-based programs with curriculum from Parents as Teachers.

The Springing to Life – Bitterroot theme was picked for the mere fact it is the season of the sacred plant, says Ereaux.

One of many “dig” tools are passed around for participants to examine. (Lailani Upham photo) One of many “dig” tools are passed around for participants to examine. (Lailani Upham photo)

Trahan, Salish elder said the bitterroot is referred to as “the first visitor” in the Spring.

“After a long, cold winter and hungry winter – it (bitterroot) was there for them (for food),” she explained. “And it was only there for a short time and the people had to work fast and hard to get enough for the year,” she added.

It was gone in a month she said.

She said back in the day a chief would distinguish a woman to dig the sacred plant, “not old and not young.” But she was chosen by her qualities and how she conducted herself and her knowledge of the ways. She then would pick younger ladies to help her.

Trahan said once the chosen lady would find a suitable stick to dig with, she would then hand it to the younger ones, but before that, they would kneel and pray.

Salish elder Shirley Trahan shares long ago stories of the sacredness and processes of digging and gathering the sacred plant, bitterroot, each Spring.  (Lailani Upham photo) Salish elder Shirley Trahan shares long ago stories of the sacredness and processes of digging and gathering the sacred plant, bitterroot, each Spring. (Lailani Upham photo)

The older lady would clean the root after it was dug up and as she cleaned she would pray and ask for blessings on all the traditional foods and on the hunt in the fall.

The way it is determined when the root is ripe to pick, was by peeling it back and if it was “easy” to do so – it was ready.

“That’s one story, and there are more,” Trahan added.

“The main this is to know how important the bitterroot was/is to the people,” she told the group.

“We went to check it yesterday and in some places it wasn’t abundant and dry; some looked frost bitten; and another place was just right and easy to pull.”

The Bitterroot dig is scheduled for this Friday, May, 2.

Ryan, EthnoTech cultural educator shared a snap-shot presentation of his decades-long study of traditional ecological knowledge, cultural plants, and indigenous sciences, combined with his extensive experience in field archaeology and mapping that brought a unique quality and perspective to the audience.

Dishing out and sharing a meal at the “Springing into Life” Early Foundations family connections event last Thursday. (Lailani Upham photo) Dishing out and sharing a meal at the “Springing into Life” Early Foundations family connections event last Thursday. (Lailani Upham photo)

Ryan’s hands-on visual presentation included digging tools, actual bitterroot, berries, and dry meat for participants to examine through the evening.

Ryan added in his presentation segment that bitterroot is an example that “Food is medicine.” He stated, “When you have a healthy body – you have a healthy mind.”

SKC Environmental Science and Tribal Historic Preservation student Sasha Rivers said, “I had a really great time at this event. I learned not only about Bitterroot, but about cultural preservation and other traditional foods and their importance! It’s amazing how much time and effort was given to sustainable practices in the past and how healthy it was for Indigenous people as well as the land.”

John Colliflower, SKC social services program student said, “It’s good to see a tribal social services program providing access to cultural knowledge to young families.”

Bark trays of bitterroot, dry meat, and berries are displayed courtesy of Tim Ryan. (Lailani Upham photo) Bark trays of bitterroot, dry meat, and berries are displayed courtesy of Tim Ryan. (Lailani Upham photo)

Colliflower’s wife, Connie, who is new to the community stated, “The community has such an excellent resource of knowledge with Mr. Ryan. It’s through these types of educational experiences that tribes maintain such valuable cultural knowledge.”

The Early Foundation staff is committed to supporting the development of happy and healthy families through a coordinated home visiting strategy where visits are spent to expectant parents and primary caregivers of infants and children up to three years.

Staff is trained to focus and assist on issues as maternal and child health, social emotional development, early learning, positive parenting practices, access to resources, safe home environments and kindergarten and school readiness.

For more information on the CSKT Tribal Social Services Early Foundation program call Rebecca Ereaux at (406) 675-2700, ext. 1027; or Phylicia McDonald at ext. 1229.

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