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The good life of Tony Incashola

Elder Profile by Adriana Fehrs

Tony Incashola, Director of the Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee, stands in his decorated office at the Long House in St. Ignatius. Out of Incashola’s many accomplishments, being a part of the culture committee for 40 years, helping preserve the tribal culture, history, and language, can be considered his greatest accomplishment. (Adriana Fehrs photo) Tony Incashola, Director of the Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee, stands in his decorated office at the Long House in St. Ignatius. Out of Incashola’s many accomplishments, being a part of the culture committee for 40 years, helping preserve the tribal culture, history, and language, can be considered his greatest accomplishment. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

ST. IGNATIUS — Tony Incashola has played a major influential part in preserving the Salish culture. For over forty years Incashola has been a part of the Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee (SPCC), where he has spent most of his time documenting Salish Elder’s knowledge on Native American history, language, plants, and culture. He’s not done yet; at 67, he says he “still has a lot of time left,” and is continuing to do his part to save the culture and language of the Salish people.

Incashola’s roots helped pave the way for his later role as the Director of the SPCC. As a child, Tony spent his time with his grandparents who lived a traditional lifestyle. Much of his time was spent outside hunting, fishing, camping, and picking Huckleberries. From his beginnings, he’s been immersed in Salish culture, speaking the language and learning traditional Native American ways.

Incashola was born in St. Ignatius at the old hospital. The family was hunting west of the Perma bridge, in cold winter month of November, when his mother, Mary Louis Beaverhead-Incashola, starting going into labor. The late Octave Finley came to the rescue and brought Mary to the hospital in time to deliver Tony on November 10, 1946. He was the fourth child of Mary’s. Jean, ‘John’, was the first born – eleven years before Tony, then Louie – nine years older, and then Peter, who is five years older. Tragically, Mary Louis Beaver-Incashola pass one-and-a-half years after Tony was born; she was 27. After his mother’s death, his grandparents took in Tony and his siblings.

Incashola remembers how his grandmother Agnes Woodcock had no formal English education, but at one point, the Ursulines Catholic Boarding School forced her away from her parents Mary Sophie and Isador Woodcock. Later, her father Isador rescued her from the school. “We grew up in the house speaking Salish, that was my first language. I really appreciated that later in life.”

When Tony was seven, he started school at the Ursulines. He stayed there for two years while his older brothers attended public school in St. Ignatius. At home, his grandparents continued to teach them the traditional Salish ways. “We did everything together – hunting, fishing, camping.” In the summer, the family would camp along the Flathead River, up until late September when it snowed. His brothers would hunt, his grandmother would dry meat, and his grandfather would fish. Tony can recount over twenty different locations on the river where the family would camp. He says, “The Woodcocks, Beaverheads, Durglos, Eneas, and John Peter-Pauls would all camp together.” The Principal of the St. Ignatius School understood of their way of life, and Tony and his siblings would attend school later in the year.

Tony Incashola, at the tender age of three, poses by a beloved sled in the winter snow. Tony recalls the times he spent playing with his brothers in the snow and how he “loved to push his brothers in the sled.” (Photo courtesy of Tony Incashola) Tony Incashola, at the tender age of three, poses by a beloved sled in the winter snow. Tony recalls the times he spent playing with his brothers in the snow and how he “loved to push his brothers in the sled.” (Photo courtesy of Tony Incashola)

By the time summer rolled back around, the family was back out camping. They would go up into the mountains by West Fisher to pick huckleberries and hunt. Tony’s family would get up early to huckleberries before it got too hot. Tony recalls, “In the evenings all of the families camping up there would play stick-games, the Salish and the Kootenais would bet berries. We didn’t have money to bet.” Robert Birch would set up a camp and makeshift store where he would buy berries and sell candies and pop. Tony remembers fondly of how a single man from California with a big truck would always set up camp next to them. “He would stay there all summer, can all of his own berries, all by himself, but he was nice. Grandma would invite him over for dinner sometimes.”

Tony was eleven years old before their house in St. Ignatius finally had electricity. He and his siblings pitched in their $100 dollar per capitas to get the four-bedroom, two story, house wired. “We had six outlets in the whole house, and even at that time we didn’t have running water.” They had a well with a pulley and a bucket for water. Tony says, “When we finally got running water, the well dried up.”

Every day was an outing for Tony. He remembers the wagon the family had. “It had rubber tires. That was a big thing back then.” It took them all day to get over to their hunting spot with their wagon and horses. They had “sacks and sacks full of dried meat, and bitterroot,” by the time they returned.

By Tony’s sophomore year at the St. Ignatius High School, he enrolled in the Army. When Tony turned nineteen he was shipped off to Ft. Hood in Texas for basic training. He later went on to advanced training in Ft. Lewis in Washington. Before he knew it he was shipped out to Vietnam, hopping a ship out of Tacoma, Washington. He remembers thinking, “Wow the sailing is really smooth, but then it got rough, and I was sick the next eighteen days.” The ship stopped one day in Korea, and then he was stationed in the North part of Vietnam in Pai Keu. His brother Jean was stationed in Saigon, in the South end of Vietnam. Incashola initially was an engineer for the Army, when he left Tacoma, but by the time he reached Vietnam, he was placed in artillery. He was there a year and he wrote his brother Jean continually. He remembers at one point he had racked up leave time, and wanted it give it to Jean so he could go home and see the family. Jean had been stationed longer than Tony, and he wanted to help him out. “He never took the time off, and then a little while later he died in Saigon. I escorted his body back home.”

Tony Incashola has come a long way since his younger days. In his youth, he remembers how he faced racism and opposition because of his Native American roots. Now he devotes his time to preserving Salish and Pend d’Oreille culture, language, and history to help elevate tribal member’s Native American pride. (Photo courtesy Tony Incashola) Tony Incashola has come a long way since his younger days. In his youth, he remembers how he faced racism and opposition because of his Native American roots. Now he devotes his time to preserving Salish and Pend d’Oreille culture, language, and history to help elevate tribal member’s Native American pride. (Photo courtesy Tony Incashola)

After the Vietnam War, Tony went to Ft. Sill in Oklahoma to be an instructor in artillery. He was there a couple of months, and then was discharged. He met his wife Denise Brown in Oklahoma – her family had moved up from Kansas when she was two. They then moved back to St. Ignatius.

Incashola and his wife Denise settled down into the small town, where they had four children. Their oldest, Darren, was born in 1971, and then came Brian in 1976; Brandy in 1977, and lastly Tony Jr. in 1983. Tony says, “I also claim my brother Pete’s three kids as well, after he passed in 1979, I took them in.”

Tony worked on a construction crew in St. Ignatius. He helped build the community center, the hotel, and Doug Allard’s complex, which was all originally Tony’s Grandmother’s property. The current location of the Mormon Church was the first part of Agnes Woodcock’s property that was first sold back to the tribe. Eventually the rest of the property was sold. Tony remembers the huge gardens his grandfather grew, where now the two settling ponds sit. “We use to grow potatoes, corn, strawberries, radish, and we even had a ditch to irrigate everything.” Tony was able to buy a portion of the land back in the late seventies.

In 1975, Tony received a call from Johnny Arlee; he asked if Tony wanted to work with him. In 1974 the Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee (SPCC) was formed, by January 1975 Joe and Lilith McDonald helped them get a small grant from the Two Eagle River School, and by April, 1975 Arlee became the first director. Tony remembers “Octave Finley, Mike Pierre, Dolly Lindsbigler, and Clarence Woodcock were all there at the beginning.” After three years, Johnny Arlee stepped down, and co-directed with Tony for two years. After that, Tony became the Assistant Director, later becoming the Director in 1995, after Johnny Arlee retired. This April marks forty years Tony Incashola has been a part of the Salish-Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee. “Over the years I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with many traditional elders. In the beginning, Johnny Arlee wasn’t sure what to do, so we would have Elders come in a just talk; they would tell stories, so we would set out a recorder and just talk.” Too many Elder felt like information on Native Americans came from non-members, they wanted a means to put their information out there to the public, but told by the Indian people themselves. That became of the SPCC’s main goal, and one of Tony’s many accomplishments. Tony was able to use all of the information given by the Elders, to help the Tribe with many tasks. It proved to be a great benefit. Tony says, “It really opened the flood gates of information. We got so much information on plants, names of places, stories, past families, and wars.” It took them several years to put together a history book. SPPC also acted as a liaison for the tribe, when interacting with the U.S. government, which helped elevate tribal elders back to a place of leadership, once a traditional native way. Tony says, “Now, there are programs that seek guidance from the Elders.” There are monthly Elder’s meetings, and “the Elders help keep the culture alive.”

Tony Incashola stands outside his place of work - the Long House in St. Ignatius. Since 1975 Incashola has worked for the Salish Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee, where he has worked with many traditional elders on preserving Salish-Pend d’Oreille culture. (Adriana Fehrs photo)  Tony Incashola stands outside his place of work - the Long House in St. Ignatius. Since 1975 Incashola has worked for the Salish Pend d’Oreille Culture Committee, where he has worked with many traditional elders on preserving Salish-Pend d’Oreille culture. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

Tony says, “It’s been a good life.” He’s seen a lot of change, good and bad, during his life. When he first started school, he remembers being ashamed of his Native American roots. “People would talk bad about the Natives, and I tried to change – hide who I was, but my grandmother taught me to be proud of who I am and where I came from.” Tony was taught, you can’t really change who you are, as an Indian. When he was older he better understood the sacrifices his people had to make to get the tribe to where it is now. Now he is doing his part to instill culture, pride, and the traditional Native American ways of life into the youth. Tony has seen his mother Mary, brother Pete, his grandmother Agnes and grandfather Joe all pass away, but he has seen much life. His four children have blessed him with three, and soon four, grandchildren; the youngest will be born this month. “Life is not forever, I use to think 70, 80 was old, but life goes by so fast,” says Tony.

He has one important message for our tribe, “I see a bright future for our Native people. As long as we never forget who we are, and where we come from, we can stand together and flourish. If we do not, then surely we will destroy ourselves.”

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