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SQCC Elders Council catch-up on the happenings at the Preservation Office

By B.L. Azure
Char-Koosta News

Get your flu shot. WWII veteran Eneas Vanderburg did and is looking forward to a fluless winter. (B.L. Azure photo)Get your flu shot. WWII veteran Eneas Vanderburg did and is looking forward to a fluless winter. (B.L. Azure photo)

ST. IGNATIUS — The Séliš-Ql?ispéCulture Committee (SQCC) Elders Council got an earful of information from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) at its first meeting since April. While the EC kicked back for the summer the THPO had a pretty busy one that included plenty of fieldwork, Kyle Felsman, Preservation Office, told the Elders Council.

Kootenai National Forest Troy District recreation specialist Dave Thorstenson discusses the proposed building of a new Kootenai Falls swinging bridge over the Kootenai River between Troy and Libby. District ranger Kirsten Kaiser holds an architectural rendering of the project. (B.L. Azure photo) Kootenai National Forest Troy District recreation specialist Dave Thorstenson discusses the proposed building of a new Kootenai Falls swinging bridge over the Kootenai River between Troy and Libby. District ranger Kirsten Kaiser holds an architectural rendering of the project. (B.L. Azure photo)

• BPA Transmission Line Rebuild
The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) plans on rebuilding its transmission power line that stretches 120 miles from the Hot Springs substation to the Anaconda substation. As a result Preservation Office field researchers have scoured every foot along the BPA power line right of way in search of any Salish, Pend d’Oreille or Kootenai tribal archeological artifacts.

A bit more than 50 miles of 230-kiliovolt transmission line, built in 1952, traverses the Flathead Indian Reservation, and the remaining 70 miles is strung through the aboriginal territory of the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai tribal people. Part of the reservation BPA right of way slices through the South Fork Jocko Tribal Primitive Area that is reserved for the exclusive use of enrolled members of the CSKT.

The 120-mile BPA electrical transmission power line traverses the Flathead Indian Reservation from the Hot Springs area to the South Fork Jocko Primitive Area. (B.L. Azure photo) The 120-mile BPA electrical transmission power line traverses the Flathead Indian Reservation from the Hot Springs area to the South Fork Jocko Primitive Area. (B.L. Azure photo)

The Preservation Office’s cultural resource survey that, among other things, included the search for tribal artifacts was part of the Environmental Impact Statement being prepared for the rebuild project. The draft-EIS is tentatively slated for completion and available for public comment this winter (2017-2018). The final EIS is slated for the 2018 fall with a record of decision scheduled for that winter. If the record of decision is to rebuild construction will begin in the spring of 2019.

According to BPA, rebuilding the deteriorated power transmission line, which has not had any major work done on it since its construction, would maintain reliable electrical service, and avoid risks to the safety of the public and maintenance personnel.

The project would include removing and replacing existing wood-pole structures and components, as well as the conductor; improving access roads and establishing temporary access where needed; removing trees adjacent to the line that may cause a threat to reliability; developing staging areas for storage of materials; and re-vegetating areas disturbed by construction activities. The existing structures would be replaced with structures of similar design within or near to their existing locations.

Preservation Office researcher Kyle Felsman tells the SQCC EC that the majority of the Kootenai Culture Committee opposed the reconstruction of the swinging bridge. However, he said others were in favor of it so Kootenai cultural sites could be accessed. (B.L. Azure photo) Preservation Office researcher Kyle Felsman tells the SQCC EC that the majority of the Kootenai Culture Committee opposed the reconstruction of the swinging bridge. However, he said others were in favor of it so Kootenai cultural sites could be accessed. (B.L. Azure photo)

• Kootenai National Forest Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge
Representatives from the Troy District of the Kootenai National Forest informed the Elders Council that the U.S. Forest Service is planning on rebuilding the swinging pedestrian bridge over the Kootenai River. It is along U.S. Highway 2 between Libby and Troy near mile marker 21, a half-mile below Kootenai Falls. The area is culturally and spiritually relevant to the Kootenai people.

The USFS entourage has already visited with the Kootenai Culture Committee, and according to the USFS the KCC have weighed in against the swinging bridge rebuild project.

The 26 inches wide, 210 feet long swinging bridge traverses the Kootenai River 100 feet above it. The swinging bridge was built by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers in 1933 during the height of The Depression. The CCC was one of the New Deal programs of President Franklin D. Roosevelt meant to provide employment for the many unemployed of the time.

The swinging bridge was washed out by a major flood in 1948, and was rebuilt in 1950. It was again rebuilt in the 1960s and 1990s. Now it has to be rebuilt again due to wear and the need to upgrade the bridge to meet new applicable federal safety standards.

The main concern is the footbridge’s cross-members that support the walking surface. The bridge will be widened to 36 inches, have thicker supporting cables and new anchor and support abutments. It will be built along side the existing bridge that will be dismantled once the new one is completed. Also a railroad overpass en route to the swinging bridge is slated for safety upgrades.

SQCC EC member Joe Vanderburg checks out Arlee District Tribal Council Representative Troy Felsman's phone photos during a break at the EC meeting. (B.L. Azure photo) SQCC EC member Joe Vanderburg checks out Arlee District Tribal Council Representative Troy Felsman's phone photos during a break at the EC meeting. (B.L. Azure photo)

According to Dave Thorstenson, KNF recreation specialist, the Kootenai Falls swinging bridge is one of the top 30-40 tourist destinations in the state with more than 600 people a day stopping at the site during the summer.

“The majority of the people just hang around, cross the bridge and hang around the other side for awhile then come back,” he said. “About 95 percent of the people that stop cross the bridge to view the falls, the rest hike or fish in the area.”

The federal government is concerned about the safety of the bridge and the need to reconstruct a new bridge to meet new federal safety standards.

“The old bridge has to be replaced to meet new safety standards,” Thorstenson said, adding that the bridge also provides vital, although limited to foot traffic, access to wildfires on the other (north) side of the river for suppression purposes. “It will still be a swinging bridge with a natural look, as it is today.”

Felsman said there are pros and cons to the rebuild.

On the downside it would continue to provide public access to the area that contains the Kootenai cultural and spiritual sites. The problem of the access is the potential looting by non-Indians of the culturally or spiritually relevant sites.

On the upside, it would provide the Kootenai people with better access to their cultural and spiritual sites. The Kootenai Elders said historical signage related to the Kootenai peoples habitation and/or use of the area should be part of the project.

There is both USFS hiking trails as well as historic Kootenai trails that have been there for centuries.

Troy District Ranger Kirsten Kaiser said if everything goes according to the USFS plan construction could begin the fall of 2018.

“We will have a little more discussion and will write something up,” Incashola said, adding that the SQCC EC may take a field trip to the area before issuing its statement to the USFS.

Pend d’Oreille Elder Patrick Pierre comments on the need for a repository on the Flathead Reservation to house Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai artifacts. (B.L. Azure photo) Pend d’Oreille Elder Patrick Pierre comments on the need for a repository on the Flathead Reservation to house Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai artifacts. (B.L. Azure photo)

• Tribal Artifact Repository
Preservation Office Director Mike Durglo, Jr. said The University of Montana has more than 20,000 tribal artifacts in its repository, and they want to repatriate them to the rightful tribal owners. He added that there are private organizations and individuals that have tribal artifacts that they want to give the Tribes. Durglo said the Tribes need a repository to house and display the items when they are returned.

He said most of the items at the university are Kootenai connected but that there are numerous Salish and Pend d’Oreille items also as well as other tribes and some unable to make a specific tribal affiliation. Durglo said the ultimate pipe dream goal would be a repository to house Kootenai artifacts in Elmo, one for Salish and Pend d’Oreille artifacts in St. Ignatius and another for the un-linkable artifacts in a third one in Pablo.

Durglo said if and when a repository is built a board of directors would be needed to, among other things, help sort out who disputed items among the Tribes. Durglo said that some items — perhaps funerary — would be better served if they were repatriated to the areas they were found. Those types of decisions could be made by a board, he said.

Building a repository is not like building a garage or storage building. There are specific building material requirements related to climate control — heat, humidity and lighting — and that drives up the cost.

“The storage at the University of Montana is not adequate for housing the artifacts,” Durglo said, adding that the temperature and humidity does not meet the standards of artifact storage and display.

Elder Hank Baylor said he thought the Peoples Center was built for, among other things, that purpose.

However, Durglo said the Peoples Center is too small to be a repository and that any repository would need to be certified to meet industry environmental control standards.

Felsman said that the BPA has many tribal artifacts and that they may be amenable to either return them to the proper tribes or loan for display to those with a modern repository.

“Perhaps they will give them back to the rightful tribes if the tribes have a proper facility,” Felsman said. “That is part of our end goal. If we have such a facility we wouldn’t manage it like suyapis. We would manage the artifacts like we see the world. In our worldview we would return the items to the families who originally owned them or repatriate them where they were found. And we wouldn’t display items that shouldn’t be displayed for public consumption.”

Preservation Office Director Mike Durglo, Jr. answers a question from Stephen SmallSalmon about the need for a repository for tribal artifacts on the Flathead Reservation. (B.L. Azure photo)Preservation Office Director Mike Durglo, Jr. answers a question from Stephen SmallSalmon about the need for a repository for tribal artifacts on the Flathead Reservation. (B.L. Azure photo)

SQCC Director Tony Incashola said a repository would be a welcome addition to the goal of cultural preservation as it could properly house items and be used as an educational tool.

“There is a lot more to these artifacts than to look at and study like the suyapi does,” he said. “These are sacred items and there is a spirit in each item that was made. The spirit lives in the items and some are to be used to keep the spirit alive. You can’t lock spirits in a box and forget about them, and you can’t mix some spiritual items with others as they have a distinct purposes. We want to keep the people connected to the spirituality of the items. To get these artifacts back would be good for the Tribes or the families. There are things we need to get back regardless of the fact that we don’t have a proper facility or they could end up elsewhere.”

Pend d’Oreille Elder Patrick Pierre echoed Incashola on the importance of the spiritual connection of a people to their culture.

“Artifacts and the tribal language have been passed down for centuries. Each item passed down has a spirit,” Pierre said. “If the items are stored elsewhere, they are not home, they are lost in the sense that they are not where they rightfully belong. We have been talking about this for years, the spirit never dies, it’s always there and once an item is repatriated the spirit is set free.”

Pierre recalled visiting The University of Montana artifact storage facility.

“They have Sam Resurrection’s regalia in storage in Missoula. His spirit is also in storage as part of his regalia and he needs to be set free. I heard him say ‘Get me out of here. I want to be with my people.’ I told him ‘One of these days I will get you back to your homeland,’” Pierre said. “This is not about politics, it’s about who we are as a people. We should have brought Sam’s regalia home years ago. All of the things there have to be brought back to the light so they will be home forever. The spirit will then be free moving about talking to you, talking to me, guiding us.”

Ronan District Tribal Council Representative Carole Lankford said the Tribal Council probably wouldn’t spring for three facilities but would probably be okay with one centralized repository. The bottom line to that was the three separate monetary line items required to build three state of the art repositories bloats the bottom line too much.

Lankford said SQCC should draft a letter to inform the Tribal Council of the issue. That could set in motion the process of setting tribal funds aside to build one repository.

“Draft the letter. It’s the first step,” Lankford said. “Until that is done we’ll just be talking.”

And the Spirit is listening.

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