HOT SPRINGS — Fresh green bushels of bitterroot have sprouted across the prairie. In honor of the first harvest of the season, the Séliš QÍispé Culture Committee (SQCC) hosted its annual Bitterroot Dig ceremony.
SQCC Director Tony Incashola commenced the harvest with prayer. Thirteen-year-old Etta Quequesah was selected to dig the first root of the year before passing it on to Mary Jane Charlo for cleaning.
Incashola said the ritual ensures that the tradition of harvesting Bitterroot will live on. “Our hope is that our way of life will continue to the next generation,” he said. “It’s important that we teach our children the significance of the bitterroot and how to respectfully harvest it. This has kept our people alive.”
Over 200 people attended the harvest. Two Eagle River School, Ronan High School, and Polson High School chartered students to the event and several tribal families also shared in the annual dig.
Amongst the families in attendance were Tom Quequesah, Linda Ferris and their two children. Quequesah said digging bitterroot strengthens his ancestral connection. “Every time I’m out here it keeps me in touch with my family,” he said. “My Qene (grandmother) used to do it. It brings me back to my ancestors. I feel like they’re proud of us for what we’re doing.”
Also amongst the families was Arlene Bigcrane who was teaching her three-year-old grandson Willy Caye to dig. “I brought all of my girls out here to dig when they were young and now they’re all grown,” she said. “It feels awesome to be out here. We won’t lose this because all these young ones are out here digging and that’s how you keep it going.”
As another year of bitterroot blossoms the traditional harvest lives on.