MOISE VALLEY —Twenty-two teepees lined the Flathead River commemorating the 33rd annual River Honoring. The two-day event hosted over a thousand students from across the Flathead Reservation, providing an expeditionary learning experience on the rich ecosystem and cultural significance of one of the area’s most monumental waterways.
The event opened with a community gathering and honoring ceremony. QÍispé elder Stephen Small Salmon shared a prayer for the event and gave a brief history on the area. “A long time ago, this water was so clean you could drink right from it and not get sick,” he said. “This used to be a hunting ground for our people. We used to camp here and our elders would give us Indian names. It’s important that we always give thanks to this river for the life it gives and take care of it.”
First time hostess and newly appointed Information and Education Specialist Stephanie Gillin thanked Wild land Recreation project coordinator Terry Tanner for leading the task of manually setting up the event each year. “It takes more than one person to do this job,” Tanner said. “I want to thank our crews, Job Corps, and everyone who has ever helped us set this up. The river is beautiful and we’re thankful to be able to work here.”
The teepee stations are organized into two sections for students to tour and Gillin announced that one section would be named after elder and cultural educator the late Patrick (Patlik) Pierre and the other would be named after former Chief of Fish and Game the late Pablo "Chib" Espinoza, who served the Natural Resources Department for 40 years. “We just wanted to recognize the work that these men did in not only protecting our environment but also educating others and sharing their knowledge. They will both be greatly missed,” she said.
Each year, the event recognizes community members for their contributions to the River Honoring mission in respecting the river, the plants, the animals, and doing their part in acting as caretakers for that effort.
Gillin announced the first honoree: Salish elder Frances Vanderburg who spent many years serving as a Salish language instructor sharing her knowledge of history and culture with generations of students. “My grandmother said the most important thing you could learn is to like yourself,” Vanderburg said. “If you can learn to do that, you can learn to take care of yourself. If you could be good to yourself, you could pretty much be good to anybody.”
The second honoree was superintendent of Dixon Schools Crista Anderson who has worked with her students on several conservation projects. “In my time living here, I’ve learned more about this place here at the River Honoring than anything we’ve ever been able to teach our students. Thank you to everyone for taking the time to teach,” she said.
The third honoree was George McLeod who has worked the Natural Resources Department Water Management Program for 37 years. FWRC Division Manager Tom McDonald noted McLeod’s extensive knowledge of water and ability to teach. “The real reward is you’re instructing these young people and you know you’ve touched their hearts and their minds,” McLeod said.
The fourth and final honoree was Wild Land Recreation Program manager Lester Bigcrane who has served the department for 34 years. Bigcrane was amongst the first presenters when the River Honoring was established and he continues to host an educational booth encouraging the public to the keep the river clean. “I’ve had good guidance in the past from people like Clarence Woodcock and Pat Pierre about our connection to the river,” he said. “We all have a responsibility to the river because we all have an effect on it. Everything goes down stream. We can’t control what everyone does but we can control what we do.”
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ Natural Resource Department hosts The River Honoring as a service to educate the local community on the significance of the Flathead River.
For more information call Stephanie Gillin at (406) 883-2888.