By Lailani Upham

Char-Koosta News 

PABLO — As a young boy growing up on the Flathead Reservation, Tony Incashola, now an elder, remembers munching on an indigenous food source of what he knew as a real “treat.” 

Incashola explained the Whitebark pine nuts were a delicacy. “It was more like a treat. If you come across it in your travels it was a treat to have. I used to remember my Elders saying you can’t have more than a handful or you will pay for it later,” he said with a smile and chuckle. The pine nut treat was a rich source of protein. 

Tony shared his stories and insight with the attendees at the Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation annual conference held at Salish Kootenai College. Nearly a dozen organizations and groups attended to hear about Whitebark Pine restoration work across the region and from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal efforts. 

“(The disappearance of the) Whitebark pine and nuts is an overall picture of ecosystem of what used to be with the tribes in the past,” said Incashola. “I remember as a young boy we would go east and hunt at the higher elevation and come across the Whitebark pine nuts and eat some while out hunting and take some with us for later.”

While growing up Incashola started to see things change. “The places we used to go became areas we can’t go anymore.” Incashola said it was because of encroachment of private land ownership growing across the reservation. 

“Today we are struggling to preserve it (Whitebark Pine trees) because of mistakes of humans,” said Incashola. Over the decades and generations human beings have altered the ecosystem through domination and lack of care for natural world. “We (tribal cultural knowledge) has always tried to watch it and preserve,” he said.

“Elders always said,  ‘When you dominate you destroy,’ ” Incashola said. “We tried to dominate our steams, waterways, forests, air, and now we are trying to straighten it out. Instead of watching the natural process and caring for it.” 

Incashola’s theory is it all comes down to greed. “We alter things to benefit us as humans. In reality we don’t realize what we’re doing today to benefit ourselves while we are destroying the next generation’s opportunity to benefit from what we have. There’s a lot of things we need to go back and look at and see what we’ve altered over the years then try and learn from those mistakes,” he added.

“The food, the plants and trees are part of who we are and it is our life cycle as humans. It is a necessity to have those in our lifecycle,” said Incashola. “Everything we have in our ecosystem has a role. The nutcracker that takes the seed and spread them out for more to grow, along with all the other animals – they have roles.” 

Incashola said if we don’t start paying attention and learning from mistakes on how to care for natural world ecosystem, “We end up losing in the end.”

“Without one or the other you start to lose your way and who you are,” said Incashola.

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