People’s Center prayer service acknowledges loss & plants seeds for the future
PABLO — Friday, nearly 50 people gathered in the People’s Center arbor for a prayer service spurred by the arson-caused fire at the People’s Center. The prayers and concern expressed were not only for the damage done to the People’s Center but also for its reincarnation and for the alleged arsonist.
“This is a new beginning, a start to another future for this place,” said Séliš-Ql̓ispéCulture Committee Director Tony Incashola, adding that the spiritual guidance of the Ancestors will clear the path to the new beginning for the People’s Center. “We all came from great leaders and we pray that we continue to guide our people in the right direction. We ask our Ancestors for guidance.”
Many artifacts were lost in the fire but a lot were saved, thanks to the rapid response by local fire departments.
“It only goes to show that it doesn’t take much to lose those things that are valuable to us. Now our hearts are sad; something was lost that will never be replaced,” Incashola said. “A lot was saved and will continue to guide us and give us the strength we need to carry on, and help guide future generations. Each and every artifact has a story to tell.”
Incashola said the artifacts in the People’s Center were teaching tools that linked the ways of the Ancestors’ to the tribal people of today and those yet to come.
“The artifacts are not just something to look at; the artifacts tie us to our history — they show us where we came from. They are our connection to the Ancestors and to who we are,” Incashola said. “It is important for our young people to know our past. It will provide them and future generations a foundation to build their lives upon. They will learn from our Ancestors. Their stories are here.”
The People’s Center wasn’t a total loss. Much of the front portion that includes the foyer, education room and museum display rooms were saved as were its contents, although some with considerable smoke and water damage. The rock and brick shell survived. However, the repository room and its collection appear to be lost, as does the offices and gift shop.
The salvaged collection, that includes the Doug Allard Elders photo collection as well museum, foyer and education room contents have been moved to the Dr. Joe McDonald Health and Activity Center at Salish Kootenai College.
Chief Cliff Drum holder Mike Kenmille concurred with Incashola on the educational and spiritual importance of the artifacts, and their links to the Ancestors and guidance to the future. He said the artifacts contain stories of the Ancestors.
“I don’t think all is lost here. A lot of valuable memories were lost but not all,” Kenmille said, adding that some of the artifacts were once owned by people who know the story of them and that those folks could tell those stories to the People’s Center staff thus saving the Ancestral links.
Tribal Council Chairwoman Shelly Fyant thanked all who contacted her and the Tribes, and expressed concern for the alleged arsonist Julian Michael Draper who died in the fire.
“This is a real difficult time. I am glad we came together as a people to ask for healing. These prayers today will ground us. They are a part of the healing process,” Chairwoman Fyant said. “I ask for your prayers for Julian Draper. This illustrates the need for more mental health services for our community. Pray for his children and his family.”
Former People’s Center Director Lucy Vanderburg said that despite the loss of artifacts there is hope for the future. “I have a lot of faith that the younger generation will carry on for us,” she said in reference to present employees Marie Torosian, Loushie Charlo, Geri Hewankorn and Aggie Incashola. “We lost some artifacts but not our identity, our heritage or our language. This is just a bump in the road.”
Ronan District Tribal Council Representative Carole Lankford said the Tribal Council should form a committee to guide the rebuilding of the People’s Center.
“This loss hurts,” she said. “We are a small nation in Western Montana. We can do our part, give back and make it better.”
People’s Center Director Marie Torosian said she and the staff are devastated but will carry on. “We’ll still be here. This isn’t just a job, it’s our second home,” she said. “Each of us took pride in what we do. We are still here to tell the stories of who we are. We remind visitors that this is our past.”
Torosian thanked the speakers for their expressions of concern and hope. “Your words give us the courage to go on,” she said. “We have a long road ahead of us but we are strong in our hearts and we will move on.”