Historical items held in private ownership are donated back to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes
PABLO — Vibrant floral patterns constructed of intricate beadwork from the 19th Century adorned two vests that were spread across a table for inspection. Director of The People’s Center Marie Torosian used latex gloves to run her fingers across the stitching. “Wow, look at the craftsmanship,” she said. “Pieces like this are so important to our people. It’s a part of who we are. It’s a part of our history.”
The vests were part of a donation made to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in memory of Randolph and Audiss E. Bohrer. “The couple purchased the vests at a pawn shop in Missoula in 1957 and its been hanging in their family’s home ever since,” Torosian said. “Their grandsons reached out to us and said they wanted to return the vests to the people they came from.”
Both pieces illustrate a significant history for the Bitterroot Salish people. One of the vests is believed to belong to sub Chief Arlee who was appointed by Civil War General James A. Garfield to lead 20 Bitterroot Salish families from the Bitterroot Valley to the current Flathead Reservation in 1883. At the same time, Chief Charlo was leading a resistance to a US executive order to remove the tribe from their homeland.
The second vest belonged to Chief Martin Charlo, who was appointed to serve as head chief until his passing in 1941. He succeeded his father Chief Victor Charlo and his grandfather Chief Charlo (Claw of the Small Grizzley Bear). Aside from his name being beaded on its shoulder, Chief Martin Charlo could be seen wearing the vest in photos taken at the Medicine Tree.
Members of The People Center staff are trained to properly process cultural items. Torosian said the pieces would be processed before fulfilling the donor’s wishes to display for the public. “We’re very excited that the vests found their way home it feels like it was meant to be,” she said. “This is exciting for the descendents of Chief Arlee and Chief Martin Charlo. I hope that this encourages others who may have items like this to do the same. We are here and we are able to care for cultural resources like this.”
For more information on The People’s Center call: (406) 675-0160 or visit: www.thepeoplecenter.org.