PABLO — The Sherri McDonald Room at Salish Kootenai College Dr. Joe McDonald Health and Activity Center at Salish Kootenai College was a hush of serious activity last week as volunteers and People’s Center staff went about the sad task of conducting an inventory of the People’s Center artifacts damaged by fire, smoke and water as the result of an arson-caused fire and the efforts to snuff it.
The tables with artifacts took up all the space in the Sherri McDonald Room and out into the entrance hallway. The faint smell of smoke emanated from the remains of the artifacts spread out on the tables. Some of them are salvageable but others aren’t. An inventory will identify the artifact, catalog it and preliminary assess its condition.
“We are conducting an inventory to see what we have here and an initial assessment to see what can be salvaged,” said People’s Center Director Marie Torosian, adding that the inventory, assessment and restoration project will require professional conservators. “We are looking for conservators with specific specialties to take care of each sector of the artifact collection. We’ll need to more than one.
“Some of the things are unpreparable while others are salvageable. We want to make sure that we take the right steps to care for them properly,” she said. “It’s sad to see all this damage, all this soot on the artifacts. The soot is the biggest problem with the salvaged artifacts. We will return those that can’t be restored to Mother Earth.”
The People’s Center was set afire by alleged arsonist Julian Michael Draper, 33, Sunday, September 6. Draper died in the fire. He had been charged with arson at the former Plum Creek Mill in Pablo Monday, August 24 and was on bond-release. In a baring of hearts at last week’s memorial service at the People’s Center some of the speakers also spoke of forgiveness for Draper.
“A lot of people and organizations have reached out and offered assistance,” Torosian said, adding that among them are the Montana Historical Society, Fort Missoula Historic Museum and the Ninepipes Museum, and an ancient-art conservator that specializes in ancient art and artifacts that has worked with various tribes, a photo recovery specialist as well numerous volunteers helping inventory the artifacts. The specialist assists in assessing the damage to the photo collections that includes the Doug Allard collection to see if they are restorable. “All the help and offers of help we’ve received gives me a good feeling. I never, ever thought something like this (People’s Center fire) could happen. There is still a lot of work ahead of us.”
Once the artifacts are inventoried, they will be put in proper containers and placed in storage. Their future and the People’s Center remain a bit of a question mark. An insurance adjuster is scheduled to assess the damage to the People’s Center and the artifact collection. Once that is done the question might or might not be answered.
Torosian as well as the People’s Center staff, Geri Hewankorn, Loushie Charlo and Aggie Incashola feel that like the unsalvageable artifacts the present location of the People’s Center should also be returned to Mother Earth and the natural landscape restored, and a new People’s Center should arise from the ashes in a different location.
The CSKT Preservation Office has long called for a repository be built to properly house and care for the artifacts. In fact, the Preservation Office wants to have three repositories, in Elmo, St. Ignatius and Pablo.