ST. IGNATIUS — Following a short two-month summer respite the Séliš-Ql̓ispé Culture Committee (SQCC) Elders Committee resumed its monthly meetings last week.
The foundational Ancestral past, the fleeting and fluxing present, and hopeful but fragile future were on the mind of SQCC Director Tony Incashola.
The recent passing of several Elders Committee members including one — Virginia Woodcock Brockie — two weeks ago while on a field trip to cultural relevant sites in the Bozeman area sparked Incashola’s wonderment about the cultural future of the Séliš and Ql̓ispé people.
“We are at a crossroads when it comes to our Elders. Several of the people we turned to for guidance are gone. In the last few years we’ve lost 13 Elders on the committee,” Incashola said. “The Elders remind us why we are here. I would like to remind the Elders of how important their roles are for our language, our ceremonies, our culture, our stories, our spirituality, our traditions, our way of life. The things we need to make sure are here for the next generation and the generations after that.”
Incashola praised the Adult Apprentice Salish Language Program managed by Chaney Bell as well the several other Salish language teaching/learning efforts presently ongoing on the Flathead Indian Reservation.
“They are bringing hope for the survival of our language. There have been ups and downs but over the last three or four years the effort has been on track,” Incashola said. “We need to remind people that we exist because of our language; when we adopt English we begin losing our way. We must maintain our way to the future with these gifts of our language, culture and spirituality. We don’t want to lose our way by adopting the ways of others; that weakens who we are. For centuries we’ve been told how to talk, how to live.
We are all here today because our parents, our grandparents held onto our traditional ways. That’s what we need to hold onto. We are all in this together because we are traditional people. We must not be swayed away from our traditional ways, we must remain firm in our fight for survival. Remember what brought us here keep us moving on into the future.”
There is a demand for learning Salish.
“We know the importance of language,” Bell said. “Our goal is to create some effort where all the people can learn the language.”
The Adult Apprentice Salish Language Program recently had 40 applicants for the four open positions available due to graduation of other apprentices, some are continuing their learning to become Salsih language teachers at Salish Kootenai College.
Later in the meeting the adult apprentices spoke to the EC in Salish in a demonstration of their learning.
It has been a busy in-the-field summer for the Preservation Office Kyle Felsman told the EC. Preservation has completed its cultural resource inventory survey on the Montana Department of Transportation Highway 200 Paradise East Project. The approximately five-mile rebuild of the Perma Curves is between mile markers 85 to 90 along the Flathead River.
“The Montana Department of Transportation will make a decision on design of the Perma Curves in the next few months,” Felsman said. “They’ll probably straighten out the curves.”
“MDT is trying to figure out how far out towards the river they can go,” Kevin Askan said, adding that MDT highway construction approach is to construct the road with 150-feet line of sight. “They want a flat road with curves. That requires some of the road to be raised. But we don’t know what the final plans will be.”
The Bonneville Power Administration’s (BPA) planned power-line rebuild from Hot Springs to Anaconda is expected to begin next year, Felsman said. “They will replace all power poles,” he said. Preservation has already conducted a cultural survey along the route and will be on hand to monitor the work once it begins.
The Nature Conservancy has hired the Preservation Office to conduct a cultural survey on the Gold Creek Project. The survey is related to the Liberty Fire that had a footprint on the Flathead Reservation in the South Fork Jocko Primitive Area and off the reservation in that same area. The Nature Conservancy survey is located off the reservation; they want to return the area to its natural state.
The Preservation Office is still at loggerheads with the U.S. Forest Service and the Army Corps of Engineers over the tribal artifacts presently stored at Salish Kootenai College. More than 90 percent of the artifacts are connected to the Kootenai tribal people and were unearthed during the construction of Libby Dam and Lake Koocanusa in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The rest are Salish and Pend d’Oreille related.
Mike Durglo, Jr., said the artifacts fall under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). “They should be repatriated to us,” he said.
Durglo wrote letters to the USFS and Army COE requesting a meeting with them over the issue. He gave them 45 days to respond to meetings tentatively scheduled for either, late September and early October. The USFS has responded, heretofore the Army COE has not.
“I don’t understand why they don’t want to give them back,” Durglo said. “The U.S. government says the artifacts belong to them to perpetuity.”
“Those items don’t belong to the Army or the Forest Service,” Mary Jane Charlo said. “They weren’t even here, didn’t exist when the artifacts were put there.”
“They tell us that for them to give them back we need to have a proper facility for them,” Durglo said, adding that Preservation has a place to store them until a proper facility can be constructed. They could remain at SKC or another such safe storage area for antiquities and artifacts. In the end he said a central clearinghouse facility could be located in Pablo, and a Kootenai specific facility in Elmo, and a Salish, Pend d’Oreille facility in St. Ignatius.
Those facilities are very important to the future of the artifacts. Durglo said there are 125 government storage facilities in the Northwest and the feds have plans to consolidate them to seven nationally. “We don’t want these artifacts to move,” Durglo said, as a bird in hand is better than seven in the bush halfway across the nation.
NATIONAL BISON RANGE
The new manager of the National Bison Range Complex, Amy Coffman, paid an introductory visit with the SQCC Elders Committee. Amy Lisk, NBR wildlife biologist, accompanied her.
The NBR Complex includes the NBR, the Ninepipes and Pablo National Wildlife refuges on the Flathead Indian Reservation, and the Lost Trail NWR west of Kalispell.
Coffman said a career goal of hers, for many reasons, was to manage the NBR. She has worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 2007, steadily climbing the management ladder. She began her career at Lee Metcalf NWR and has worked at the NBR Complex previously. Most recently she was the Deputy Project Leader at the Rainwater Basin Wetland Management District in Nebraska.
“There is a lot going on at the National Bison Range. The history of the range has not always been the brightest,” Coffman said. “I am looking forward to turning the ship around.”
One of the things Coffman wants to do is replace the old signage with culturally appropriate signage.
Coffman invited the Elders Committee on a tour of the NBR Complex at their convenience. She also extended an invite the annual bison roundup scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 8.
Lisk told the Elders Committee that the NBR would expand its tribal cultural and history aspect to share with the public.
“We would like a drum group and a prayer at the roundup,” Lisk said.
Incashola said the SQCC would consider the request adding that in the past he addressed the NBR staff prior to the roundup. “I would like to address the staff and talk about the history of the National Bison Range,” he said. “It was always done before the roundup.”
• The fall Medicine Tree sojourn is scheduled for Thursday, September 19.
• The next SQCC EC meeting is Wednesday, October. 2.