PABLO — This Indigenous Peoples Day, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) and the Séliš-Ql̓ispé Culture Committee (SQCC) will join Missoula County, the City of Missoula, the Montana Department of Transportation and the community to officially name and dedicate Beartracks Bridge on Higgins Avenue.
The official commemoration of this new name will start at 12:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022. The commemoration will be held on the south end of the bridge at Higgins Avenue in downtown Missoula, and feature an opening prayer and song, various speakers, and unveiling of new interpretive signage explaining the bridge’s namesake.
The “Beartracks” name is a shortened translation of the Salish name Sx͏ʷ͏úytis Smx̣e, which means Grizzly Bear Tracks. From the mid-nineteenth century on, English speakers have often referred to members of this prominent and respected Séliš family by the simplified name “Beartrack” or “Beartracks,” an “Indian name” for the Vanderburgs, an important family of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
“We are still here,” said CSKT Council Chairman Tom McDonald. “There remains a strong presence of the Séliš-Ql̓ispé people, since time immemorial, in the place we now call Missoula. I appreciate the recognition by, and the collaboration with, Missoula leaders and community members to make this event and this dedication a reality.”
Missoula has always been at the heart of the overlapping territories of the Séliš (pronounced SEH-leesh) and Ql̓ispé people (pronounced Kah-lee-SPEH). Missoula County, led by Commissioner Dave Strohmaier, worked with the CSKT Tribal Council and Culture Committee over the past few years to name the reconstructed bridge in honor of the valley’s original inhabitants. Tribal members selected the new name, Beartracks Bridge, as a tribute to the Vanderburgs, a prominent and highly respected Salish family.
The Commission’s consultation was welcomed by the Tribal Council and Culture Committee. After careful research and several meetings, the Séliš-Ql̓ispé Elders Cultural Advisory Council reached consensus on the new name, which was given support by many family members and endorsed by the Tribal Council.
“The connection we have with our homelands never leave us, and we will always continue to return,” said Sadie Peone-Stops, acting Director of the SQCC. “SQCC is honored and thankful to have been a part of an instrumental collaboration and partnership, this is one of many great things our late director Tony Incashola Sr. helped guide and advise since the initial discussions.”
The Missoula County Commission and City Council then formally proposed the name to the Montana Transportation Commission, which unanimously approved the name on April 22, 2021.
“My father, Jerome Vanderburg, was just a baby when the last band of Salish were forced out of the Bitterroot,” said Lucy Vanderburg, a descendant of Grizzly Bear Tracks. “I remember family members talking about crossing this bridge on their way north, with sadness about leaving their home. Now, in my lifetime, we continue to cross this bridge on our way to these places south of Missoula that are still so important to us. I am just really humbled and honored that one of my ancestors would be honored this way.”
Whether we use the name Beartracks Bridge, Sx͏ʷ͏úytis Smx̣e Nx̣lew̓s, or Grizzly Bear Tracks Bridge, we are honoring the Beartracks / Vanderburg family, the many other descendants of Sx͏ʷ͏úytis Smx̣e, and the Séliš people as a whole—and reminding ourselves of the ancient and continuing Séliš-Ql̓ispé connection to this place.
After the name dedication, CSKT elders and other tribal members will then take part in a procession across the bridge, following the same route their ancestors took when the U.S. government forcibly removed them from their historical territory in 1891.
The celebration will conclude with a powwow beginning at 2:30 p.m. in Caras Park with drums, dancers, food trucks, tribal vendors, educational materials, and more.
A gift card will be offered to the first 50 dancers for the powwow.
CSKT Tribal Council is inviting the Tribal Community to participate in this historic event, with horses and riders welcomed as part of the procession. Traditional regalia is encouraged.
For more information about the event, procession, horses, riders, and/or if you are interested in attending with horses or being a vendor, please call CSKT Council Member Martin Charlo at (406)274-6892.